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Courier Post: Eagles offense, Bears 'D' falter


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If McNabb doesn't look for AA's guy all day, I'd be embarrassed were I an Eagles fan...

By SEAN McCANN

Courier-Post Staff

http://www.courierpostonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071021/SPORTS02/710210386/1002/SPORTS&template=printart

PHILADELPHIA

Just a couple of months ago, Donovan McNabb said he believed the 2007 version of the Eagles offense could challenge the numbers the team put up in 2004.

Five games later, just a couple of touchdowns a game would be an improvement.

Likewise, 2006 saw Chicago ride a seriously fearsome defense to the Super Bowl. Now the Bears' "D' is ranked 27th in the NFL, having given up 224 yards and three touchdowns to a rookie running back from a mediocre team.

Those flummoxed and disappointing units -- the Philly offense and the Chicago defense -- will face each other today, as the 2-3 Eagles and 2-4 Bears fight to stay relevant in the NFC playoff picture.

They'll kick off at 4:15 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field.

Asked what has gone wrong with the Chicago defense, McNabb immediately drew a parallel to his own unit.

"I think it's kind of like our red-zone offense. It's been mistakes or miscues," the quarterback said. "They're still the same defense. They may have had some injuries, guys rotating in and out, but some mistakes have cost them."

Some of the mistakes that have cost the Eagles -- especially with the offense threatening to score -- have not been McNabb's, but some of them have.

In the red zone, where the limits of space constrict the passing game, McNabb's ability in the past to run the ball has been perhaps the biggest factor in Philadelphia's above-average efficiency. When everybody was covered, he could still do damage.

But since his ACL injury last year, McNabb has yet to regain the signature burst that allowed him to elude defenders when scrambling. Last week against the Jets, he was caught from behind by a defensive lineman.

Struggles or no, the Bears defense is still one of the fastest in the NFL, especially in the linebacking corps where All-Pros Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs lurk.

However, Chicago head coach Lovie Smith would not concede that McNabb's legs are a diminished threat.

"Donovan McNabb's still mobile," Smith declared. "Whether he's 100 percent, who is 100 percent this time of the year? I just know that he's the same Donovan to me.

"And that's a great player."

Smith was critical of his team's effort last week against rookie sensation Adrian Peterson and the Vikings. The defense allowed Minnesota to rack up 34 points and 458 yards of total offense.

"We had a running back that ran a couple of touchdowns when we didn't even have bodies on him," Smith said. "For us, it's about gap control. A couple runs, we didn't get a hand on him."

From a larger perspective, he said the loss to the Vikings -- and in fact, the whole first six weeks of the season -- is not necessarily indicative of his team's abilities.

"Stuff happens from time to time," he said. "We had a bad game last week, and we've played a couple of bad quarters against some teams, but that's not who we are as a defense."

The twin failings of the Bears defense and Eagles offense have coincided with vast improvements on the other side of the ball.

During last year's run to the Super Bowl, Chicago's offense was a piano on its back. But in the three weeks since the Bears replaced Rex Grossman with Brian Griese at quarterback, they have scored at least 27 points each game.

Philadelphia might have been the NFC representative in last year's Super Bowl if the defense could have stood up to the run. Now the Eagles defense is ranked seventh in the league overall, including ninth versus the rush, and it has allowed just one touchdown in its last 10 quarters of play.

The Eagles will again be without safety Brian Dawkins, out for the fourth straight game with a neck stinger, but they likely will welcome back Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard to the lineup.

The red-zone offense will probably have to improve without the aid of one of McNabb's favorite targets, tight end L.J. Smith, who was listed as doubtful on the Friday injury report with continuing groin soreness.

Left tackle William Thomas was listed as questionable with a knee injury.

The last time Thomas couldn't play was against the Giants in Week 4, when he was replaced by Winston Justice and McNabb was sacked 12 times in a humiliating 16-3 loss.

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