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Key On Defense: Stopping Eagles' McNabb

Through the first five weeks of the regular season, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was an early-season leader for the league's MVP award.

Then McNabb and the Eagles went through a three-game slump, culminating in a 13-6 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars two weeks ago.

Suddenly, McNabb's name was nowhere to be found among MVP candidates.

The Redskins know better.

"Donovan's a real tough guy to get ready for," linebacker Marcus Washington said. "If you give him too much time, he can hurt you with his arm. If you drop everybody back, he can run. We have our work cut out for us."

Added defensive end Renaldo Wynn: "He's their leader, he's their captain. He's the guy you have to stop. He can run it and he can throw it. It'll be a big challenge for us."

Since he entered the NFL in 1999, McNabb has been the NFL's version of a multi-tasker--doing it all on the football field.

So far this season, McNabb has completed 162-of-277 passes for 2,312 yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. The big play has been a staple for the Eagles' offense: McNabb has thrown for touchdowns of 87, 60, 52, 45 and 42 yards.

Against Washington, McNabb has turned in some strong performances in his career.

He is 8-4 as a starter against the Redskins and has completed 217-of-373 passes for 2,359 yards, 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Last year, on Nov. 6 at FedExField, McNabb was struggling through a sports hernia injury but still completed 22-of-35 passes for 304 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a 17-10 loss to the Redskins.

McNabb did not play in the second Redskins-Eagles matchup.

Early in his career, McNabb used to run out of the pocket a little more. In his first seven games, he has averaged 54.8 rushing yards per game against the Redskins. In his last five, he has averaged 17.4 rushing yards per game.

For the Redskins, keeping McNabb in the pocket will be key. If he escapes, defensive end Andre Carter has the speed to contain him. That should allow the linebackers to stay with the running backs and tight ends in coverage.

Redskins safety Troy Vincent played with the Eagles from 1996-2003 and McNabb from 1999-2003. He is familiar with McNabb's tendencies and that should help the Redskins' defense.

"Donovan is throwing the ball just as well as he's ever thrown it," he said. "And he keeps things alive in the pocket [with his mobility]. We're going to have to play extremely well and get off the field on third downs. We're going to have our hands full because they have an offense with a lot of weapons."

The Eagles enter the game with the NFL's top-ranked offense.

One of the reasons for their success? Assistant head coach-offense Gregg Williams says they match personnel with their offensive system as well as any team in the league.

"I think they are pretty structured in running their concepts," Williams said. "They want to run particular offensive concepts no matter who comes out there. What it does is get you on your heels with different types of formation changes from week-to-week. They pretty much run the same basic kind of plays.

"They just do a real good job of making sure that their personnel has a chance to be explosive for them. They put the ball in their hands the right number of times each week."

Head coach Andy Reid and the Eagles' offense have been criticized for not running the ball enough in recent years. But they are ranked eighth overall in rushing yardage this season and versatile running back Brian Westbrook has 500 yards on 97 carries.

Said Washington: "Andy Reid is a proud guy. A lot of times he does what he says he's going to do. Last year they came here, they didn't have T.O., so they said they would get Westbrook more involved and that's exactly what they did. So we know it'll be a tough game."

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