The Eastern Front: Will Dallas Open It Up?

The Eastern Front 12.16.05--The Cowboys ponder whether or not opening up the offense is the best way to attack the Redskins. Also, New York faces its first injury problems of the year and the Eagles wonder what happened to their defense.

Dallas Cowboys

Hot Topic

The big question the Cowboys face this week is whether coach Bill Parcells will continue the aggressive game plan he used against the Chiefs or go back to his preferred conservative ways for Sunday's matchup against the Redskins.

Parcells opened things up against the Chiefs, and the offense responded by producing 445 yards in a 31-28 victory.

Parcells did so because he said it gave the Cowboys the best chance to win against the high-powered Chiefs offense.

He makes no promises of a similar approach to the Redskins game.

Parcells said he's a low-risk gambler. He bets a little to win a lot, meaning that he would prefer to play conservatively rather than be a gunslinger.

"It can cost you pretty dearly to take that gunslinger attitude toward every game," Parcells said. "I don't think that it is percentage football all of the time. As a coach, you try to decide what gives your team the best chance to win. I know there are a lot of phrases like 'no risk, no reward,' but it has been proven if you turn the ball over, you are going to lose 80 percent of the time."

Because of the Redskins' blitzing style, opening up against them could backfire.

"They do make things difficult on you," quarterback Drew Bledsoe said. "If you are going to play the Redskins and choose to throw it, you are putting yourselves at risk. You are asking a lot from the guys up front and the backs in terms of picking up the blitzes. You are asking a lot of me in terms of making decisions against some different looks."

But Bledsoe said the players are ready to handle another aggressive game plan.

He said they proved that against the Chiefs by not turning over the ball. Bledsoe passed for 332 yards and three touchdowns.

He threw deep to receiver Terry Glenn, who had six catches for 138 yards and a touchdown, and underneath to tight end Jason Witten (seven for 93) and receiver Keyshawn Johnson (three for 35), while opening things up for a 129-yard effort on the ground from backs Julius Jones and Marion Barber.

A conservative game plan in the 14-13 loss to the Raiders earlier in the season is another reason the Cowboys should be more aggressive on Sunday.

The Cowboys just have to convince Parcells to go against his nature.

"I think that if he had his druthers, he would like to play a conservative brand of football, where there is not much risk involved because he feels he has more control of the outcome," Bledsoe said. "I also would like to go back and remind him that when we were successful in New England, we threw more than anybody in the history of football."

SERIES HISTORY: 92nd meeting. Dallas holds a 54-35-2 series lead. The Cowboys have won 14 of the last 16 meetings. Washington won earlier this season 14-13. Dallas has defeated Washington more times (54) than any other team. The Cowboys have faced only one team (Philadelphia -- 93) more times than the 91 times they've faced the Redskins. The Cowboys won a series-high 10 consecutive games from 1997-02.

Quotes and Notes

--QB Drew Bledsoe has been named the NFC's Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season.

Bledsoe threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday's 31-28 victory over the Chiefs. He capped the winning drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dan Campbell with 22 seconds left.

Bledsoe posted a 126.1 passer rating in the game. He was also Player of the Week after the season-opening victory against the Chargers.

--This season, the Cowboys have had one of their most dramatic seasons in team history. Ten of their 13 games have been decided by seven points or less, and nine of those 10 have been decided by six points or less.

Dallas' record this season in games decided by six points or less is 5-4. In franchise history, the Cowboys have played in 228 games that have been decided by six points or less and hold a 110-112-6 record in those games.

After last week's dramatic fourth-quarter, come-from-behind victory, Dallas has tied the 2002 team's club record of nine games decided by six points or less. The 2002 team posted a 3-6 record in those close games.

