McNabb brings a different dimension to the field, and when the Philadelphia Eagles visit M&T; Bank Stadium on Sunday, the Ravens will have to stop a quarterback who can run as well as he can throw.
"If you watch him on film, you know he's still got it," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "I think McNabb always has that flexibility [to run or throw] because he's just so gifted at it. Anytime he pulls that ball down, he's always a threat with his legs."
Defensive end Trevor Pryce likened playing against McNabb to "chasing a 12-year-old with a strong arm." Pryce, who earlier in the season noted how difficult it was to tackle Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell, said McNabb presents a tougher test.
"He gives a lot of matchup problems, and you have to try to find a way to keep him there," Pryce said. "You have to contain him. You're not going to stop him. That phrase [containing a player] matters only to a few guys in the NFL, and he's one of them. Try to contain him because he's going to do whatever he wants to do. If you can limit the amount of things that he does well, then you'll be OK."
Five days from turning 32, McNabb is no longer the scrambling quarterback who, in his earlier years, would tuck the football at the first sign of trouble and punish opposing defenses by running for daylight.
McNabb hasn't topped 250 yards rushing in a single season since 2003. Perhaps as an offshoot of that, McNabb recorded two of his best three passing totals in 2004 (3,875 yards and 31 touchdowns, both career highs) and 2007 (3,324 yards and 19 touchdowns).
McNabb said his evolution is a product of his longevity in the NFL.
"I think when you get a little more experience in this league and begin to have been part of different types of schemes that they throw your way - you've seen the blitz packages from different teams; you know what you may be faced with due to your personnel - you begin to register a little faster in the pocket and know where you want to go with the ball," McNabb said during a conference call with Baltimore media yesterday.
"That's just normal. If you look at some of the rookies that have come through the league - including myself - it seems like you're looking at just one side of the field," he added. "And as you begin to get more and more experience in this game, you begin to see the whole field and know what you can do in this league and try to use your ability to aid in what you're trying to do on the offensive side. I'm still using my legs if I have to, but just giving these guys opportunities to make plays for me."
Eagles coach Andy Reid said McNabb is not under orders to wait in the pocket and absorb a sack rather than take off with the football.
"He can still go when he has to go," Reid said. "However, you get wiser and smarter in this offense as time goes on. So, he doesn't do as much as he did back when he was a rookie in the first couple years in the league."
This season, McNabb has carried the ball 23 times for 88 yards and scored a rushing touchdown in a 27-14 win against the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 26, but his prowess as a passer is a major reason Philadelphia has the league's fourth-ranked pass offense.
McNabb is fourth in the league in passing yards (2,711), second in passing plays of at least 20 yards (36) and 10th in touchdowns (14).
"He's always been kind of a pocket passer, but when he can get out, that definitely makes him dangerous because he's so good down the field and he's such a good quarterback," Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "He makes guys miss, and he's able to move around. I know we've played against him a couple times in preseason, and we've struggled with him. So it's definitely going to be a concern of ours this week."
McNabb said he is just as concerned about a Ravens pass defense that is tied for second in the NFL in interceptions with 15 and ranked third in yards allowed. In the Eagles' five victories, McNabb has posted eight touchdowns and three interceptions and been sacked six times. Outside of those wins, he has tossed six touchdowns against five interceptions and been sacked nine times.
"When you play a team like this that has a ball-hawking ability, you want to be able to take care of the ball and put the ball in the right position for your guys to be successful," McNabb said. "[We know] that they're a team that applies pressure, that they're a team that has had a lot of success - in spite of last week - at stopping the run, and has put their offense in great position to be successful. We want to make sure that on the offensive side, we're able to sustain drives and come out with points."
EAGLES (5-4-1) @RAVENS (6-4)
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Line: Ravens by 1