Eagles turning formidable vs. run

The Philadelphia Eagles are known for Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook on offense, but their rushing defense has raised the bar of late.

One of the keys for the Eagles in Sunday's wild-card playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings will be neutralizing running back Adrian Peterson.

The Eagles' defense is playing with a lot of confidence right now. It has given up just 40 points in the last four games, including six in Sunday's 44-6 playoff-clinching dismantling of the Dallas Cowboys.

Since giving up 219 rushing yards in a loss to the New York Giants in early November, the Eagles have been tough against the run. In their last seven games, they've allowed just 77.8 yards per game on the ground and just 3.1 yards per carry.

They held the Cowboys to 87 yards on 19 carries Sunday, including 29 yards on 10 first-half attempts.

"We're playing really well defensively right now," defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "We're stopping the run, we're getting pressure on the quarterback and we're forcing turnovers."

The Eagles had five takeaways — four fumbles and an interception — against the Cowboys, bringing their season total to 29, which is 10 more than they had in 2007.

They converted those five turnovers into 31 points Sunday, including fumble returns for touchdowns by defensive end Chris Clemons (73 yards) and cornerback Joselio Hanson (96 yards).

"They drove down into the red zone, and our defense forced some turnovers and capitalized on them in a big way," coach Andy Reid said. "Any time you can score a couple of (defensive) touchdowns, that's a great thing. We kept playing hard and aggressive."

The Eagles faced Peterson and the Vikings last year. Johnson showed a tape of some of Peterson's better runs interspersed with clips from the movie "The Gladiator," the night before the game. They went out and held him to 70 yards on 20 carries in a 23-16 Eagles victory.

"Peterson is one of the best running backs in this league," Johnson said. "But we're playing pretty well right now. We'll see how it goes. You can't completely shut down a guy like that. You just try to keep him from gashing you with big runs."

Said middle linebacker Stewart Bradley: "We're a much more experienced defense now than we were earlier in the season. We've come into our own. We've been playing the kind of defense that we have the ability to play.

"We knew coming out of training camp that we were talented and there were going to be some growing pains and ups and downs along the way. But we're really hitting our stride right now. When everyone is playing at this high level, it makes it easy to play defense."

Quote: "This is the NFL. I'm proud of the guys, but we're not done yet. We got to the doorstep, but now we have to climb up the steps and get in." - Coach Andy Reid.

By the numbers: Opposing quarterbacks have a 54.1 completion percentage against the Eagles this season. That's the lowest completion mark by the Eagles' defense in the 10 years that Jim Johnson has been the team's defensive coordinator.

NOTES

  • DE Chris Clemons left the game for a couple of series with cramps after he returned a fumble 73 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.

  • RT Jon Runyan, who is nursing a very sore knee that has been bothering him for weeks, could barely stand in the locker room after the game. But he played well and will play Sunday against the Vikings.

  • QB Donovan McNabb hasn't thrown an interception in four of the last five games.

  • FS Brian Dawkins continues to be bothered by back spasms. But he forced two turnovers Sunday and is expected to play in Sunday's playoff game against the Vikings.

  • RB Brian Westbrook came out of the game without any further damage to his sore knee. He likely will be limited in practice this week, but will play Sunday against the Vikings.


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