Inside Slant, Battles, Quotes, Injuries, Pers

War Nest
Posted Sep 29, 2005


Donovan McNabb's health continues to be a major concern for the Eagles heading into Sunday's important interconference battle in Kansas City against the Chiefs.

McNabb has a sports hernia that has essentially robbed him of his mobility and has turned one of the game's best running quarterbacks into a pocket passer. He's also got a bruised chest and a shin contusion.

He first suffered the chest injury in the first quarter of the Eagles' Week 1 loss to Atlanta when he was hit by Falcons defensive tackle Chad Lavalais, then aggravated it last week when Raiders defensive tackle Warren Sapp drove him into the ground.

The sports hernia has affected both his ability to run and throw. Last week against the Raiders, he spent the entire first half trying to throw with just his upper body because it was so painful to use his legs. After completing just 11 of 24 passes in the first half, he decided to try and throw through the pain. He completed 19 of 28 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns in the second half as the Eagles hung on for a 23-20 win over the Raiders.

"I got off to a rough start," he said. "I was trying to compensate for the injury. I felt like I was rushing things, trying to get the ball out quicker and using all upper body. At times I wasn't using my legs at all. In the second half, I just re-evaluated everything and realized I had to use my legs. I tried to use my legs (to throw) as much as possible in the second half."

For a guy playing hurt, McNabb has put up impressive numbers in the Eagles' first three games. He leads the NFL in passing yards (964), is tied for the league-lead in touchdown passes (8) and is second in completions (77). But his ability to move around and buy time and pick up first downs with his legs is why he's so dangerous to defend.

Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder said McNabb's abdominal injury will eventually need surgery to correct, but said it can't get any worse by playing with it. So it's basically a matter of the quarterback being able to deal with the discomfort, which he is willing to do at this point.

"I don't have any concern right now," McNabb said. "It's one of those things where you have to realize some days you'll feel fine and some days you won't.

Burkholder said several other Eagles players, including cornerback Sheldon Brown and wide receiver Terrell Owens, have had sports hernias during their careers and played with it. He said resting the injury for a couple of weeks would do no good.

"Is it going to bug him here for a little bit?" coach Andy Reid said. "Yes, probably. Will the bye week (after the Dallas game) help? Probably. But I can't tell you that this far in advance. Donovan's a pretty straightforward guy. Certain guys, you can talk to about (injuries) and they will tell you what's up and if they can go or not go. Donovan's one of those guys."

As long as McNabb is hurting, the top priority in the game plan of most opposing defenses is going to be hitting him and putting him on the ground. Despite that fact, Reid and offensive coordinator Brad Childress have not been reluctant to have McNabb throw the ball. A lot. He threw the ball 52 times last week against the Raiders. Threw it 45 times against the Falcons in Week 1. Is this any way to treating a quarterback you absolutely, positively have to keep healthy if you hope to make it back to the Super Bowl?

"At the end, you look at it and say, `That's a lot of times (throwing the ball),'" Childress said after the Raiders game. "But they had a couple of pretty big slugnuts in there at tackle that are tough to move around in Ted Washington and (Warren) Sapp. Those are guys that do a pretty good job of plugging up the middle. You look at where you think there's a weakness or deficiency and you kind of go after it."

With the Eagles' many pass-catching weapons, which include four guys - wide receivers Terrell Owens and Greg Lewis, running back Brian Westbrook and tight end L.J. Smith - who currently are on an 80-catch pace, opposing secondaries usually will be most exploitable area for the Eagles' offense.

Westbrook and the Eagles' running backs have run the ball just 56 times in three games. And 30 of those came in their 42-3 Week 2 rout of San Francisco when they ran the ball most of the second half.

"You need to know who you are, know what you do, what you do well, and don't try to be somebody else," said Childress.

Is Childress worried that defenses will come after McNabb if they are no longer worried about him scrambling?

"I think there's still a healthy respect for his athleticism," he said. "Plus, he knows where all the bones are buried - where all the checkdowns are, the late throws and all those kinds of things."

