Spreading their wings

Jason Cole

Dressed in suits is when you really get a sense of the essential difference between Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Jeff Garcia.

McNabb fills an outfit like it's a zoot suit, his physique cutting the fabric in the sharp angles and oversized shoulders that usually come by design. Garcia, with his skinny and slightly slop-shoulder build, looks like some teenager in his first formal wear.

There's a lesson in that comparison. For as talented, skilled and successful as McNabb has been in his career, sometimes less is more. The Eagles have discovered that this season, embracing that lesson as they put together a five-game winning streak that propelled them to the NFC East title and Sunday's NFC wild-card game against the New York Giants.

"You have to adapt to what your players can do," Philadelphia offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "As coaches, we can sit there and draw up all these plays and come up with systems. But it doesn't mean much if your players can't execute them.

"When we went from Donovan to Jeff, you have to adjust. Both those guys can move around, so all the stuff where you move the pocket, get them on the run, that's still there. But the throws aren't always the same and the routes you call might have to change."

In other words, gone are a lot of the rifle-armed throws and deep passes that McNabb made with ease. Heck, a lot of throws are gone, period.

Likewise, gone, for the most part, is the play-calling of head coach Andy Reid. Reid gave up that responsibility nearly two months ago, which has been really beneficial because of Mornhinweg's extensive knowledge of Garcia from when those two were together in San Francisco.

The change is evident in the play-calling. Through the first nine games of the season with McNabb at the helm, the Eagles never called fewer than 30 passes in a game. The running game was more an afterthought. With Garcia, the Eagles have morphed into a more balanced attack, particularly during a key three-game stretch of road games against the rest of the NFC East. That stretch was supposed to be a killer for the Eagles. Instead, it vaulted them.

"The coaches always tell you: "Take it one game at a time, don't think about that stuff.' But we all knew the schedule," Eagles wide receiver Donte' Stallworth said. "You're just saying to yourself, we need to survive that."

Or as linebacker Dhani Jones said: "That's one of those ones where everybody is asking the league, "What's going on here?' And the league is saying, "Sorry, computer glitch.'"

The real glitch was that the Eagles won all three games and they did it in a fashion completely counter to how they had played to that point. Over those three games, Garcia threw a combined 74 passes, never throwing more than 28. Through the stretch, he became increasingly efficient. In the first game, he threw for 164 yards and two touchdowns on 23 passes. By the third game, he threw for 238 yards on 23 passes.

"Marty and I have a really good feel for what works," said Garcia, who muddled his way through Cleveland and Detroit before joining the Eagles this offseason. "The best part is that we got to that point in a hurry. That's something I wasn't able to do when I went to Cleveland [in 2004]."

At his best, Garcia reads defenses quickly and gets rid of the ball, but he still has enough mobility to buy time. That has led to some big plays as the Eagles have been able to spread the defense.

Most of all, there has been an obvious emphasis on the running game with Brian Westbrook. During the first four games of the winning streak, Westbrook averaged more than 20 carries per contest, topping that with a career-high 26 at Dallas, when the Eagles seized control of the division.

Overall, the running game has become better during that time. During the first four games of the streak, the Eagles went from 98 yards rushing to a season-high 204 against the Cowboys.

In short, the Eagles are getting plenty more … with even less from the quarterback.

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