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Eagles must avoid mistakes to win

February 03, 2005|by DAN KAUFFMAN

It's Monday evening. I'm sitting at my desk trying to diagram a way the Philadelphia Eagles can win the Super Bowl on Sunday.

It's not easy.

Now, I confess to being on the New England Patriots' bandwagon. I have been throughout the playoffs.

Their defense forces turnovers - they don't just fall into the Patriots' laps. They earn them with hard hits and strips, or with interceptions caused by well-drawn defensive schemes and players smart enough to execute them.

Their offense is opportunistic. The Patriots can run Corey Dillon downhill for 100-plus yards, Tom Brady can neatly dice a team up with dozens of short passes, or he can go deep to a variety of receivers and beat a team with one or two big plays. Whichever option is available, the Patriots take it. And if more than one is available, look out.

At the same time, I pride myself on being able to step back, see the whole picture through an untinted lens and break down the Xs and Os.

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So, what do the Eagles have to do?

· They must avoid turnovers at all costs. If Philadelphia loses the turnover battle, the Eagles will lose the war. New England is hard enough to beat without giving them extra possessions and the resulting points off the turnovers.

Everybody on the field for the Eagles has to be conscious of this. The running backs and receivers must secure the football with two hands, and Donovan McNabb must avoid bad reads and bad throws. Bad breaks - like throwing a pass that gets batted at the line of scrimmage and picked off - can be overcome. Mental mistakes - like not securing the football or throwing into double coverage - cannot.

· They must go deep. I don't think there's any way around this. Brian Westbrook is not the kind of tailback who's going to run for 100 yards and control the clock. He likes to get out in space, usually as a receiver on screens or other routes out in the flat.

The problem is that the Patriots' hybrid linebackers - namely Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi - are quick enough and technically sound enough to run down those plays and make the tackles.

Plus, the Pats' secondary is full of guys - especially Rodney Harrison - who foam at the mouth when opponents run short patterns, because they can put big hits on all day. And big hits lead to turnovers.

The Eagles are going to have to take shots downfield, and they're going to have to be smart about it. They can't wait until second- or third-and-long, they have to take shots on first down or on short second- or third-down plays.

The wild card is how healthy Terrell Owens will be. If he's healthy enough to play at even 75 percent of his usual level, that's enough to have an impact. Just by him being on the field forces the Pats to at least be aware of where he is.

I don't think it's Owens, though, who the Eagles will have to find deep. I think that responsibility has to fall on receivers Freddie Mitchell, Todd Pinkston and Greg Lewis to get downfield, and on Philadelphia to come up with a scheme that gets them opportunities. There's even a possibility of lining up Westbrook in the slot and having him go deep, but the key is, the Eagles must make some big plays downfield.

Avoid turnovers and make big plays deep in the passing game. Those are the keys, Eagles fans.

Is it possible? Sure is.

Will it happen? Hey, the Patriots' bandwagon is moving too fast for me to jump off now.

PATRIOTS, 31-19.

Dan Kauffman is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7520, or by e-mail at kauffman@herald-mail.com.

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