- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

A disciplined four-man pass rush, tight man-to-man coverage and the occasional use of linebacker LaVar Arrington as a spy shut down Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb three weeks ago. Now the Washington Redskins must do it again.
McNabb's success or failure has largely determined the results of the teams' past three meetings. The Redskins (6-6) face the Eagles (8-4) again Sunday in a game with playoff implications, and Washington knows it must stop the athletic young star.
"He makes it go," Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey said yesterday. "He's the arm and the legs of that team."
In last year's first meeting, McNabb threw two interceptions in a Washington win. In the second meeting, he almost single-handedly captured victory by rushing for a career-high 125 yards. The Redskins, 7-4 entering the latter game, lost that week and the next to the New York Giants to end their playoff hopes.
McNabb then struggled in this season's first meeting. Washington rarely blitzed, instead using its defensive linemen to apply pressure without getting out of their rush lanes. The Redskins' cornerbacks hounded Philadelphia's wide receivers. And the speedy Arrington, who was knocked out of McNabb's big game last year with a concussion on the opening kickoff, at times shadowed McNabb to further discourage runs.
This week Washington expects the Eagles to change their scheme a bit to increase McNabb's effectiveness perhaps getting him out of the pocket more frequently but not to deviate too much from what they've done well.
"I don't think they'll come in with a whole new bag, but they will come in with something different," Redskins linebacker Robert Jones said. "They could possibly be running the same plays with a different look. They're not going to be the same vanilla offense. They're not going to give us the same thing, obviously because it didn't work."
Arrington's role as the spy dominated conversation yesterday. The duty essentially has him hang back, mirror McNabb's moves and make sure the quarterback doesn't scramble for big gains.
"[My role is] very different for Donovan McNabb, and that's just out of respect for his ability," Arrington said. "Like if he goes there, I go with him. If he tries to pull what Kurt Warner did [last week on a trick play], act like he's calling timeout, I'm walking right with him."
Arrington went on to say that he has gone to "spy school," that his tactics can be found in the "spy manual 101" and that fellow linebacker Shawn Barber has instructed him in the art of spying with aphorisms like, "You must focus, young grasshopper."
All of which made for plenty of laughs and a lengthy discussion. But coach Marty Schottenheimer said the Redskins actually used the spy tactic "very seldom" in the first meeting, perhaps only a couple of times.
In or out of the spy role, Arrington has shown the ability to chase down opposing ballcarriers in what looks like a Pro Bowl-caliber season. Certainly his presence in this game will be key.
"He's our best linebacker," safety Sam Shade said. "He's the most athletic. He can cover any back, cover any tight end. He can do it all, man."
Schottenheimer said another player could be used to spy on McNabb. Regardless, the rest of the Redskins' defense bears heavy responsibility for containing the passer, whose scrambling ability increases his receivers' productivity by giving them extra time to get open.
"[Its] his ability to not just run, but escape the rush," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "Some guys don't feel the rush in the pocket. They don't know how to get themselves out of trouble. That's something he does well, and that allows his receivers to break routes and make plays."
Washington played a considerable amount of man-to-man coverage in the first meeting, with Bailey on No.1 wideout James Thrash most of the game. Bailey, Smoot and Darrell Green all gave standout efforts, which allowed a safety to move down to help against the run and limited McNabb's options.
"When you take the wide receivers out of the game you're forced to throw to the running back and the tight end," Smoot said. "You can't keep nickle-and-diming like that and expect to win the ballgame."
That said, each of the Redskins in coverage Sunday will face the classic dilemma a mobile quarterback presents: When he breaks out of the pocket, do you rush up to tackle him, or do you continue to cover your man? It is those types of plays that McNabb often turns into game-winners.
"The number one priority is if you have coverage on somebody, take care of your guy," Jones said. "Maybe on third-and-1 you take that chance. … It's a situation you have to make a decision. [But generally] you have to take care of your responsibility and let the coaches deal with the loss of contain."

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