Philadelphia running back Brian Westbrook had an off season statistically, but defenses have to know where he is on every snap. In the last playoff game against the Giants he gained only 46 yards, but that opened things up for Donovan McNabb in the Eagles' upset victory.
Tom Mihalek / AP Enlarge
PHILADELPHIA - Brian Westbrook walks around slowly, often with a limp. He watches practices from the sideline, needing the extra rest to be ready for game days.
Injuries have limited Westbrook's production this season, but the Philadelphia Eagles still rely on their dynamic running back, even if he's only a decoy at times.
"It's frustrating when you're not 100 percent," Westbrook said yesterday. "I've been battling all year. I continue to be positive, I can do the things I need to do to help this team."
Westbrook missed one game with an ankle injury and another with broken ribs. He also has sore knees that make it difficult for him to climb four steps to reach the podium for his weekly news conference. It's no wonder with the way he hobbles that coach Andy Reid gives Westbrook time off during the week.
Westbrook sat out yesterday's practice, but he'll certainly play against the Arizona Cardinals in Sunday's NFC championship game.
"Just being able to get my legs, my knees, my ankles a little bit of rest, I think it continues to help me recover a little bit better, a little bit more every week," Westbrook said. "That's something that I think is playing a big part of me even being able to go out there and play on Sundays."
Westbrook was an all-pro last season when he led the NFL with a franchise-record 2,104 total yards from scrimmage, including 1,333 on the ground. He became the first Eagles player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons since Duce Staley in 1998-99, and led all NFL running backs with a team-record 90 receptions.
The team rewarded him with a three-year contract worth $21 million, including $13 million guaranteed the first two years.
But Westbrook struggled to match those prolific numbers. He had just 936 yards rushing and his average of 4.0 yards per carry was tied for the lowest in his career. He caught 54 passes for 402 yards, his lowest totals since 2003. Westbrook did set a career-best with 14 TDs, though.
No matter how banged-up Westbrook appears, defenses focus on him whenever he's on the field.
"Twenty-two eyes on 36,"
Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo preached to his players before last week's divisional playoff.
Westbrook had 131 yards rushing, 72 more receiving and a pair of touchdowns against New York in Philadelphia's win at Giants Stadium last month. Spagnuolo was intent on making sure his defense didn't let that happen again.
The final totals for Westbrook: 46 yards on 20 touches (18 carries, 2 receptions). Mission
accomplished for the Giants' D. But Donovan McNabb made big plays in the air, and the Eagles beat New York 23-11 to advance to the conference championship game for the fifth time in eight years.
"They put an extra guy up in the box. They clearly wanted to take Westbrook out of the game, which I understand after the last game," Reid said. "It opened things up for other players, so that's one nice thing about this offense. You have to make the adjustments and utilize what the other team is going to present to you."
The threat of Westbrook
allowed McNabb to sell a play-action fake and toss a one-yard TD pass to Brent Celek in the fourth quarter. Later in the game, McNabb sold another play-fake to Westbrook and connected with DeSean Jackson for a 48-yard gain that set up a field goal.
In Philadelphia's 26-14 victory at Minnesota in the first round, Westbrook was held to 38 yards rushing on 20 carries. But he broke loose for a 71-yard TD on a screen pass to seal the victory in the fourth quarter.
"I think he's done a great job of just taking care of his body and giving us all that he has," McNabb said. "It's important that the other guys, like the receivers and tight ends, be able to take pressure off him as well as being able to make plays on the outside to keep defenses honest and give him an opportunity to run through lanes and pick up yards for us."
In seven previous playoff games, Westbrook averaged 6.0 yards per carry. He's managed just 1.9 yards this season on 38 attempts in the last two. Westbrook doesn't care about the stats if the Eagles keep winning.
"Anytime we can win, I'm happy about it," he said. "Of course, I want to have a great game. For me to have an average game or below average game and we win, I'm still pleased."
Westbrook found plenty of holes to run through during the Eagles' 48-20 win over the Cardinals on Thanksgiving. He had 110 yards rushing and scored four TDs, including two receiving.
Arizona's defense has come a long way since that game, particularly in the playoffs. The Cardinals shut down the league's No. 2 and No. 3 rushing teams - Atlanta and Carolina - to get here.
"Their defense as a whole is playing a lot more aggressive," Westbrook said. "We know that they are good against the run. We need to be efficient on first and second downs and keep them in third-down situations where they have to play the run and the pass. If we're able to do that, then we should be fine."
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