Phil Sheridan: Kolb earns his stripes

Posted: September 27, 2009

You didn't hear much about Kevin Kolb on the endless network pregame shows today. You didn't see his picture on the national sports Web sites, either.

All the buzz was about that other Eagles quarterback, the dogman-turned-Wildcatter. The earnest young Texan, making the second start of his career, didn't get enough attention to qualify as an afterthought.

The actual game between the Eagles and the woe-woe-woeful Kansas City Chiefs was another matter. Kolb turned in a fine performance at quarterback, throwing for 327 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-14 victory. With his 391-yard performance last week, Kolb became the first quarterback in NFL history - as in not Montana or Elway, Marino or Manning - to throw for more than 300 yards in each of his first two starts.

There has to be an asterisk attached to any analysis of this game, of course. A red asterisk. Those Chiefs are a truly wretched NFL team. So it would be a mistake to canonize Kolb or to dismiss the ho-hum performance of Michael Vick in Andy Reid's thrill-a-minute football sideshow. It's clear Reid was offering future opponents a little glimpse of Vick while withholding the more inventive Wildcat/spread/whatever-you-call-it plays.

It is breathtaking, really, to be able to win a game this handily with a cast of young understudies while devoting 11 offensive plays to "knock the rust" off Vick. Even Kolb had to grade himself on a curve.

"We saw the film" on the Chiefs, he said. "We knew there were going to be some holes there."

But there's no getting around the fundamental conclusion that Kolb was the most effective quarterback on the field - better than the comebacking Vick and better than the Chiefs' $60 million Matt Cassell. Finally, in his third season since being drafted as heir to Donovan McNabb's kingdom, we can say with reasonable certainty that Kolb can be a legitimate NFL starter.

"Although you believe it," Kolb said, "nobody truly knows. That's why there's so much doubt in the air with a young player. Hopefully, I'll put the past behind me with the mistakes I made before."

It is significant that Kolb made all his big plays out of the Eagles' standard offensive formations - which were already varied and complex before Reid's newfangled obsession with direct snaps to running backs and receivers.

Kolb's 64-yard touchdown pass to burgeoning superstar DeSean Jackson resulted from a good read and a decent, if not perfect, throw. Same with the midrange pass that tight end Brent Celek turned into a 35-yard touchdown.

Reid praised Kolb's "command of the offense. It looked like he was fairly accurate today and poised in there. They tried getting after him . . . and I thought he handled that part of the game very well. He's giving our receivers an opportunity to run after the catch, so that's a plus."

Kolb had the benefit of copious amounts of time. Some combination of the Eagles' blocking schemes and the Chiefs' inability to get to the quarterback allowed Kolb plenty of opportunity to set his feet and make clean throws.

"I don't even feel like I played a game," Kolb said. "I don't know if I got touched today. I truly believe if you put a lot of quarterbacks in that situation where they're not going to get touched, they're going to throw for 300 yards."

Kolb's performance leads us to a couple of points.

First, it makes you wonder whether the Eagles would have had a better chance against the Saints a week earlier if Reid had allowed Kolb to run the offense without all the tomfoolery. The Wildcat plays weren't fatal - turnovers were - but they cost Kolb a bunch of opportunities to find Jackson or Celek for big plays.

More important for the long term, Kolb has further complicated the Eagles' quarterback situation. That's a good thing, for the most part. While he said it would be "somewhat difficult" to return to the sideline when McNabb returned to the lineup, Kolb is not going to make waves. If he doesn't play again in 2009, he has created a job for himself.

That could be here, although McNabb and now Vick will have something to say about that. But a look at QB play around the league suggests there will be a market for Kolb. Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Oakland, St. Louis, and, yes, Kansas City all would have done better today with Kolb under center.

There's a very good chance these were Kolb's only two starts of the season, maybe even of his Eagles career. Barring injuries, we're likely to see a lot more of McNabb and Vick. They will wind up taking the Eagles wherever it is they go this season.

Kolb will slip back into the shadows, but at least now he knows he can handle the spotlight.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan

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