ONE GAME at a time - got it. That is how the Eagles have to approach their business, which means they need to concentrate everything on beating the limping, listing Cleveland Browns next Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

The rest of us, though, can commence scheming.

The Eagles will be facing what amounts to two knockout games after they get done with the Browns - at Washington and home against Dallas. Assuming Washington finds a way to win on Sunday at Cincinnati, the Eagles-Redskins loser could very well be out. Big game, enormous implications, all of that - which leaves the Eagles with two questions:

One, how do you get running back Brian Westbrook ready?

Two, how do you figure out the run defense?

Westbrook touched the ball 39 times against the Giants - 33 runs, six receptions. That is a big workload; this just in. He is coming off nagging knee and ankle injuries. He has not been great in the past after carrying such a load. They needed to do it against the Giants, and you likely would want him to do it against the Redskins, but the Browns sit in between.

So how do you approach it? Do you dare wear out Westbrook against Cleveland? Or do you dare not wear him out if that's what it looks like it is going to take?

It's a tricky bit of business. The ideal would be to get an early lead against a struggling team and then let Westbrook have a seat. The best way to get that early lead might be to throw the ball a bunch. Except that, well, Andy Reid wouldn't dare after the last two games. Would he?

That is the running conversation that will take place over the next few days. Just as important, though, is the question that will be asked on the other side of the ball. Its first time around in the NFC East, the Eagles' defense was rolled by the Cowboys, Redskins and Giants - with the Redskins and Giants, especially, just pounding the ball on the ground. Then came Sunday at the Meadowlands, when the Eagles' defense gave up only seven points and limited the Giants to only 88 yards on 24 carries. (The running backs got 100 yards on 23 carries.)

Which makes you wonder:

Was it real or was it Plaxico?

"I don't think that," Reid said yesterday. "I don't think that was the case."

The reference, of course, is to Giants receiver/loose cannon Plaxico Burress, whose ongoing dance with the criminal-justice system in New York kept him otherwise occupied for Sunday's game. Burress has been a headache for the Eagles in the past. Without having to worry about him, it makes sense that they were able to commit a safety to run support more often, and that it would have made a difference Sunday.

"Plaxico is a great player, but I don't think that was the case," Reid said. "I thought we did a better job of . . . playing on their side of the line of scrimmage with our defensive line and it really starts with your two defensive tackles. I thought they did a tremendous job in there of just penetrating and disrupting, and then we were able to set the edge. I thought Chris Gocong did a tremendous job of filtering things back inside to linebackers and safeties when we were under the weak side. I thought the safety, when we rolled them up with a corner, when we crashed them, did a nice job of filtering back to the middle of the field."

It is a big question because, as we do the look-ahead thing, the Redskins and running back Clinton Portis stomped the Eagles this year, too. (But they're banged up now, too, so who knows?) It is one of the few games this season that raised questions about this defense and whether or not it was big enough up front. It is an ongoing debate because it is not a big group. Only in the division, though, has it really seemed to be a problem.

Then came Sunday. Psychologically, to hold down the Giants' running attack - even without Burress, even with Giants running back Brandon Jacobs having a balky knee - has to give the Eagles' defense a renewed sense of itself as it struggles to fight its way out of the NFC East.

"I would say that, yeah," Reid said. "I don't think it hurts. I think that confidencewise, you know that you can [stop the] run and the pass going forward, I think that's very important. Now, you have to keep working on it. Coaches have to keep scheming it right, and the players have to keep executing right."

It is vital. Because here is the final secret to Reid and running the ball: There is no chance that he will stick with the ground game if the Eagles are behind after any significant period of time is played - certainly not in the third quarter.

Which means, if you want him to keep running the ball, hope that the Eagles can stop the run first. *

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