--The Cowboys are 13th in the NFL (seventh in the NFC) in total offense (332.4 yards per game). Dallas is 14th in the NFL (sixth in the NFC) in rushing (113.9 yards per game). With an average of 218.5 passing yards per game, Dallas is 14th in the NFL in passing (seventh in the NFC). Dallas leads the NFL in time of possession, holding the ball for 32:59 per game. Dallas is followed by San Diego (32:08), Kansas City (32:07) and Denver (31:57) in that department. Since the start of the 2003 season, Dallas is 10-1 when holding the ball for at least 35 minutes. The Cowboys are currently sixth in the NFL in third-down conversion rate with a mark of 41.7 percent (78 of 187).

Dallas is eighth in the NFL in first downs per game (20.6). Dallas has recorded at least 300 yards in nine of its 13 games this year.

--In his last 20 starts (Buffalo and Dallas), QB Drew Bledsoe owns a 14-6 record. Bledsoe is fourth in the NFC (11th in the NFL) in passer efficiency rating with a mark of 89.5. Bledsoe is fourth in the NFC (ninth in the NFL) in average gain (7.4). He is third in the NFC (ninth in the NFL) in passing yards (3,035).

If Bledsoe were to maintain his current passer rating of 89.5, it would be a career-best single-season performance. His highest career rating to date is 87.7 in 1997.

--Bledsoe is also matching the best completion percentage season of his career. He has currently completed 61.5 percent of his passes. His career-best season was 61.5 percent in 2002 (Buffalo). His current mark is the highest by a Dallas quarterback since Troy Aikman completed 63.7 percent in 1996.

--The Cowboys are currently 10th in the NFL (sixth in the NFC) in total defense, allowing an average of 300.7 yards per game. In rushing defense, the Cowboys are 13th in the NFL (seventh in the NFC) with an average of 106.4 yards allowed on the ground. Dallas is 13th in pass defense (eighth in the NFC) averaging 194.3 yards through the air. Dallas is fifth in the NFL in fewest first downs allowed per game (15.8). Tampa Bay (15.0) is first in the NFL in that department and Chicago (15.5) is second. Dallas is second in the NFL in lowest opponent's completion percentage. The Cowboys are allowing quarterbacks to complete passes at a 54.9 percent clip.

Washington is tops in that category (54.7 percent). In the past eight games, the Cowboys have allowed their opponents to be successful on third downs at a rate of 29.5 percent (39-for-132). Dallas is fifth in the NFL in third-down conversion defense at 34.1 percent. The Dallas defense is on pace to record 40 sacks for the season, which would be its best showing since 1994 (47).

--Only five other teams have allowed fewer offensive touchdowns than the 22 allowed by Dallas. They are Chicago (14), Tampa Bay (17), Seattle (17), Indianapolis (19) and Carolina (19).

Dallas is eighth in the NFL in scoring defense, having allowed just 17.9 points per game. Dallas is fifth in the NFL in red-zone efficiency -- allowing just 13 touchdowns on 29 opponents' trips inside the 20 (44.8 percent). Chicago is first (27.3 percent), followed by Seattle (39.4 percent) Carolina (41.9 percent) and Green Bay (44.7 percent).

No team has allowed opposing offenses to move inside the 20-yard line fewer times than the 29 penetrations allowed by the Dallas defense. In the last 10 games, the Dallas defense has allowed opposing offenses to score just 14 touchdowns.

BY THE NUMBERS: 23 -- Turnovers forced by the Dallas defense, the ninth-best total in the NFC. The Cowboys have a plus-2 turnover ratio, eighth best in the NFC.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The rivalry has always been there, but the things that have been riding on the game haven't been there for the last couple of years. A lot is riding on this." -- Cowboys defensive end Greg Ellis on the rivalry with the Redskins being helped by the playoff implications in Sunday's game.

Player Notes

--DE Chris Canty is probable for the Redskins game with a sprained ankle. Canty has started the past two games in front of veteran Greg Ellis, recording nine tackles. Coach Bill Parcells said Canty's size (6-foot-7, 295 pounds) gives the Cowboys a better chance of stopping the run.

