Crawling 'Skins face soaring Eagles

Carries for Portis seen as tactic Washington must use for success

Pro Football

December 12, 2004|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

It's kind of like that Disney commercial. Now that the Washington Redskins have ended a three-game losing streak and shed the dubious label of being the only NFL team yet to break the 20-point ceiling, what are they going to do next?

"We're looking for some momentum," said running back Clinton Portis. "Streaks always start with No. 1. We hope to get No. 2, and we'll build off of that."

To do that, Portis and the Redskins (4-8) are going to have to scrape for offensive yardage against the NFC East-champion Philadelphia Eagles (11-1), who visit FedEx Field at 8:30 tonight on a four-game winning streak and coming off a 47-17 rout of the Green Bay Packers.

Gouging a New York Giants defense that was missing four season-opener starters and three more players because of injuries for 379 yards of total offense and 31 points a week ago is one thing.

Trying to be as successful against an Eagles defense that confined Brett Favre and the Packers' high-octane offense to less than 130 yards in each half of last week's victory is another matter.

"I've been looking at the film, and it's not pretty," said Washington coach Joe Gibbs. "I think they're rip-roaring right now, and we've got them coming to town. We're obviously going to have our hands full."

The Redskins likely will try to stick to last week's game plan against the Giants, which entails giving the ball to Portis early and often.

Portis, whose use was questioned after he carried just six times for 17 yards in a 16-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks ago, gained 148 yards on 31 attempts against New York. Washington has won every game in which Portis has broken 100 yards - a coincidence not lost on cornerback Fred Smoot.

"Just keep giving Clinton the ball," Smoot said. "Good things happen when we do that."

The Eagles' defense will be without starting end Derrick Burgess (separated sternum), end Jerome McDougle (sprained knee) and backup linebacker Nate Wayne (aggravated hamstring injury).

Philadelphia has given up 75 rushing yards just once in its past four games, but the Redskins' giving Portis the ball will at least force Philadelphia to bring one or two safeties up to the line of scrimmage to stop him.

That could open passing lanes for Patrick Ramsey, who enjoyed his best game in three seasons as a Redskin last week, completing 19 of 22 passes for 173 yards, tying a career high with three touchdown passes and earning a 139.2 quarterback rating.

Ramsey, whose arm strength was supposed to keep opposing secondaries honest, said he has found a comfort level in a Gibbs-coached system that stresses high-percentage, short passes over high-risk bombs.

"To me, it really means being able to make sound decisions," Ramsey said. "If it's second-and-five and you have kind of a cloudy look at a 15-yard pass or you have a good look at a 5-yard pass for the first down, you take that and wait until you have an opportunity later to throw it downfield."

Getting the big play against Philadelphia will be a considerable challenge because the Eagles didn't give up one play of 20 yards or more in their 28-6 win over Washington on Nov. 21.

But Philadelphia coach Andy Reid, whose team has already locked up a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs and is trying to clinch home-field advantage throughout the postseason, said taking the Redskins seriously won't be difficult.

"The immediate thing you look at is the great job that the Redskins did against the Giants," Reid said. "That definitely catches our players' attention. The offense is playing well, and their defense has been playing well all year. So right away, you know you're going to be in for a heck of a game."

THE KEYS TO VICTORY

WATCH WESTBROOK: Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens is extremely dangerous, but running back Brian Westbrook is becoming one of quarterback Donovan McNabb's favorite targets, evidenced by Westbrook's three-touchdown show against the Green Bay Packers last week. The Eagles' second-leading receiver likely will draw attention from Redskins linebackers Marcus Washington and Lemar Marshall.

STAY DISCIPLINED: In the teams' Nov. 21 meeting, Washington committed a season-high 12 penalties, including five false starts and one delay-of-game call. The Redskins can't afford to move backward.

DROWN OUT THE HYPE: It's a night game before a national audience, but Washington, which has lost its past three prime-time games, can't get caught up in the theatrics. The Eagles are 15-1 under coach Andy Reid in prime-time games.

THE PICK

The Redskins will have a much tougher time trying to push around Philadelphia's defense, and no one would mistake McNabb for New York Giants rookie Eli Manning. The Eagles, who have swept the past two season series, should make it three straight. Eagles 34, Redskins 17.

The game

Matchup: Philadelphia Eagles (11-1) vs. Redskins (4-8)

Site: FedEx Field, Landover

When: Tonight, 8:30

TV/Radio: ESPN, Ch. 7/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Line: Eagles by 9

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