IT'S THE SAME, only different.

Sure, Eagles coaches and players know a lot about Donovan McNabb, who quarterbacked the team for 11 seasons. But McNabb looks different now, in more ways than just the obvious, as jarring as that red-and-gold color scheme still might be. McNabb will be running Mike Shanahan's offense, not Andy Reid's, when McNabb takes the field Sunday at the Linc against his former team.

"If we were scheming the Eagles' offense with Donovan, that would be one thing, but we're scheming coach Shanahan's offense, and then Donovan's the personnel side of it that we have to take into consideration," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said yesterday. "You evaluate what he brings to the table and his skill set and physical tools, and then you evaluate the overall scheme and how you prepare the defense for the overall scheme.

"They're using Donovan in a way that he's very dangerous. They roll him out off the bootleg, and get explosive receivers down the field and let him see the whole field, not just half the field. And then he throws front side or he'll throw back side as well, so we've got to make sure we're keeping those receivers in front of us."

Not long after McNabb was traded, back in April, McDermott talked about having to play him. McDermott said the goal would be to "camouflage and confuse."

McDermott also noted then that "Donovan gets a lot of balls tipped at the line of scrimmage, and I know that . . . We're going to put our hands up."

It's unclear how cognizant Shanahan was of this problem when he set up what he wanted to do with McNabb, but McDermott conceded yesterday that "it certainly takes away some of the opportunity for tipped balls, once they get him out of the pocket."

Overall, McDermott called McNabb, who ranks 14th in the NFL with an 89.2 passer rating (62-for-102, 60.8 percent, 833 yards, two TDs, one interception), "tough to defend. That's why we won a lot of games around here with Donovan."

Defensive tackle Trevor Laws hinted that McNabb running a different offense doesn't make what the Eagles know about him entirely useless.

"You know certain things that he does well," said Laws, who declined to share any of those things.

"The stuff that he's doing well there, he did here," strong safety Quintin Mikell said. "He's always had the strong arm, he's able to look off guys, stuff like that."

"A lot more vertical routes, a lot more play action; it's just a different look," middle linebacker Stewart Bradley said, when asked about facing McNabb as a Redskin. "It's not the same. It's not the same coordinator calling the plays, you know?"

Defensive end Trent Cole was asking if having McNabb rolling away from him changes anything.

"You've just got to play - be an athlete, do what you're supposed to do, do what you've been taught to do, go with the game plan."

"At the end of the day, it's football," Mikell said. "We've played against him in practice for a while, never in a game situation. It's been the same for him. He knows a little bit about our system. But what it comes down to in the end, it's all about playing ball. We're not going to go into it trying to trick him or all that stuff, or he's not going to go in and try to trick us, we're just going to execute our scheme, they're going to try to execute their scheme, and we go from there."

"You can't go out there trying to play head games with yourself. You just go out there and play ball. You're following your keys and you play ball."

McDermott said something similar.

"We're going to do what we do," he said. "We're a defense that likes to run and hit, and that's what we're going to do . . . We can get overanalytical about [the fact that McNabb knows the Birds' defense]. He was here for a number of years. He does know, or have a good feel for, our defense, and he is a good quarterback."

McDermott added that verbiage changes every year, so they won't be in a situation where someone yells something and McNabb knows a blitz is coming, or anything.

All this comes against a backdrop of McDermott's defense struggling badly the first 2 weeks, then finding traction last week in Jacksonville, against an offense that didn't offer many weapons.

"I thought we came out and played good, physical football, the brand of football that we want to see, for four quarters, which is a step in the right direction," McDermott said.

The Eagles now rank 12th in NFL defense; the Redskins rank 32nd.

McNabb obviously doesn't have DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin to throw to anymore, but he has an elite tight end in Chris Cooley, who has hurt the Eagles in the past.

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.

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