--DE Marcus Spears had his best game of the season against the Chiefs last Sunday. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said Spears has been getting better every game, but Sunday against the Chiefs, he put it all together.

--LB DeMarcus Ware has not had a sack in seven games after getting sacks in four straight games. Coach Bill Parcells said the rookie first-round pick is struggling. He singled Ware out for several mental mistakes in last Sunday's game against the Chiefs.

--CB Terence Newman has been a beast against the Redskins, recording 28 tackles, six passes defensed and five interceptions in five career games. Five of his 11 career interceptions have come against the Redskins.

--RB Tyson Thompson is second on the Cowboys' rookie single-season list for kickoff returns with 41, and is third in kickoff return yards with 988.

--DE Junior Glymph was signed off the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad. Glymph, a 6-5, 270-pound second-year player from Carson-Newman, moved between the Falcons' practice squad and active roster this season. He had five tackles in three games. Coach Bill Parcells said the team acquired Glymph in hopes of developing him for next year.

GAME PLAN: The Cowboys would like to control the ball on the ground and make big plays down the field from quarterback Drew Bledsoe to receiver Terry Glenn. They must protect up front in the face of the Redskins blitz. They also must take care of the ball, which means they will take calculated shots down the field. Defensively, they must stop running back Clinton Portis and contain receiver Santana Moss, who beat them single-handedly in the first game this year with two late strikes.


--Redskins RB Clinton Portis vs. Cowboys' run defense. The Redskins have increasingly become Portis' team of late. He has topped the 100-yard barrier six times this season and has 1,184 rushing yards for the year. After playing solidly against the run for much of the year, the Cowboys have been leaky of late. In four of the past five games, they have given up 181 yards to the Eagles, 144 to the Broncos, 127 to the Giants and 161 to Kansas City. It goes without saying that stopping the run and Portis will be key to their success against the Redskins.

--Cowboys QB Drew Bledsoe vs. Redskins' blitzing defense. The Redskins are going to come after Bledsoe. He is a pocket passer with questionable and inexperienced protection up front. He needs to make plays down the field for the Cowboys to win the game. The Cowboys believe they have mismatches on the outside with receivers Terry Glenn and Keyshawn Johnson. But Bledsoe needs time to get them the ball. That means the running backs as well as suspect tackles Rob Petitti and Torrin Tucker have to hold up against the blitz.

INJURY IMPACT: DE Chris Canty missed practice Wednesday with a sprained ankle. He is expected to practice on Thursday and be ready for Sunday's game. If he can't go, look for Greg Ellis to return to the starting lineup.

New York Giants 

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Having skated through the first 13 games of the season with hardly a serious injury to talk about, the jinx hit the New York Giants hard last Sunday, when four key players were helped off the field.

At least two of them are not going to play Saturday against Kansas City - middle linebacker Antonio Pierce (high ankle sprain, in a cast) and defensive tackle William Joseph (high ankle sprain) - while the other two, starting tackles Kareem McKenzie (strained hamstring) and Luke Petitgout (back), are considered as day-to-day and might be able to play if coach Tom Coughlin doesn't invoke his "no practice, no play" rule.

He demurred on how he will handle that.

"I would think that first I'd get the opinion of the medical people," he said, "and if they say the guys can play, I'll see what to do next. You might say that they have practiced all season and might be able to play anyway."

That's "you bet they'll play" in coach-speak.

If not, veteran Bob Whitfield and reserve Jason Whittle are considered the next tackles. If only McKenzie is out, it may be that Whitfield, normally a left tackle, will move over to the right side because he's bigger, more experienced and better.

"I have played the right side," said the former No. 1 draft pick out of Stanford. "It would be different. New directions for me to go, new assignments, but I can do it. Hey, it will give me the chance to earn my money."

