On The Edge Blog

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cowboys dominate Eagles as Westbrook hinders offense

So much for being the hottest team in the NFL.

With an uninspired 24-0 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles squandered their chances at getting a week off and a guaranteed home playoff game. Instead, the Birds will head back to Dallas to face the NFL’s current hottest team in the first round of the playoffs.

So why did the Eagles go from a team riding a six-game winning streak to a team that couldn’t score a single point in a game that had serious playoff implications?

I am probably going to have a lot of people disagreeing with me, but the problem is Brian Westbrook.

I completely respect the fact that coming into this season, Westbrook was basically the only weapon the Eagles had on offense since Terrell Owens talked his way out of town, however, he is now preventing the Eagles from playing like the team that set the franchise record for points in a season.

In the seven games that Westbrook missed with a concussion, Leonard Weaver and LeSean McCoy combined to average just more than 20 carries per game, however against the Cowboys, each player received one carry.

Not using Weaver and McCoy would be fine if Westbrook had been playing well, but he ran the ball just five times for 17 yards, which means that the Eagles got almost no production from their backfield.

It would be easy to look at those numbers and say that Andy Reid reverted back to his stubborn, pass-happy ways, but I believe the problem is more complex than that.

Any year before 2009 (now 2010), Westbrook was a dangerous weapon, but despite being declared healthy, he is not as elusive out of the backfield as he was in previous seasons. Combine that with the idea that maybe Reid doesn’t trust Westbrook to run the ball without getting re-injured, and suddenly, a once explosive running back is actually the third best player at his position on the Birds’ roster.

The reason that the Eagles’ offense thrived when Westbrook was on the sidelines was that teams had to worry about the run and the pass, regardless of which running back was behind Donovan McNabb. This means the defense could never line up to defend just the pass or just the run, allowing the wide receivers more room to get open, while giving both Weaver and McCoy more lanes to run through.

With Westbrook in the game, the Eagles pass far more often to minimize his exposure to punishing hits, allowing defenses to drop extra men into coverage, which then limits DeSean Jackson’s ability to roam free.

If Westbrook isn’t as elusive as McCoy, and certainly can’t break tackles like Weaver, then why leave him in the game and make the offense one-dimensional?

I know that it is almost blasphemous to say that Westbrook makes the Eagles’ offense worse, but when was the last time you got excited to see the ball in 36’s hands?

Quick thoughts and observations:

* I don’t understand why Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott decided to rush just four defensive linemen for most of the first half, but if that was the game plan, why did the Eagles’ cornerbacks play so far off of the Cowboys’ receivers?

If McDermott didn’t want to send extra players after Tony Romo, then he could have at least played bump-and-run on the outside to give the linemen a few more seconds to get to the quarterback. I think that is a lousy game plan to begin with, but it was made worse by playing a completely passive pass defense.

It is quite obvious that Romo, or any quarterback in the NFL, can pick apart a defense if he is given plenty of time, but don’t give the wide receivers seven yards before encountering a defensive player.

* Why was Jeremy Maclin returning kickoffs for the Eagles? He has had an excellent rookie season, hauling in 55 passes for 762 yards, but at less than 18 yards per return, the Eagles simply must use someone else back there.

Only twice during the shutout loss did the Eagles start with better field position than their own 20 yard line, which wasn’t entirely Maclin’s fault, but I think he has been far too timid on pass routes and on his returns to be even considered as a viable option.

If Quintin Demps is hurt, and Macho Harris is too careless with the ball, then give Eldra Buckley a shot back there, because field position is a vital piece of the puzzle during the playoffs.

* Anyone else think that Michael Vick is going to get 15 to 20 snaps this weekend? Reid spent the entire offseason working on “Wildcat” plays, yet we have only seen about three or four different plays with Vick on the field. I could be way off, but if there were any time to unleash (sorry for the terrible pun) Vick’s speed and natural ability, it would be against a team that just shut down every normal play in the playbook six days earlier.

Predictions: Eagles fix what went wrong in week 17 while Wade Phillips stands dumbfounded wondering why last week’s game plan doesn’t work for the second time in less than a week. Eagles win 23-17.

Green Bay, Cincinnati and Baltimore also advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Like the “On the Edge” column? Hear more of my opinions about Philadelphia sports every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on WBCB 1490 AM during the Coffee with Kahuna show. This week we will focus on what the Eagles need to do to win their playoff battle with the Dallas Cowboys.


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Name: Matthew Fleishman, Yardley News Editor
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