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McNabb's diminishing skills leading to diminishing returns for Eagles

Opening drive

Assorted observations from the Washington Redskins' 20-12 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football:

» Donovan McNabb isn't making excuses, which is commendable. Yet in refusing to blame any possible rust accumulated while recovering from major knee surgery for his lackluster showing in the Eagles' 0-2 start, he doesn't offer plausible explanations, either. The bottom line is that something is terribly wrong with McNabb's game. He looks tentative. He looks uncomfortable. He looks, it seems, almost afraid to do anything other than take the meager offerings that the defense leaves underneath zone coverage. His longest completion against Washington covered 19 yards. When McNabb is at his best, he seeks and often makes big plays. Of course, even when he tried to go for something deeper against the Redskins, he was way off the mark. Whatever is wrong with McNabb, and the Eagles' offense as a whole, it had better get fixed soon. This team could quickly find itself staring up from the bottom of a 0-3 hole.

» It's easy to put all of the Eagles' troubles on their offense, but their defense shouldn't get a pass. Granted, the team is going nowhere unless McNabb gets his game in order. But the defense had better do a better job of containing scrambling quarterbacks such as Campbell. Holding Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts to a combined 83 yards isn't enough when Campbell is able to do damage with his feet as well as with his arm. Redskins tight end Chris Cooley might not have had a big night, but reaching the end zone for one of his two receptions was damaging. A larger coverage headache for the Eagles was Santana Moss, who made six catches for 89 yards.

»Jason Campbell is steadily rounding into form as a reliable starting quarterback. There are steps to this process, and Campbell took a large one when he led a 10-play, 73-yard drive just before halftime for a touchdown that put the Redskins in front to stay. He made some nice throws, especially a 48-yarder to Santana Moss that set up a field goal late in the first quarter, and some runs (39 yards on six carries). Campbell is gaining more confidence in himself and he is gaining more trust from his teammates and coaches. For the Redskins to keep winning despite some major injuries to their offensive line is a testament to their depth but also to Campbell's ability to make the plays he needs to make. He threw an interception and does show some inconsistency, but he continues to show the kind of progress that is making his lack of experience seem less and less of a liability.

» The Redskins' defense is thriving from the more simplified scheme that assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams decided to employ this season. Instead of overreacting to last year's next-to-last ranking in the league in total defense by overloading individual players with a new array of complex assignments and adjustments, Williams has placed a stronger emphasis on team defense. That means that while each player is expected to carry out his assignment as it is designed, everyone must be ready to swarm to the ball.

"Everybody is taking care of their responsibilities," linebacker Marcus Washington told reporters in Philadelphia. "When they get a chance to make a play they make it. (But) if somebody misses a tackle, you've got 10 more other guys coming."

The Redskins already are showing improvement in a serious weak spot last season - third-down defense. They limited the Eagles to 4-of-16 third-down conversations, and were able to sack McNabb three times and often chase him from the pocket. And the Redskins were without injured defensive end Philip Daniels and cornerback Fred Smoot.

Random thoughts

» Maybe the notion that the San Diego Chargers' offense would make a seamless transition from former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to new coach Norv Turner was off the mark after all. I don't buy that it is a case of the Chargers having the misfortune of running into two outstanding defenses in successive weeks. They are supposed to have one of the best offenses in the league. They're supposed to have the best player in the league. They're supposed to have an up-and-coming young quarterback. Those were supposed to be the reasons they would overcome whatever massive challenges the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots posed on the other side of the ball.

Instead, LaDainian Tomlinson has had the worst back-to-back rushing performances of his career while averaging 34 yards per game and 1.9 per carry. Philip Rivers has had the third- and fourth-worst passer ratings of his 18 career starts. So here's a suggestion: Instead of sticking to the plan that had worked so well before this season, perhaps Turner should try and shake things up. Clearly, the rest of the NFL has caught up to Tomlinson's rushing magic. It seems that much more needs to be done to get better passing production from Rivers and that, in turn, will help create running room for LT.

»Tony Romo is, once again, the biggest story to emanate from the Dallas Cowboys. He has performed well enough in their 2-0 start to prompt discussion that a hefty contact extension is coming his way and could be completed before the end of the season. Still, with the hiring of coach Wade Philips, big-play defense was the story of the 2007 Cowboys. That was going to transform the team from a one-and-done playoff qualifier to a serious Super Bowl contender. Finally, after Dallas' 37-20 victory at Miami, we can begin writing it. Sure, Romo was impressive in throwing two touchdown passes. But after a horrendous defensive showing in their season-opening win against the New York Giants, the Cowboys showed the aggressive, play-making form that a Phillips-coached defense is expected to show. They intercepted Trent Green four times, sacked him twice and forced a fumble. They converted three turnovers into 13 points for Dallas.