The pair filled in for Petitgout and McKenzie for the second half in Philadelphia. Whitfield replaced Petitgout, McKenzie's spot was taken by starting left guard David Diehl, and Whittle came in at left guard. If only one tackle cannot make it, there is still speculation that Diehl would be the tackle (he played the full 2004 season at right tackle) and Whittle would stay as the replacement right guard.

That would leave Whitfield as an emergency fill-in should Diehl experience trouble or the other starting tackle be re-injured.

Defensively, the lineup is set. Nick Greisen will move from the weakside linebacker position to the middle (as he did last Sunday), and Reggie Torbor will come off the bench to replace Greisen.

"I'm comfortable with Nick," Coughlin said. "He is a hard-working, smart player. He knows the position, and he has played very well all season."

To replace Joseph, Coughlin will fill with Fred Robbins, who has played there on a rotating basis all season and who started three consecutive games when Joseph was out with a dislocated elbow.

SERIES HISTORY: 11th meeting. The Giants lead the series 8-2. The Chiefs won in 1983 and again in 1995 (20-17 in overtime). The first meeting, in 1974, was probably the most memorable, when Giants strong safety Chuck Crist stopped a receiver on the 1-yard line to preserve New York's 33-27 win.

Quotes and Notes

--Defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who leads the NFC with 12 1/2 sacks, and trails only Oakland's Derrick Burgess (13) in the NFL, says he has finally realized that other teams are playing him differently. "I'm seeing a lot more double teams," he says. "It feels good, knowing they have that concern about me. I feel like I'm helping my team out by getting double-teamed."

He is certainly helping fellow defensive end Michael Strahan, who has 11 1/2 sacks, fourth in the NFL.

"We need a total defensive effort now with Antonio (Pierce) on the sideline," he says. "I don't understand why everybody is so concerned with Kansas City. We're not shabby either, you know?"

--Despite the Chiefs' 8-5 record, they are 3-4 on the road and lost to lowly Buffalo 14-3 a month ago.

"We have had trouble with consistency," coach Dick Vermeil said. "I am proud of the guys for how hard they have played, but we need to be more consistent."

--The Giants have scored 345 points, the most in the NFC, while Kansas City has scored 329, second most in the AFC.

"This might be a scorefest," tackle Bob Whitfield said, "and whoever scores last wins."

--Strahan considers Chiefs running back Larry Johnson the poster boy for taking advantage of a situation.

"When Priest (Holmes) went out," he said, "this guy just started running and pounding, and he has over 1,200 yards now and he is getting better each game. I think he's averaging like 5 yards a carry (it's 5.1), and he's a big dude (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) who hurts you when you tackle him."

--Quarterback Eli Manning has passed for 3,128 yards and thrown 21 touchdown passes, but Kansas City's Trent Green, with 45 fewer attempts, has accumulated 3,287 yards.

"He is a master craftsman," Strahan said, "and that great big offensive line sits in front of him like the Great Wall of China."

On the other hand, Green has thrown only 14 scoring strikes.

--Manning thinks the Giants' primary object is to avoid the heavy defense of the Chiefs.

"We have to have answers for when they blitz," he said. "They blitz a lot, and usually it's pretty successful."

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 - Games the Giants must win, including one against Washington next week, to clinch the NFC East. Their division record would decide any tiebreaker with either Dallas or Washington.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's not a rivalry. In a rivalry, each side has to do something good, and that has to go on for a long time. I don't think that applies to that question." - Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, talking about his year-after-year dominance of Eagles tackle John Runyan.

Player Notes

The Giants will have Nick Greisen at middle linebacker instead of Antonio Pierce (high ankle sprain), and that will be a major adjustment. RDT William Joseph (high ankle sprain) is out, making Fred Robbins the starter.

Offensively, RT Kareem McKenzie (strained hamstring) is more likely to miss the game than LT Luke Petitgout (back spasms). Veteran Bob Whitfield or starting LG David Diehl will replace one of them; if it's Diehl, then reserve Jason Whittle will move up to left guard.

