Eagles can render Redskins' turnaround moot

Precedent for about-face cited, but it's irrelevant in face of today's stakes

Pro Football

November 25, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - In an attempt to explain the unexplainable, namely his team's startling midcourse correction, Washington Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer is reaching back into recent local history.

Specifically, Schottenheimer has tapped into former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs' 0-5 start to begin his coaching career in the 1981 season, as well as the Ravens' early-season stumbles last year on the way to the Super Bowl to provide context for Washington's current turnaround.

"In our case, as we've said from the outset, there were a lot of things that we were trying to put together and they didn't always fit the way we'd like them to," Schottenheimer said last week.

Things have fit quite neatly in the past four games - all victories - so much so that the Redskins (4-5) not only have a chance to get to .500, a notion that would have been unthinkable after their 0-5 beginning, but can also advance to within a game of the lead in the NFC East.

"When things were dark and cloudy around here, you really didn't envision anything like that," said defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson. "You just try to envision what it would take to get us back on some type of respectable playing field.

"Now that we've continued to put the work in, even when days were dark, we're starting to see fruit from that. We just have to continue the same process and the same mind-set and the same preparation that we've been doing."

It's at that point that reality, namely the Philadelphia Eagles, this week's opponent and the division leader, sets in.

While a win over the Eagles would set up the final six games of the season as a sprint for the postseason, a loss would effectively bury the Redskins' hopes to win the division and cripple their wild-card chances, as well.

"We know what's at stake," defensive end Bruce Smith said. "We know this is a big game and each and every individual is going to approach it that way. We're going to make sure we approach it that way."

The Redskins know they'll have their hands full with the Eagles (6-3), who after splitting their first four games have won three straight and four of their last five.

Of principal concern is Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, last year's league Most Valuable Player runner-up who continues to blossom into one of the NFL's best young talents.

McNabb has thrown for more than 1,900 yards - completing 59 percent of his attempts, 16 of them for touchdowns, to only five interceptions.

But it's his ability to scramble - his 259 rushing yards are third on the team behind Correll Buckhalter and Duce Staley - that strikes the most fear in the Redskins.

"I faced him in college at Syracuse," said defensive lineman Kenard Lang, a former Miami Hurricane. "I know what kind of player he is. He's strong and he's very elusive in running the ball. He'll throw a little playground move on you and you'll wind up on ESPN because you'll fall to your knees. That's the kind of player he is."

Staley, who missed two games earlier with a shoulder injury, has run for more than 100 yards in each of his past two games, and former Washington receiver James Thrash (35 catches for 478 yards) has become McNabb's chief target.

Meanwhile, the Eagles' defense, led by defensive end Hugh Douglas, who has 7.5 sacks, is ranked sixth in the league overall and third in the NFC. In their past five games, the Eagles have allowed only 56 points - 20 coming in the Oct. 28 loss to Oakland.

Philadelphia is particularly stingy in the second half of games. It leads the NFL in points allowed after halftime, with an average of 4.7.

"It's probably one of the best defenses we're going to face all year," said quarterback Tony Banks.

"They've shown that they cause a lot of problems for other teams. We'll have our work cut out for us. They're stout up front, probably as stout as we're going to face when it comes to a front seven. They try to stop the run with just seven guys, so it will be mano a mano."

Banks, who was knocked out of last Sunday's 17-10 win in Denver with a concussion, is expected to start today. He was held out of Wednesday's practice as a precaution, but did practice later in the week.

Tight end Stephen Alexander, who has missed the past five games with a high-ankle sprain, practiced last week for the first time since his injury and is also expected to return to the lineup today.

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