Westbrook Is One Tough Bird to Cage


The Eagles' offense goes through Brian Westbrook

There are a lot of talented running backs in the National Football League, but the Jets won't face anyone better this season than Brian Westbrook.

"I don't think you contain him. You have to deal with him," said ILB Jonathan Vilma of the Eagles dynamo. "He's going to get the ball, he's going to get touches, so you just don't contain a guy and shut him down. You have to be able to limit the plays, limit the gains. He is going to catch the ball and he is going to run the ball, so you want to get a lot of guys around him and try to limit that."

Westbrook has played only three games this season and his production has been eye-opening. His 514 yards of total offense place him third in the NFC and 10th in the NFL, and that's even though he recently spent some time on the sideline. He was shelved against the Giants because of an abdomen injury and the beat-up Eagles had their bye last weekend.

"He is over half their offense. They seem more efficient getting the ball to him early," said OLB David Bowens. "He can create a lot of plays, make guys miss, and he gets open. Even when he's covered man-to-man and even if the guy tries to go get him early in the down, he still makes the guy miss. It always seems like he and [Donovan] McNabb are on the same page, so it's kind of hard to get that guy stopped. We just have to try to control him."

The 28-year-old Westbrook, a third-round draft selection out of Villanova, has established himself as one of the NFL's special players. Although the 5'10", 203-pounder has never played a full 16 games, he appeared in a career-high 15 games in 2006 and ran for a personal-best 1,217 yards and added 699 yards receiving.

Westbrook practiced fully Wednesday and Thursday and is expected back in the lineup Sunday at the Meadowlands. The last time he played? A 221-yard, three-TD performance against the Lions.

"A lot of the offense goes through him. We have to be aware of that. We have to be aware of where he's at on every play because we know he has that ability to break it for a long one," Vilma said.

Westbrook averages 5.7 yards per rush and close to 12 a reception. He is a coverage nightmare because he's explosive and elusive.

"You almost have to play him like a wide receiver. It's like when some offenses bring in their Z, their wide receiver, and put him in the backfield," Bowens said. "We call it 'Zoo' and they run wheel routes and things like that. Mentally, you have to think of this guy as a wide receiver.

"You just have to hang in there, use your help and just survive the down because McNabb will make the play go. He'll keep the play going, he'll hold onto the ball, he'll get out and scramble."

The Eagles' pass-to-run ratio is 64 percent to 36, factoring out McNabb's scrambles. Even though they don't run a ton, they are very successful on the ground as evidenced by their 4.8-per-carry average. They are a passing offense that also can pound it.

"It's a different type of game plan. You almost have to be prepared to extend the down," Bowens said. "Each play it can extend. It can go from rushing the passer to trying to run down Westbrook on a screen pass. It can go from McNabb taking a three-step drop to McNabb taking a five-step drop and then scrambling or scooting up in the pocket. He has great awareness of where his line of scrimmage is and he'll go anywhere around the line to get the ball off."

In their three losses, the Eagles averaged 9.3 points a game. They pounded Detroit with a 56-spot in their only victory. Westbrook has been consistently good if not spectacular. He had 131 yards against Green Bay (85 rushing, 46 receiving) in Week 1 and 162 against Washington (96 rushing, 66 receiving) in Week 2.

"We have to go out and make things change," Westbrook said this week. "At some point we have to make our own fortune. If we go out there and do it the way we know we can, we'll be all right. We can't rely on somebody else making a big play. Every player has to be focused on making a big play themselves. If we do that, we'll be fine."

Westbrook is a big-play machine. He runs low to the ground, attacks the line and edges and can make people flat-out miss. The Green & White defense, a unit that played a good two quarters last week, needs 60 minutes this time around.

"I think we are a very capable unit," Bowens said. "I think we can be a very dangerous unit if we play all four quarters."

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