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Thread: What to Watch: Philadelphia
What to Watch: Philadelphia
Friday, September 5, 2008
By Nick Wagoner
1. Containing Westbrook
Aside from devout fantasy football players, the name Brian Westbrook doesn’t exactly ring out among casual football fans.
But in league circles, Westbrook is widely regarded as one of the top talents in the NFL.
“He’s an elite player,” coach Scott Linehan said. “I don’t know where he fits with all the great players. Elite. You don’t throw around that term very much in this league.”
Elite is a more than fair deScription, though, considering the video game like numbers Westbrook has posted on a regular basis. Any lingering doubts about his ability were put to rest last season when he led the Eagles in rushing and receiving, posting 1,333 yards on the ground and 90 catches for 771 yards through the air on his way to 12 total touchdowns.
Westbrook was rewarded for his efforts with a lucrative contract at the beginning of training camp. The player who has drawn comparisons to former Ram Marshall Faulk because of his versatility is now being paid like a player of that caliber.
Westbrook’s ability to catch passes and make plays out on the edge has long been a hallmark of his game. In recent seasons, he’s proved his ability to run between the tackles.
It’s that constant threat that he can take anything the distance that has the Rams focusing in on slowing him this week. Linehan said Westbrook isn’t a player you can stop, you must hope to contain him and keep him from breaking the big plays that can ruin your day.
“You definitely have to worry about both facets of his game,” linebacker Will Witherspoon said. “He’s a good receiver and a running back. He splits out a lot of times in the slot. He can be a receiver, a running back, just a guy in general. You really have to look at him and say ‘this guy has a full repertoire under his belt.’”
Witherspoon is a likely candidate to spy Westbrook for most of the game because of his own versatility. Witherspoon has the athleticism and speed to make tackles in the open field.
That’s a good thing because Westbrook is at his best on what the Rams call “loose plays.” Those plays are screens and other plays designed to get him the ball in space. It’s up to the Rams to get to Westbrook quickly and keep him from breaking loose.
“It really comes down to making sure that we get a hold of him, get our hands on him and slow him down at least, so everybody can swarm to the ball and collectively minimize the yards that he’ll have,” Witherspoon said.
2. Beating the Blitzes
There might not be a more respected defensive coordinator in the NFL than Philadelphia’s Jim Johnson , who has been running the show in Philadelphia since 2000.
In that time, Johnson has earned a reputation as a sort of “mad scientist,” creating exotic and difficult - to- decipher blitz packages that generate confusion for the offense.
Since 2000, the Eagles are tied for first in the NFL in sacks with 342, second in forced fumbles with 139 and fourth in points allowed, giving up an average of 17.6 points per contest.
No matter how much roster turnover the defense goes through, Johnson continues to find ways to put his players in the best position to make plays possible.
“It’s creative, aggressive,” Linehan said. “It’s sound. He’s been doing the same thing since he’s been there, doing it with different faces every couple of years and does it about as good as anybody. It’s a scary movie to watch some of these games, because it looks like they have 13 guys on the field, which is tough. I say that because they just really run to the ball great. They have a great pressure package.”
The Eagles defense doesn’t have many recognizable names in the front seven, yet that group continues to find ways to wreak havoc. Leading the charge is end Trent Cole, who has 25.5 sacks in his first three NFL seasons.
Tackles Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley provide plenty of punch on the inside. Things get even more complicated when you factor in blitzing linebackers, corners and safeties such as veteran Brian Dawkins.
It’s up to the Rams offensive line and running backs to be on point when it comes to picking up blitzes and deciphering many of the disguises Johnson likes to use.
With Orlando Pace back at left tackle and a relatively healthy group up front, the Rams are hoping the extra study time will help them against Johnson and Co.
Of course, that might be more difficult since there’s no film of this season’s Eagles team in regular season to watch.
“It is tough to say because you know they have a defensive coordinator that has been there for a long time now, not to say we know everything they do but they do a ton of things,” quarterback Marc Bulger said. “You have to prepare for everything so if it is during the year you get to see everything and have to prepare for everything so you get real nervous about it but right now you don’t know what to expect.”
3. Defending Donovan
It wasn’t too long ago that Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb was one of the league’s most dangerous dual threat quarterbacks. For the better part of his career, he was just as likely to beat you with his legs as his arm.