SERIES HISTORY:

5th meeting. Series is tied 2-2. The last meeting between the two clubs was in November of '01 at Arrowhead Stadium. The Eagles won easily, 23-10.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Andy Reid continues to be careful about not overworking undersized running back Brian Westbrook. Westbrook has 56 touches (40 rushing attempts, 16 receptions) in the Eagles' first 3 games. That's 18.6 touches per game. Last year, he averaged 19.4. He's had more than 23 touches just once in the Eagles' last 14 games. That was in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Patriots, when he had 25. Westbrook has made the most of his touches. He's notched 100-plus rushing and receiving yards in 12 straight games. He's averaging an impressive 7.8 yards per touch and is on a 2,341-yard rushing and receiving yards pace.

--The Eagles' secondary has done an excellent job against Randy Moss. They've faced him three times in the last 12 months, including last Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. They've held him to 12.9 yards per catch and one touchdown in those three games.

--Jevon Kearse didn't have a tackle Sunday against the Raiders and doesn't have a sack yet this season. In the Eagles' last 12 games, Kearse, who was given a $16 million signing bonus by the Birds in March of 2004, has 3.5 sacks.

--Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder on whether McNabb's injury can get worse: "All the physicians involved in this have said his pain can get worse, it may get better, but the condition won't. It's not like he's going to have a career-ending problem to his abdomen or groin and everything that happens is correctable with the surgery. So, to a point, yes, the pain may get worse, he may be able to deal with the pain better too as we do more rehab and treatment."

BY THE NUMBERS: Donovan McNabb has thrown 32 touchdown passes in his last 13 games, dating to last season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We do what we have to do to win games. If it means throwing 50 times, then you throw 50 times. I have always said I would like a bit more balance, but if you have to win the game, you have to do that." - Eagles coach Andy Reid on the fact that the Eagles have attempted a league-high 136 passes in the first three games, including 52 last week.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

With kicker David Akers out indefinitely with a torn hamstring, the Eagles will move Todd France from their practice squad to their 53-man roster this week. Since they have no intention of putting Akers on injured reserve, they will have to release someone. The two leading candidates are rookie safety Jeremy Thornburg and rookie offensive tackle Calvin Armstrong. Both have been inactive for the Eagles' first three games. PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--PK Todd France will be added to the 53-man roster this week and will replace injured David Akers as the club's placekicker Sunday against Kansas City.

--DT Darwin Walker likely will miss his second straight game Sunday with a deep thigh bruise. Walker is listed as doubtful. He didn't practice Wednesday.

--QB Donovan McNabb's abdominal injury has been diagnosed as a sports hernia, but he will play this week against Kansas City. If he chooses to have surgery at some point, he'd be lost for about 2 1/2 months.

--DE Juqua Thomas, who injured his knee last week against the Raiders, is feeling much better and was listed as probable Wednesday for this week's game against the Chiefs. Thomas backs up starting left end Jevon Kearse.

--CB Lito Sheppard is on the injury report with a knee injury. But he practiced Wednesday and is listed as probable for Sunday.

GAME PLAN: The Eagles did an excellent job of shutting down the run last week in their win over Oakland and know that's defensive priority No. 1 Sunday against Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson. Offensively, they will again rely heavily on the pass. They think there a number of matchups they can exploit in the passing game, particularly running back Brian Westbrook v. the Chiefs' two safeties, Sammy Knight and Greg Wesley.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Eagles LDE Jevon Kearse vs. Chiefs RT Kevin Sampson. Kearse has been mostly invisible in the first three games. But Sampson is inexperienced and can be taken advantage of.

Eagles FS Brian Dawkins vs. Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez is one of the league's best tight ends. Dawkins is one of the league's best cover safeties.

Eagles RB Brian Westbrook vs. Chiefs S Greg Wesley and Sammy Knight. Westbrook is a next-to-impossible cover assignment for any linebacker or safety.

INJURY IMPACT: QB Donovan McNabb has a sports hernia that will severely limit his mobility, but will play. ... DT Darwin Walker will miss his second straight game with a thigh bruise. His absence weakens the Eagles' four-man tackle rotation. ... PK David Akers will miss at least the next two games and probably more with a torn hamstring in his right leg. He'll be replaced by Todd France, who never has kicked in an NFL regular-season game.


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