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For Redskins, Ball Control Is Key

It was among the first questions asked of Fred Smoot shortly after the Redskins had handled the New York Giants 31-7 last week.

"Did you see what Philly did to Green Bay?" Smoot was asked of the Eagles' 47-17 win over the Packers.

"Yeah, I did," he said. "I'm surprised [at the outcome], I thought Green Bay and my man Brett Favre [a fellow Mississippian] would give them a better game. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised about the Eagles right now. They're playing great."

Flash forward one week later. The Philadelphia Eagles have come to Washington, D.C., this weekend for a Sunday night game against the Redskins at FedExField. Game time is 8:30 p.m. ET. The Eagles have been dominant all season--and they opened up more eyes when they trounced the Packers last Sunday.

The Redskins' challenge is certainly a daunting one. But if Washington can pull off what would amount to a stunning upset, it could be the kind of win that defines the franchise--this year and beyond.

"I've said it several times: Philadelphia is the team that has dominated the division and controlled things," head coach Joe Gibbs said on Friday. "That's certainly our goal, to be in their position. But you have to give them credit. You're going to have to get matched up against them and see if you can do something."

Philadelphia defeated the Redskins 28-6 on Nov. 21 at Lincoln Financial Field. Washington kept it close for three quarters, but the explosive Eagles pulled away with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Washington's defense did not allow Eagles' quarterback Donovan McNabb and flamboyant wide receiver Terrell Owens to connect on a reception in the first half. He finished the game with only two catches, his lowest total through the first 11 games of the season. One of those receptions, however, was a 10-yard touchdown that put Philadelphia ahead 14-6 in the third quarter.

"I knew I was double teamed a lot," Owens told reporters after the game. "It allowed other guys to make plays. When we had opportunities for me to be one on one, we took advantage of that."

While the Redskins limited Owens' total catches and yards in their first meeting, Eagles receiver Todd Pinkston caught five passes for 106 yards.

"They were trying to shut me out and they did a pretty good job on the rolling coverage," Owens said. "Donovan McNabb just went through his reads, he wasn't forcing anything and he allowed other guys to make plays."

The Redskins' second-ranked defense has performed admirably all season long. But for the Redskins to be successful this Sunday against the Eagles, they'll have to be more efficient on offense than they were in the last game.

Last week, the Redskins were able to establish some offensive momentum in the 31-7 win over the New York Giants. They did so by getting Clinton Portis involved early and often; he rushed for 148 yards on 31 carries. Ladell Betts added 11 carries for 64 yards in some hard running.

What's more, the Redskins dominated the time of possession by a nearly 40-to-20 minute margin.

It may not be nearly as easy to reproduce those statistics against Philadelphia's defense, but clearly that's the Redskins' formula for success in this game. Establish the run and keep the explosive Eagles offense off the field and out of rhythm.

When Portis rushes for 100-plus yards, the Redskins are 4-0 this season.

In the first Redskins-Eagles matchup, Washington struggled to get Portis going. He had 17 carries for 37 yards. For the game the Redskins rushed 23 times for 51 yards.

"For five weeks now, they have been stout [against the run]," Gibbs said. "I think we averaged 2.2 per rush in our first game with them. They gave us losses on the first two plays. Before that, some teams were making some yards on them in the running game."

Gibbs was referring to the Eagles' revamping of the defense following their 27-3 loss to Pittsburgh in Week 10. Coaches put ex-Redskin linebacker Jeremiah Trotter back into the middle and gave burly defensive tackle Sam Rayburn more playing time.

The switch has apparently worked. But the Eagles have managed to build big leads the last few games, forcing opposing teams to turn to the passing game.

"We got behind and we tried to pass the ball to get back into it," quarterback Patrick Ramsey said. "We had to abandon the run late in the game. Building off of last week's game, hopefully we'll be able to continue to run the ball and run a ball-controlled offense."

Said Portis: "Guys are finally clicking. It takes a while, particularly 11 guys, to click on the same page. You have to get timing down. I think that is finally coming together."

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