Should both tackles be unavailable, it will affect the Giants' passing game because more people will have to be kept in the backfield as emergency blockers. And the holes that have provided RB Tiki Barber with 1,357 yards through 13 games might not be as plentiful.


--LB Reggie Torbor, who was given the strongside job at the start of the season but couldn't hold it, will move to the weak side for Nick Greisen, who moves into the middle. If Torbor has a problem with that, the Giants will switch him with SLB Carlos Emmons, who has played both sides; Torbor might be more effective on the strong side.

--While little notoriety has been accorded LDT Kendrick Clancy, he is quietly having a superb season. He has accounted for 41 tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and has plugged the hole time and again, allowing the Giants defense to give up only 99 yards rushing per game.

--Some of the players were guessing that this would be the week - and about time - for LCB Will Allen to record his first interception of the season. He has played well (58 tackles, 10 passes defensed) but his penchant for dropping obvious interceptions has continued. He whiffed on seven last year, and he has had five in his hands this season without coming up with one.

-- K Jay Feely has 119 points, nine away from the team single-season scoring record of 127, set by Ali Haji-Sheikh in 1983. Feely has made three of five field goals from the 50 and beyond, and five of seven from the 40 to the 49.

GAME PLAN: Offensively, the Giants will have to do two critical things - minimize turnovers, because the Chiefs can control the clock with their short passing game and the power running of Larry Johnson, and run the ball successfully with Tiki Barber. If they do, the Kansas City secondary, which is not awe-inspiring, will have to come up in support, freeing the passes the Giants want to throw - down the middle to TE Jeremy Shockey.

On defense, Johnson must be held to minimal production. That won't be an easy job with MLB Antonio Pierce and RDT William Joseph out with high ankle sprains. Controlling the damage that can be done by TE Tony Gonzalez is another must-do; that will fall mostly on SS Gibril WIlson and Nick Greisen, who moves from the weak side to the middle to replace Pierce.


--The Giants' defensive ends, Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, are bound to receive "special treatment" from the Chiefs' solid offensive line. Strahan goes up against RT John Welbourn (6-foot-5, 310 pounds), while Umenyiora draws veteran Pro Bowl LT Willie Roaf (6-5, 320). Odds are that each end will have to deal with his share of double teams, and how that develops should determine the winner of this battle in the trenches.

--The Giants' secondary, particularly the right cornerback, where Curtis Deloatch and/or rookie Corey Webster have tried to fill the gap created by the injury to Will Peterson, will draw attention from QB Trent Green and WRs Eddie Kennison and Sammie Parker. Neither corner has been particularly effective this season.

--Giants SS Gibril Wilson will have to find a way (with the help of the middle linebacker or the free safety) to deal with Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez, arguably the best at his position in the AFC. Gonzalez leads the team in receiving with 64 catches for 737 yards and two touchdowns. Conversely, the Chiefs will have to contend with Giants TE Jeremy Shockey (60 catches, 840 yards and seven TDs), and that job will fall squarely on the shoulders of SS Sammy Knight and MLB Kawika Mitchell.


The Giants are going to suffer through the loss of MLB Antonio Pierce, which provides a soft spot for the Chiefs offense, especially the running game. With RDT William Joseph also out, the hard-running Larry Johnson might have a destructive game, providing both yardage and time of possession.

Philadelphia Eagles

Hot Topic

The Eagles are 18th in the NFL in points scored, but at least their offense has some pretty good excuses for its poor production this season. No Donovan McNabb. No Terrell Owens. No Brian Westbrook. No Tra Thomas. No Todd Pinkston.

Add injured center Hank Fraley to that list, and you're talking about the absence of six starters from a unit that finished eighth in the league in scoring last season when the Eagles won the NFC championship.

