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McNabb And Westbrook Take Ball And Go

The way Donovan McNabb sees things, the offense has been more productive, more consistent and more efficient in the last two games because, using football speak, everyone has "executed" the X's and O's more effectively.

"That's what it is," said McNabb, taking a break from filming his television show. "Nothing magical. We're playing the way we know we can play. Maybe we have a little more confidence now. But it comes down to making the plays that are presented to us."

Yeah, well, maybe McNabb is technically correct, but when you have a week between games and have a chance to sit back and overanalyze things and come up with your own theories, there *has *to be more to what is happening on the field with the Eagles offense. After weeks and weeks of maddening inconsistency -- flashes of greatness and moments of disconcerting lack of harmony, the Eagles have put together back-to-back games in which the offense has been pretty darn good from start to finish. Not perfect -- "We know we can improve in every phase, that's the thing," says McNabb - but good enough convert 22 of 33 third downs, ring up 48 points on the Cardinals and then control the clock and score 20 points against the Giants to win two games the Eagles absolutely needed to win.

What is the difference? There is no single answer. A lot of factors come into play here, ranging from the increased emphasis on the running game to the great play from the offensive line to the slimmed-down rotation at wide receiver. All of those are valid, no question about it.

But maybe more than anything else, and this is simplifying things enormously, the truth is that McNabb and running back Brian Westbrook are back where they should be: They are taking the ball and taking control of this offense.

Westbrook, for one, has been marvelous in these last two games. He is averaging 166 yards from the line of scrimmage and he has scored 6 touchdowns. You can see the burst and the moves and the durability are back with Westbrook. Clearly, he just wasn't healthy for much of this season and no doubt that contributed to a lower-than-usual yards-per-carry average.

Down the stretch, though, Westbrook is the breadwinner. He won't carry 33 times every week -- hope that Correll Buckhalter comes back this week, and that the Eagles continue to use Kyle Eckel here and there as a fullback in some formations and as a third-and-1, short-yardage back at other times -- but the Eagles know they need to get the ball to Westbrook. Having these three days off this week will provide a huge benefit as the three-game homestretch waits.

McNabb's season, on the other hand, has been marred not by injuries, but by an uneven offensive performance, some out-and-out poor games and, finally, the benching in Baltimore. It's easy to see that move as a turning point of sorts for McNabb and for the Eagles, and that may very well be the case. Who knows? All that matters is that in the two games since then, McNabb has looked as relaxed as he has been all season in the pocket. He is in a rhythm throwing the football. He sees the field well. He is running when the opportunity is there -- McNabb's 44 rushing yards in the last two games can't be minimized in their importance.

Why the difference?

"I don't know if there is a difference," says McNabb. "I think we're all just playing a little bit better. Brian's health is a factor. We're starting games better and we are finishing games. That's what we want to do. Start fast and finish strong."

The Eagles aren't going to give answers, and that is understandable. This team has accomplished nothing yet, other than to keep its season alive. The Eagles have no choice but to win the final three games, a tough task for any team. This is a one-day-at-a-time approach right now. Cleveland is next. The Eagles have to play well on Monday night to win a game and get to 8-5-1.

But is sure does seem to all of us amateur experts that the offense has a better tempo now. The players are in and out of the huddle more quickly. The Eagles are running the ball more, having the luxury of early points and solid leads that lend to the strategy of eating clock late in the game by running the football. There seems to be more confidence running the football with this offensive line surging at the snap of the ball. The receivers seem to be more sure handed and McNabb has had great ball security -- zero turnovers in the two games -- and improved timing.

There *seems *to be an improved sense of urgency and confidence in each other. "It is important," said head coach Andy Reid, "that there is confidence in the man next to you, and I see that with this group right now."

A team that needed leaders to step forward has done so collectively, with McNabb and Westbrook leading the way offensively. This is how it should be: The best players lead by example, by what they do on the field, by the plays they make at critical times. That has been the case with this offense, with McNabb and with Westbrook.

There are a lot of factors playing into the two-game revival, no doubt. What is most encouraging is that McNabb looks so good, so relaxed, in the pocket. He is delivering the ball with more authority, trusting his receivers to make plays. And despite the ups and the downs of the season, McNabb's next touchdown pass will give him 20 for the season, a level he has reached only three previous times.

Westbrook should be gaining Pro Bowl steam and, in some circles, he is picking up some Most Valuable Player chatter. When you see how he dominates games when he is healthy, you understand better just how much the ribs, ankle and knee injuries plagued him for much of this season. A healthy Westbrook in the final month of the season is a positive, indeed.

Hey, maybe the execution of the offense is the bottom line. But it sure is fun talking about the other factors, the ones we have a chance to discuss and debate with a smile, because the Eagles are charging -- running and passing with Westbrook and McNabb, with McNabb and Westbrook all the way -- just in time to hopefully save a season.

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