THE "WIDE NINE" narrowed significantly on running downs in the Eagles' Sunday victory over the Redskins.

Eagles coach Andy Reid confirmed yesterday that defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and defensive-line coach Jim Washburn "mixed up" the line looks. Safety Kurt Coleman and weakside linebacker Brian Rolle said the changes, which included moving the linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage when the line wasn't playing as wide, helped the Eagles finally get some traction stopping the run. Rolle noted that it took a series of disasters to get the coaches to make the change.

The results were spectacular, in fact - 42 Redskins rushing yards on 14 carries against a defense that had been giving up 140.2 rushing yards per game. The longest Washington run was a 12-yard scramble by backup quarterback John Beck.

The question is, though, was this breakthrough something particular to Washington's offense, or can we expect the adjustments the Eagles made to have similarly dramatic results, say, when the Birds come back from the bye, Oct. 30 against the Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field?

"It does help, when you put the defensive end in the 'six' spot; it helps clog up the inner holes," said Coleman, who intercepted Rex Grossman three times. In a "wide nine," the defensive end lines up on the "nine" gap, which is the tight end's outside shoulder. In a "six," the DE lines up across from the tackle.

Coleman said it meant a lot for the defense to finally see the fruits of its labors.

"It's big," he said. "It really is big, to know that everything we've been working on and trying to strive for, it really does work, and it looks good."

Rolle said he felt the defensive players were more on the same page than previously.

"They want to run the ball," Rolle said of the Redskins. "We actually thought [power back Tim] Hightower was going to play. I don't think he played at all . . . We shut [Ryan Torain] down early and tried to force Grossman to make plays. He didn't, and they brought in Beck."

Rolle acknowledged that not every opponent is the Redskins.

"Different things work against different teams," he said. "They were a zone [blocking] scheme, so you get down at the line of scrimmage and clog up those gaps in a zone scheme, you kind of stop what they want to do, and that's move guys out of the way, get guys out of their gaps. Going into [hosting] Dallas, they run a little zone, and power, I was watching just now [on video]. Being at 3 yards [off the line] wouldn't help, if they were running a power play, you can't get across guards that are pulling."

Rolle agreed that moving the defensive end inside on running downs makes it harder for an offensive tackle to get out and crush a linebacker or a safety. One problem, as opponents see more video of the Eagles' adjustments, might be determining what is a running down and what is a passing down. Opponents have seemed to look for the Eagles' dime package - which hardly made an appearance Sunday - to run on third-and-long, with success.

Still, there are signs that players are just getting more comfortable with one another and what they're being asked to do; Reid said yesterday evening on his 94 WIP radio show that Rolle and Jamar Chaney "are growin' up fast in that nickel package." A light seems to have gone on for safety Nate Allen, as well; Allen looked solid in the loss at Buffalo.

Rolle, a sixth-round rookie, is only three games into his career as a starter.

"I've come a long ways, the last couple weeks starting. I feel like I've gotten a lot better, and the coaches have told me I've gotten a lot better," Rolle said. "I can't stop and be content with just being OK. I want to be great."

Feeling punchy

Andy Reid acknowledged on his radio show that LeSean McCoy "hit me perfect," McCoy celebrating what he and Reid thought was a game-clinching first-down run at the 2-minute warning Sunday. McCoy might have been aiming for the coach's padded midsection, but he punched him in the center of the sternum, hard. Reid winced and recoiled.

"Knocked the stuffing out of me. I haven't had that happen in about 20 years," Reid said.

It might have hurt worse when Reid found the celebration had been in vain. McCoy was ruled down a half-yard shy of the first down. Reid challenged the spot and lost, though Michael Vick then gained the first down on a third-and-1 quarterback sneak.

"They said that his knee hit prior to [making the first down]," the coach said.

TV replays didn't give a clear view of McCoy's knees, but it seemed likely he landed on his hip, over the TV first-down yellow line, which is not official.

Line dancing

Offensive-line coach Howard Mudd underwent hip replacement surgery yesterday, Reid said. Mudd has walked with a cane since training camp and went to crutches last week.

Reid said on his radio show that Mudd will be able to participate at some level when the team resumes practice next Monday.

But what of Mudd's line? Does former starter Winston Justice's strong showing at right tackle Sunday change anything? Left tackle Jason Peters is expected back from a hamstring strain.

"I've gotta weigh all that," Reid said. "I'm proud of Winston. I wouldn't tell you he's 100 percent [after offseason knee surgery], but he's pretty close . . . We'll see."