Change in Play-Calling Changes Eagles' Fate

Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb continued to improve on his most valuable player-like season, throwing for 222 yards and one touchdown. Philadelphia was looking for a quick start, and the Eagles got it, scoring on their first two drives.
Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb continued to improve on his most valuable player-like season, throwing for 222 yards and one touchdown. Philadelphia was looking for a quick start, and the Eagles got it, scoring on their first two drives. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

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By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 13, 2006

PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 12 -- In a postgame news conference that defied the basic etiquette of coaching, Andy Reid sat in front of a microphone Sunday afternoon and took significant credit for the Philadelphia Eagles' dismantling of the Washington Redskins. His team had made some great plays, sure. But all of them, Reid said, were predicated on his initial action.

He got out of his team's way.

Convinced that his play-calling had been "stinking the place up," during a three-game losing streak, Reid asked offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to direct the offense Sunday. The result -- a fast-paced, no-huddle approach with a lot of running plays -- helped Philadelphia to a 27-3 win that pushed the Eagles (5-4) back above .500 and kept the team competitive in the NFC East.

Coming off a bye week, the Eagles entered Sunday's game intent on evolving during the second half of the season. The defense vowed to become more aggressive; the offense aimed for consistency. Both took their cues to change from Reid.

"We were in a rut offensively, and I call the plays," Reid said. "It starts with me. You take a hard look at yourself in that situation, and we weren't moving the football. If I'm in a rut, I feel very comfortable turning to Marty. So that's what we did."

Philadelphia's players said they never knew who called the plays, but they complimented Sunday's game plan nonetheless. Mornhinweg operated several drives without a huddle -- a strategy that had helped the Eagles' offense establish a rhythm in practices last week. Mornhinweg said he often relied on McNabb to change plays and make decisions at the line of scrimmage. "We're always communicating, especially in the no-huddle," McNabb said. "That's why it worked."

The Eagles' offense had bottomed out with a six-point performance in a loss to Jacksonville two weeks ago and, in the locker room before Sunday's game, Reid highlighted the importance of a quick start. He suggested to Mornhinweg that the Eagles establish a credible running attack that would, in turn, set up big plays. The assistant head coach-offensive coordinator, in his fourth year with the Eagles, delivered immediately.

Philadelphia ran six running plays on its first drive. Then, on the first play of its second possession, McNabb heard Mornhinweg's voice come over his headset. The coach called for a play-action pass thrown deep down the middle of the field -- and it resulted in an 84-yard touchdown to Donte Stallworth.

That's pretty much how Mornhinweg's season debut as play-caller went: keen decisions followed by excellent results. McNabb passed for 222 yards, and running back Brian Westbrook ran for 113. With a large lead in the fourth quarter, the Eagles held possession for almost 11 minutes, negating any chance of a comeback.

"Coach [Reid] took a lot of blame for what had been going wrong, and I'm not sure many head coaches would do that," tight end L.J. Smith said. "Most people would be too proud to say, 'Hey, let's change things.' You've got to respect a guy who goes against that. He had the courage to point the finger at himself."

The Eagles' defense also decided to make a wholesale change during the bye week. In a meeting with the defensive backs, cornerback Sheldon Brown suggested the Eagles start the second half with a new goal: to make big plays, not just prevent them. He had grown tired, he said, of playing a "sit back and wait strategy."

Brown cemented his new philosophy in the third quarter, when he sealed the Eagles' win by jumping in front of a predictable Mark Brunell pass to Santana Moss, who stood near the sideline. Brown intercepted the pass and ran 70 yards for a touchdown to give the Eagles their 27-3 lead.

"I knew I needed to make a play and that's what I decided to do," Brown said. "I'm not sitting back anymore. Change is a good thing."

Which is why, when Reid was asked if Mornhinweg would continue to call the plays, the head coach hardly hesitated.

"I think it's very possible," Reid said, "that we're going to continue to do that."

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