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News » Eagles - Of course, Vikings will run Peterson, but how much will Eagles use Westbrook?

Eagles - Of course, Vikings will run Peterson, but how much will Eagles use Westbrook?

Eagles - Of course, Vikings will run Peterson, but how much will Eagles use Westbrook?
GOING INTO every game, including this Sunday's wild-card playoff matchup with the visiting Eagles, the Minnesota Vikings pretty much know they can build their offense around Adrian Peterson. The second-year running back from Oklahoma has appeared in every contest, carrying the ball somewhere from 17 to 30 times, leading the NFL with 1,760 yards on 363 carries. Ten times in 16 games, he gained more than 100 yards rushing. He has played through an ankle injury recently, without much noticeable effect.

The Eagles have a running back they consider every bit the weapon Peterson is - Eagles coach Andy Reid explained that he called Peterson "one of the top two best runners in the National Football League" this week out of deference to Brian Westbrook. But the Birds' situation with Westbrook has been a little more complicated, and it continues to be, as they embark on their postseason quest.

Westbrook, bothered by an ankle injury and by his perenially swollen knee this season, rarely practices, especially now that the Eagles do most of their work indoors, on an artificial surface that is harder on the joints. He was listed as a "limited" participant yesterday. Westbrook missed two games early in the season, and he was ineffective during much of that November stretch when the Birds struggled - 13 carries for 26 yards in a Nov. 9 loss to the Giants, 14 for 39 in the Nov. 23 loss at Baltimore.

Westbrook's numbers for the season - 936 rushing yards on 233 carries, 54 catches for 402 yards - were nowhere near the career year he posted in 2007, when he set the franchise record for yards from scrimmage, with 2,104 - 1,333 rushing yards on 278 attempts, 90 catches for 771 yards. The last month or so, as the Birds pushed for the playoffs, he looked a little more like the dominant player of the previous year.

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was asked yesterday whether he can craft a game plan that heavily features Westbrook, as a runner or as a receiver, not knowing what level of Westbrook he will have on Sunday.

"Yes, you can," Mornhinweg said. "You do plan for Brian playing, and playing a lot, and playing well. Or any player, let's take any player, you plan for that. Then you also have other [elements to the game plan] where the other fellows are in, so your plan may be here, and then you get into a game and it's more here," he said, gesturing first with his right arm, then with his left.

"So, you can pick those particular plays and formations and personnel groups, and there are some times where that particular player may get the reps, at let's say the walk-throughs and those types of things, on all of his plays, and then in the game the backup isn't ready to do those types of things, so you go to the other plays. There are some of those plays where the backup is ready, and you get him ready that week, of course, so you can use those plays. So, every week is a little bit different that way with players that are banged up."

Make no mistake, even if the Vikings are ranked first in the league in run defense, the Eagles need an effective game from Westbrook to win. The only other thing they have that approaches the level of an elite weapon is rookie wideout DeSean Jackson. It's tough to go into the playoffs leaning hard on a rookie, even one who, in the words of Vikings coach Brad Childress, moves "like a human pogo stick."

Westbrook said this week that despite getting kicked in the ankle last Sunday against the Cowboys, he feels good - probably a little better than he felt a week ago. Mornhinweg said Westbrook doesn't need to play a large on-field role in preparing for the Vikings to be effective.

"He's very smart; he makes very few mistakes," Mornhinweg said.

Childress, the former Eagles offensive coordinator, said this week he has noticed no dropoff in Westbrook's effectiveness. (Of course, in the week leading up to a playoff encounter, no coach is ever going to say anything different.)

"I read about the injuries, but I don't see any evidence of that when he's got the ball under his arm," Childress said.

Asked what level he thinks Westbrook will be able to play at in Minnesota, Mornhinweg said: "We'll see when the game starts. I'd like to think that I sort of have a good feel of it by the time the game starts, [if] he practiced late in the week, and he hasn't done much of that as of late, and then in pregame."

Of course, there has been a lot of talk about how, given Reid's proclivities, the Eagles might not make much of an attempt to run on the Vikes' stout front seven. Curiously, nobody is questioning whether the Vikings will try to run on the Eagles' fourth-ranked run defense.

"They still want to run the Football first," Eagles nickel corner Joselio Hanson said, when asked about the addition of veteran wideout Bernard Berrian to the Vikings' mix this season. On Oct. 28, 2007, the Eagles won at Minnesota, 23-16, holding Peterson to 70 yards on 20 carries, really loading up to stop the run. "With them having Bernard Berrian [who averages 20.1 yards on his 48 catches], you can't really play eight in the box, because he can burn you deep."

As far as the Eagles' intentions, Westbrook noted that "we've played against very good teams against the run before, and we've had success. For us, it's very important that we try to go out there and at least establish the run."

The Eagles gained 65 yards on 23 carries back on Sept. 21, when they defeated the Steelers, who finished with the No. 2 run defense. The next week they gained 103 yards on 23 carries in losing to the Bears, who finished with the fifth-ranked run defense. They gained 86 yards on 21 carries in their only blowout loss of the season Nov. 23 at Baltimore, the league's third-ranked run defense.

Westbrook said he feels the Eagles' offense is ready to put it all together, the way the defense has the past month or so.

"I still don't think, offensively, we've hit our stride quite yet," he said. "Our defense is playing great and keeping us in the Football games. Hopefully, starting this week, we'll begin peaking offensively." *

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

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 2, 2009

Brian Dawkins Name: Brian Dawkins
Position: S
Age: 34
Experience: 13 years
College: Clemson
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