Before the Eagles' season opener, Brett Favre spoke via speakerphone to Philadelphia-area reporters. He was asked about Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy's new emphasis on taking care of the ball. McCarthy wanted Favre to be a little more conscious of interceptions, an approach that has worked well for the Packers this season - Favre's picks are down from 18 to 11, his touchdown passes up from 18 to 24.

But on that Wednesday before the opener, Favre wanted to make sure everyone knew his basic personality wouldn't change. You worry too much about being intercepted, Favre said, you become "Checkdown Charlie," easy to defense.

Reporters who huddled around that speakerphone 3 months ago have pondered Favre's term more than a few times since, but not in relation to the Packers' QB.

Donovan McNabb was asked yesterday whether he has been reluctant to throw downfield this season. In six of McNabb's starts, the Eagles have scored no more than one touchdown. They amass yardage, throwing underneath the coverage and benefiting from Brian Westbrook's wizardry, but they don't make big plays and they don't score touchdowns.

"With the defenses we have been facing, yes," McNabb said. "There are chances to take shots, but also you have to be smart with the ball. The situation where, especially at the end of the [Giants] game, where we took shots downfield and put us in position to kick the field goal to tie, those are opportunities. Other points in the game, you either have to move around in the pocket or check it down to the back, because the linebackers got soft and we weren't able to throw it over the top of those guys."

Basically, McNabb (14 touchdowns, six interceptions) seems far less concerned than Favre about becoming "Checkdown Charlie." Even with the Eagles 5-8, now is not the time to take chances with the ball, he said.

"I don't believe in that. I believe that if you check it down, you give your guys an opportunity to make plays for you," McNabb said. "Westbrook and our running backs and our tight ends can make a guy miss and pick up 15 yards, instead of just trying to throw it up there and see who comes up to get it. Worse comes to worst, our guy either knocks it down or they pick it off. That's something that you want to avoid, especially on third down. You want to convert on third down and move the chains, because then you have the opportunity to take shots. In this situation, yes, we're 5-8, but this isn't the time to just start throwing the ball up and seeing who is able to make plays."

Lately, McNabb, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and coach Andy Reid have been talking about defenses playing Cover 2 as if that familiar, common scheme were some sort of terrible, new spell cast upon them by Lord Voldemort, or something. McNabb took a shot yesterday at explaining why, all of a sudden, Cover 2 means no touchdowns.

"A lot of teams aren't just playing base Cover 2, they're playing a soft shell, where you can get your linebackers to soften up to be in the intermediate part. That's where we're checking down to the back," McNabb said. "A lot of times, we catch them in a zone coverage, where we may have three wide receivers going deep, where you kind of hit the slot guys. Sometimes we'll have to hit the outside guys, because the nickel-backer runs with the slot guy. In that, it kind of goes off in your head that you have to get the ball out, so you check it down to the back. There are going to be opportunities to get the ball down the field, but there are going to be opportunities where you won't be able to, where you have to check it down to the back."

For Auld Lang Syne

Eagles corner Lito Sheppard confirmed what Terrell Owens told Philadelphia-area reporters yesterday - that Owens and Sheppard spoke by phone over the past few days, as Sheppard and the Eagles prepare to visit their old teammate at Dallas this weekend.

"I was just talkin' to him, see what's up. Basically, everything was good," Sheppard said. "He told me he was going to bring his 'A game.' I said I already expected it."

Owens proudly listed Sheppard as someone who had his back in Philadelphia. Sheppard said he supposed that was so.

"He's a hard-working guy. That's all you can ask for in a teammate," Sheppard said.

Sheppard, bothered by a medial collateral ligament problem since the opener, was not listed on the injury report yesterday.

"My knee is fine," said Sheppard, who hinted at another, unspecified physical problem.

Birdseed

Not practicing yesterday were wide receiver Reggie Brown (shin), running back Correll Buckhalter (concussion), safety Brian Dawkins (back), offensive tackle Jon Runyan (knee) and tight end L.J. Smith (knee). Buckhalter and Smith, at least, seem unlikely to play in Dallas . . . Defensive tackle Mike Patterson (knee) and RB Brian Westbrook (knee) were limited practice participants . . . The Eagles signed OT Ramiro Pruneda, from Mexico, to their practice squad. *