As he’s gotten older and gone through a variety of injuries, McNabb has altered his playing style to add longevity to his career.
Instead of taking off running at the first sign of trouble, McNabb is now using his legs to create throwing lanes.
“He’s still a dangerous quarterback,” defensive tackle La’Roi Glover said. “He doesn’t want to scramble to run as much as he does to buy time to find receivers down the field. He has changed. He used to run a lot more than he does. He still can run. He’s still capable of running but he’s doing it now more to buy time to deliver the ball down the field.”
The fact that McNabb doesn’t take off running as much as he used to should make matters easier for the Rams front seven. End Leonard Little is completely healthy and the Rams believe they have a defensive line rotation capable of getting into the backfield with regularity.
One area the Rams would like to improve is turnovers. The Rams defense had a strong preseason but failed to get any takeaways. Doing so against McNabb is a tough task if history is any indication. In his career, McNabb has thrown an interception on just 2.12 percent of his attempts. That’s second all time among quarterbacks.
Fakhir Brown is expected to return to the starting lineup and the Rams will have their full complement of corners against the Eagles. If they can get pressure on McNabb and come up with some turnovers, it would go a long way toward a victory.
4. Jax Attack
Westbrook is far from the only star-caliber running back in this game. Rams running back Steven Jackson is just as talented and nearly as versatile.
Unlike Westbrook, though, Jackson opted for an extended holdout in training camp that has led to a crash course in the past two weeks. Jackson has yet to take any hits in the preseason and might not quite be in “football shape.”
No decision has been made on how many touches or plays Jackson will get but all signs point to him being capable of a full work load.
“I know Brian Leonard and Antonio Pittman, those guys worked really hard in the preseason to put themselves in position to play so whatever comes back to the drawing board is fine,” Jackson said. “If I have to split the carries between three guys, that’s fine.”
Linehan says that isn’t likely to be the case for the center piece of the Rams offense. Philadelphia’s defense is aggressive and talented but they can be run on. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Rams try to assert themselves physically by running the ball right at Philadelphia and taking any guessing games as far as blitzes go out of the equation.
“He will play a lot,” Linehan said. “I don’t know how many snaps, we don’t have a number but the other guys will play a little bit. I don’t know how much that is either at this point. We have been preparing a significant amount of plays from Steven.”
5. Down on the Corner
Although Philly’s front seven might not have much in terms of name value, there’s no mistaking the plethora of talent the team employs in the secondary. Nary a team in the NFL has the trio of corners the Eagles can put on the field with Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown as the starters and Lito Sheppard as the nickel.
“It’s a big challenge,” receiver Torry Holt said. “It’s a good secondary. They are going to challenge you and they are going to hit you and get in your face and at the same time pressure you see how you handle the pressure. We definitely have to have our head up, our ears pointed and eyes focused in on what’s going on.”
The Eagles dropped some serious coin in adding Samuel in the offseason and have been dealing with some turmoil between Sheppard and Brown in the past week. Sheppard has been hoping for a trade and believes he should be starting over Brown.
That could be helpful or could work against the Rams if that burgeoning feud carries over to the field.
“I guess he has his little contract dispute or things he has going so he’s going to be a little angry,” Holt said. “We have got to be leery of that. He’s going to come out and probably take a shot at a couple of guys.”
Samuel has the longest resume of the group but the Eagles are so confident in their corners that they generally don’t play matchups. Rams receiver Torry Holt isn’t likely to draw special attention but he is well aware of the talent the Eagles can put on the field in the secondary.
“I expect they will stay true to side,” Holt said. “I don’t think they’ll have anybody chasing anybody around. They feel like their corners can match up with anybody.”
It’s up to the Rams receivers, including recovered from injury Drew Bennett and Dante Hall to find seams in that secondary and take advantage when the opportunity affords it.
Re: What to Watch: Philadelphia
I think Reid will mess with Haslett's mind and bench Westbrook, that would be the defensive gameplan out the window.
Re: What to Watch: Philadelphia
I have McNabb on one of my fantasy teams. I wonder if I should play him. He could get me lots of points especially if he is dumping off the balls to Westbrook. hmmmmm..... must think about that.
The eagles do have some talented players.[SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
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