The Eagles defense, meanwhile, which is currently ranked 25th in the league in points allowed and 25th in yards allowed, can't use injuries or insubordinate players as an excuse.

The defense has had had just one significant injury to a starter. That was cornerback Lito Sheppard, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in late November. But the Eagles' defensive problems started long before Sheppard went down.

Why has a defense that finished second in the league in points allowed last season fallen so far so fast? Well, much of it revolves around their inability to get pressure on the quarterback.

Last season, the Eagles finished second in the league in sacks with 47. Only the Atlanta Falcons, with 48, had more. Through 13 games this season, they've got just 26. That's a 32-sack pace, which would be the fewest sacks by an Eagles defense in a non-strike year since 1978.

Their inability to pressure the quarterback has put considerable pressure on their secondary, which hasn't played nearly as well this season as it did a year ago when it sent three players to the Pro Bowl. The Eagles already have given up 20 touchdown passes in the first 13 games, which is the most by the defense since they gave up 22 in 1999, which was the year that head coach Andy Reid and defensive coordinator Jim Johnson arrived in Philadelphia.

Johnson's blitzes haven't been nearly as effective as they were in the past, and the front four has been incapable of getting to the quarterback without help. The Eagles have just two sacks in the last three games, and only one of them was by a lineman -- defensive tackle Mike Patterson.

"There are a lot of things that go into it," Johnson said. "I don't want to evaluate the whole season on one or two games. We will kind of look at it later. But we have to get more pressure, there's no question about it. It starts with the guys up front, then the blitzes, and then, of course, coverage. It all goes together."

Derrick Burgess, last year's starting left end, signed with the Oakland Raiders in the offseason. He had just 2.5 sacks in 11 starts last season, but he is leading the NFL with 13 sacks this season. The Eagles let Burgess go because they expected 2003 first-round pick Jerome McDougle to step in and replace him. But McDougle was shot in a robbery attempt just before the start of training camp and hasn't played a down all season.

N.D. Kalu ended up as the starter but was largely ineffective. He was eventually replaced by rookie fifth-rounder Trent Cole, who has shown promise and has five sacks in four starts.

"Trent's playing with a very high energy level, and he's been productive," Johnson said. "I'm very happy with him, but he's still making some mental mistakes, and we still have to keep working on that."

Bigger problems are the inability of the defensive tackles to get any kind of inside push. They've got a total of six sacks this season. And then there's been the ineffectiveness of left end Jevon Kearse.

The Eagles spent big money two years ago to bring in Kearse, giving him a $16 million signing bonus. But he hasn't been the unstoppable edge rusher the Eagles had expected. He's got just 6 1/2 sacks this season, and three of them came in one game. He seems to have lost a step and is unable to fight through double teams.

SERIES HISTORY: 37th meeting. The Rams lead the series 19-16-1. The Eagles have lost three of the last four meetings, including a 29-24 defeat in the 2001 NFC Championship Game.

Quotes and Notes

--J. Whyatt Mondesire, who heads the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, recently ripped Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb in a rambling column he wrote in the Philadelphia Sun newspaper. Among other things, Mondesire accused McNabb of disrespecting blacks because he doesn't want to be known as a running quarterback. McNabb said Mondesire's remarks baffled him as much as Rush Limbaugh's comments a couple of years ago. "Especially being the same color I am," the quarterback said. "Obviously, if it's someone else who is not African-American, it's racism. But when someone of the same race talks about you because you're selling out because you're not running the ball, it goes back to what are we really talking about here."

--McNabb received a lot of criticism for his handling of the Terrell Owens affair. Some have questioned his leadership ability and wonder whether he has "lost the locker room."

McNabb's response: "There's never been a question of me losing the locker room until this year. If I've lost the locker room, then the question goes up why. Is it because now people are starting to look at me sideways for what I've been doing, or what I make, or whatever (Owens) had a problem with? That's the question I'm trying to get answered. If I've lost the locker room or not. No answer has come my way. But I do know the main reason we're not a good team is because we don't play as a team. Everybody has to realize that in order for us to get back to the Super Bowl and win it, we all have to play well together."