» The Houston Texans expected plenty when they made Gary Kubiak their coach last year. One of the expectations was to make David Carr the quarterback the Texans thought they were getting when they made him the top overall pick of the 2002 draft. It never happened because Carr was beyond repair. Now that Matt Schaub is under center for the Texans, we're seeing the very best of Kubiak's skills as a quarterback coach. And that is largely why the Texans are 2-0, surging into the category of a team to reckon with after their 34-21 win over Carolina. In two games, Schaub is showing so much more pocket awareness and decisiveness than Carr did during five seasons in Houston. Schaub not only feels the rush but knows when and where to step to avoid it and does a superb job of choosing when and where to go with the ball.

This is what Kubiak had to say about Schaub when he addressed reporters after the Carolina game: "He's a good player and he's got a chance to be a great player. I'm excited to watch him get better each week."

» I love his quote from Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi: "I saw what some of the other players (around the NFL) said (in response to the Pats' videotaping scandal). You had all these doubts and all these hypotheticals. I got a hypothetical for you. Let's get all the players that played with us and bring them back and let's get all the players that you had on those teams and let's play again. We would win again. Period."

I agree. And I'll say it again: The notion that the Patriots' long run of success has been tainted is ludicrous. This remains a great team with the greatest coach and arguably the greatest quarterback in the game. That statement couldn't have been clearer as the Patriots steamrolled the Chargers, who have perhaps the most talented roster in the league. Continued bashing of the Pats comes off as so much whining from players, coaches and fans of the many teams which have been on the wrong side of the score against them.

» I had my doubts when the Cleveland Browns signed Jamal Lewis with the understanding that he would revive their woeful rushing attack. For one thing, if Lewis could prove helpful to the Browns, why would the Baltimore Ravens send him packing (and acquire Willis McGahee from the Buffalo Bills to take his place)? Lewis was known as the consummate Browns killer, but what did he really have left in those 28-year-old legs? Plenty, as it turns out. Lewis' 216 rushing yards in the Browns' wild, 51-45 victory over Cincinnati wasn't the case of a once-outstanding-but-now-worn-down back being brought back to life by an atrocious defense.

True, the Bengals' defense is bad, but Lewis showed too much speed and explosiveness to not be credited with having the sort of high-caliber performance that he routinely enjoyed as a younger Raven. Perhaps the most important quality he displayed was stamina as he did some of his best running in the second half. Consider his 66-yard dash for a touchdown that put Cleveland in front, 41-31, in the third quarter. And how about that 47-yard blast in the fourth quarter that set up a field goal to give the Browns a 51-38 edge?

Short yardage

» Defense and special teams have done more than their share to allow the Chicago Bears to win despite their continued offensive ineptitude. But the Bears' offense is simply getting too careless with the football to realistically expect the other two units to keep bailing it out week after week. Seven turnovers in two games, including three that allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to remain within striking distance in Week 2, is a trend that will lead to a serious tail spin if it is not corrected soon.

» If I'm Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and I hear Chad Johnson mention during the week that he is planning to dive into the Dawg Pound after scoring a touchdown against the Browns, I'm telling him not to do it. I'm telling him that it makes no sense to engage a hostile crowd on the road. I'm telling him it can't do anything to help our cause as a team. Of course, Johnson made his Dawg Pound leap, got some beer spilled on him ... and the Browns, fueled by an emotional crowd in one of the wildest games played in years, got the last laugh.

» I'm not sure what was worse: J.P. Losman throwing his offensive coordinator under the bus immediately after Buffalo's 26-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers by saying that the Bills' offense needed to be more aggressive or coming back a day later and insisting his comments were not criticism directed toward Steve Fairchild. By backtracking, Losman seems to lack conviction about what one could conclude he at least initially believed (and probably still believes) is a key reason for his poor performance in two games. Losman knows he is a long-ball quarterback and wants the long ball to be a larger part of Buffalo's scheme. Fair enough. But can he be trusted to carry more of the load given his mostly inaccurate throwing and indecisiveness in the pocket? Losman has regressed since last season and if he doesn't turn his game around soon, Dick Jauron might not have any choice but to go with rookie Trent Edwards.

» A recommendation for your football reading list: The Columbus Panhandles, A Complete History of Pro Football's Toughest Team, 1900-1922. Chris Willis, head of the research library at NFL Films, does a masterful job of piecing together the story of the team that helped pioneer the game before 1920, when the NFL was founded. Willis combined interviews and newspaper accounts to recreate the largely forgotten story of a unique squad formed by workers (mainly European immigrants) at the panhandle shops of the Pennsylvania Railroad in Columbus, Ohio.

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