-- Andy Reid is a former offensive lineman, and his look on the sideline is anything but sleek. He's coaching in a division once known for a hard-nosed, straightforward style of football that was perfectly suited for playing in the Northeast on cold, windy fall and winter days. Yet Reid's team, the Philadelphia Eagles, has ignored the most basic of offensive plays: the handoff.
The Eagles throw more and run less than any other NFL club -- even with a quarterback, Donovan McNabb, who's playing with a long list of injuries that includes a sports hernia. The question is whether the Eagles will maintain the same approach Sunday night against a Washington Redskins defense that has been far more susceptible to the run than to the pass.
McNabb, while being asked about his input into the Eagles' offensive game plans, joked the other day that, "We're only running the ball twice this week."
It appeared Wednesday that Reid and offensive coordinator Brad Childress would have no choice but to run more on Sunday when after wide receiver Terrell Owens was listed as doubtful on the team's injury report because of a sprained ankle. But Thursday, Owens practiced and he was upgraded to questionable.
The Eagles have thrown an NFL-high 302 passes and have a league-low 121 carries. The disparity has become an issue in recent weeks, but Reid has resisted an offensive overhaul. McNabb threw 34 passes in last Sunday's 49-21 loss in Denver, while tailbacks Brian Westbrook and Lamar Gordon totaled 15 carries.
"We're going to concentrate on running our offense," Reid said. "That's what we're going to do. That's whether it's throwing the ball or running the ball. We'll see how it works out this week. I don't get too much into that."
Reid was a guard and tackle as a college player at BYU but eventually worked his way to being the quarterbacks coach of the Green Bay Packers, and his approach as Philadelphia's head coach always has been that a short pass that gets the ball to a running back in open spaces is better than a handoff. That has been particularly true in Westbrook's four seasons with the team. The DeMatha High School product isn't a workhorse runner, but he is perhaps the league's shiftiest pass catcher coming out of the backfield.
The Eagles added Owens last season and threw 59 percent of the time en route to winning the NFC East by seven games and reaching the Super Bowl.
"The scheme has been working a long time," Redskins safety Ryan Clark said. "They weren't running the ball a lot last year, but nobody was saying anything because they were winning every game and putting up all these big numbers. It's the same team. So you go over their tendencies and try to make plays."
This season, the Eagles are throwing the ball 71 percent of the time. When they lost tailback Correll Buckhalter to a season-ending knee injury last year, the Eagles signed veteran Dorsey Levens and he at least provided the club with a threat to grind out yards running between the tackles. This year, the Eagles again lost Buckhalter to a knee injury but didn't re-sign Levens, and his absence has been telling.
McNabb said earlier in the season that he liked throwing the ball regularly but he figured the offensive approach would change as the season progressed, and the Eagles would run the ball more often when the games got bigger and more tense and the weather got less passing-friendly. It seemed in recent weeks that McNabb's health might have dictated a change. His torn abdominal muscle will require surgery at some point, and sends a searing pain through his torso whenever he makes an awkward twist. He suffered bruised ribs during the Denver game when he was hit on a play and landed on the foot of Eagles guard Shawn Andrews.
But Reid stuck with the pass, even when McNabb began the Broncos game with 11 incompletions and an interception on his first 12 throws. The Eagles, as they've done in other games, fell behind in Denver, dictating that they throw even more. They got to within a touchdown after trailing, 28-0, but the Broncos pulled away again with 21 fourth-quarter points.
The Redskins' defense ranks first in the NFL against the pass and 25th against the run, and surrendered 206 rushing yards to New York Giants tailback Tiki Barber in last Sunday's 36-0 defeat at Giants Stadium. Washington, like most teams, has had trouble containing Westbrook in the past, and figures it will get a steady dose of plays featuring the running back Sunday whether Owens plays or not.
"He's been the problem for us," Redskins defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "We have to make sure we know where he is on the field and make sure he doesn't become a problem this year. Their offense goes when he goes, and I'm pretty sure they might try to open up the run a little bit this week knowing we've had problems with the run in past weeks."
Said Clark: "Look at the games last year. We did a pretty good job on T.O. and kept him pretty bottled up . . . but Westbrook hurt us. He's really difficult to tackle in the open field and he's so versatile that you can't really key on where he's going to be. He's definitely a touch matchup."
The Eagles have won the teams' last seven meetings, but rarely have they come into a game against the Redskins looking so vulnerable.
"We just have to go out and perform at the level we're capable of," Eagles tight end L.J. Smith said. "We have a lot of weapons. We know Donovan is a little banged up right now, but we just need to get him in a rhythm . . . Everybody has got to turn it up a notch, but you can't go out and try to make every play a spectacular play. We're just going to do our jobs."
Maske reported from Philadelphia; La Canfora reported from Washington.