How does McNabb plan to get the locker room back?

"By being yourself," he said. "What I have to do is make sure the offense is prepared and come back in the best condition possible, give guys an opportunity to make plays. If it's a divided locker room, I can't be the one to bring everybody together and make some speech like I'm Knute Rockne or something. But when I do bring guys together, I just want them to understand that the guy next to you is counting on you to give all you have. When they look at me, they know I'm going to give all that I have."

--Fox Sports analyst Troy Aikman said that Eagles coach Andy Reid told him that rookie wide receiver Reggie Brown is the most talented receiver he's ever coached, other than Terrell Owens. He told Aikman that if Brown continues to progress at the rate he has been, he would have no problems going into next season with Brown as his No. 1 wideout. Brown, the first of the club's two second-round picks last April, has 28 receptions. In the six games since Owens' departure, he's got 19 receptions and has averaged 15.7 yards per catch.

--One of the Eagles' more disconcerting defensive statistics this season has been this: Opposing teams have converted 17 of 65 third-and-10-or-more situations on the Eagles this season. That's a 26.6 percent success rate. The Eagles rank 15th in the league overall in third-down defense (37.8).

BY THE NUMBERS: The Eagles have given up more than 17 points in eight of their 13 games this season. That's the most since 1999, when it happened 11 times.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I want everybody to come back realizing that in order for us to win, we've got to play together. I think that's going to come back, and we won't have to worry about any of this stuff we've been talking about this past year." -- Eagles QB Donovan McNabb.

Player Notes

The Eagles signed QB Andy Hall off of their practice squad earlier this week. The move was precipitated mainly by the uncertain health of starter Mike McMahon, who is questionable for Sunday's game against the Rams. The Eagles had been carrying just two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster -- McMahon and backup Koy Detmer. To make room for Hall, the Eagles placed RB Brian Westbrook on injured reserve.


--QB Mike McMahon practiced Wednesday and is expected to play Sunday against the Rams. He injured his hip and knee against the Giants but is listed as probable.

--RT Jon Runyan is listed as questionable on the Eagles' injury report with a knee injury. But he practiced Wednesday and almost certainly will play Sunday against the Rams and keep his consecutive-start streak in tact.

--QB Andy Hall, who was signed off the practice squad earlier this week, will be the club's emergency No. 3 quarterback Sunday, behind starter Mike McMahon and Koy Detmer.

--LB Dedrick Roper was the only Eagle who didn't practice Wednesday. He is listed as questionable with an abdomen strain. Roper plays on the Eagles' special teams.

--LG Artis Hicks still is nursing a knee injury that sidelined him for three games earlier this season. But he practiced Wednesday and is listed as probable for Sunday's game against the Rams.

GAME PLAN: Defensively, the Eagles hope to confuse rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw five interceptions last week in a loss to the Vikings. They figure to blitz him a lot and disguise their coverages in the hopes of forcing some more interceptions. Offensively, the Eagles will try to take the pressure off of quarterback Mike McMahon by running the ball a lot. Rookie Ryan Moats is coming off the first 100-yard rushing performance of his career.


--Eagles MLB Jeremiah Trotter vs. Rams RB Steven Jackson. The Eagles' run defense begins with Trotter.

--Eagles LDE Jevon Kearse vs. Rams RT Rex Tucker. Kearse hasn't had a sack in three games.

--Eagles CBs Sheldon Brown and Rod Hood vs. Rams WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. Holt and Bruce have caught 54 passes in the past four games.

INJURY IMPACT: QB Mike McMahon should be able to play Sunday despite injuring his knee and hip in last week's loss to the Giants. He is listed as probable. If he can't play or aggravates the injury, Koy Detmer would replace him.

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