Scouting Report: Philadelphia Eagles

With a date with Air New England just another week away, the Eagles suddenly are having problems stopping the pass. Two weeks ago, Tony Romo threw for 324 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-17 Dallas victory. Last week, the Redskins' Jason Campbell, who entered the game ranked 24th in the league in passing, completed 23 of 34 passes and also threw three touchdown passes against the Eagles.

In their last two games, the Eagles have given up as many touchdown passes (6) as they did in their first seven games.

Ironically enough, their secondary finally has been back to full strength, with two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard and five-time Pro Bowl free safety Brian Dawkins both returning from injuries that kept them out a total of nine games.

But Sheppard aggravated his knee injury in his first game back, and though he has continued to play, he's nowhere close to 100 percent. He got burned on two of Campbell's three touchdown passes last week. In addition, nickel corner Will James, who gave up two 31-yard completions to Redskins wide receiver James Thrash last week, is playing with plantar fasciitis in his foot.

But while the coverage has been poor, a bigger problem right now has been the pass rush. The Eagles have registered just one sack in the last two games. And while they have a respectable 25 sacks for the season, 10 of them came in a lopsided Week 3 win over Detroit. Since then, the Eagles have had just 10 sacks in six games.

Against both the Cowboys and the Redskins, the front four wasn't able to get any pressure on the quarterback. Right end Trent Cole, who had a league-best nine sacks through the first seven games, has been shut out the last two games and no one else has been able to pick up the slack.

"We need to do better there," coach Andy Reid said. "You can't give quarterbacks that much time to stand back there and throw the football. ... At the same time, Jim (Johnson, the defensive coordinator) can't be blitzing every down. You don't want to do that. The front four is good enough where they can put pressure on quarterbacks. They just need to go out and do it."

The biggest problem up front has been the lack of productivity from the Eagles' two highest-paid defensive linemen, Darren Howard and Jevon Kearse. Both have seen their playing time slashed dramatically, which has forced Cole and their other undersized end, Juqua Thomas, to play a lot more snaps than anticipated.

Cole played almost every snap of the Redskins game because their only other option there, Howard, just can't be counted on. But Cole has run out of gas each of the last two seasons because of overwork. He collected 13 sacks in '05 and '06, but none of them came in the final six games of the season.

Kearse, who had been the starter at left end, didn't get into the Redskins game until the second quarter, and played no more than 15 snaps the entire game. Howard played even less than that.

While Johnson pretty much has admitted that Howard's reduced playing time has been because of ineffective play, Reid said the Eagles have decided to pull back on Kearse's reps right now so that he'll be fresher later on in the year.

"We've cut Jevon back because he's coming off major knee surgery (last year)," Reid said. "I thought if we reduced his plays (now), he'd have a little bit more production and be fresher (later)."

NOTES, QUOTES

-- Five-time Pro Bowl free safety Brian Dawkins was on the Eagles' kickoff coverage unit on their final two kickoffs in Sunday's 33-25 come-from-behind win over the Washington Redskins. After the Eagles went ahead 26-25 on Brian Westbrook's 57-yard touchdown catch-and-run with 3:16 left, Dawkins went to head coach Andy Reid and asked him to send him out on kickoff coverage. He played on the coverage unit again after Westbrook scored on a 10-yard run with 2:18 left to make it 33-25. "He sent a little message to everybody (about) how important it is to win football games at this time of year," Reid said. "He wanted to get in there and set the tempo. He wanted to go and I let him do it."

Asked whether he will consider using Dawkins or other starters on special teams in the future, Reid said, "For the real old guys, a snap here and there, maybe. I'm not real big on the real old guys doing that."

-- Westbrook enters Sunday's game against the Dolphins with a streak of 458 touches without a fumble. The only player in the league with a longer active streak is the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson, who hasn't fumbled in 478 touches. Since the start of 2004, Westbrook has fumbled just three times on 984 offensive touches (rushing attempts and receptions). That's the fewest fumbles and best fumble ratio (one for every 328 touches) of any running back with at least 500 touches in the league. "As a player, I try to be a perfectionist," Westbrook said. "I try to be perfect in every aspect of the game. That's catching the ball, running the ball and holding on to the ball."

-- Donovan McNabb is starting to get his mobility back. McNabb, who tore his ACL 12 months ago, rushed for a season-high 37 yards Sunday against the Redskins and had three rushing first downs. That's just one fewer than he had in the first eight games. "I feel good," he said. "It's an exciting time, because this is the time when you want to really be healthy. There are a lot of different things that I knew I wasn't going to be able to do early on, that I definitely can do now. Again, it's not that you focus on the mobility. It's more of just the balance and confidence in (knowing) everything that you used to be able to do, now you can do."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think he's a very good football player. I'm a little partial because he went to BYU. But I think people that you talk to will tell you that he's a heck of a player and has an opportunity to really be special at that position." -- Eagles coach Andy Reid, on Dolphins rookie QB John Beck.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The ineffectiveness of defensive ends Darren Howard and Jevon Kearse is forcing defensive coordinator Jim Johnson to make Trent Cole and Juqua Thomas work overtime. Cole played almost every snap last week against Washington. Neither he nor Thomas are the biggest ends in the league, so there is concern about burning them out. One thing Johnson did last week was activate rookie second-rounder Victor Abiamiri. Abiamiri was inactive for seven of the first eight games, but ended up playing 25-30 snaps against Washington.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Eagles RDE Trent Cole vs. Dolphins LT Vernon Carey: Cole has team-high nine sacks, but has been shut out in last two games.

Eagles RB Brian Westbrook vs. Dolphins MLB Channing Crowder: Westbrook has accounted for 48.6 percent of Eagles' offensive yards the last two weeks.

Eagles MLB Omar Gaither vs. Dolphins RB Jesse Chatman: Chatman is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and will be difficult for Gaither to find because of his small size (5-8).

GAME PLAN: Brian Westbrook has accounted for 48.6 percent of the Eagles' offensive yards in the last two games, and that probably won't change a great deal Sunday as the Eagles will try to give their star running back about 25 touches, both as a runner and receiver. With tight end L.J. Smith finally healthy, the Eagles also will try to exploit the middle of the field with him.

INJURY IMPACT: CB Lito Sheppard still is bothered by a sprained knee that he first hurt in Week 1 and aggravated three weeks ago. He played last week and will play this week, but isn't anywhere close to 100 percent. The two-time Pro Bowler gave up two touchdown passes last week.


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