Foxborough, Mass. - It seems the only thing missing from Brian Westbrook's repertoire as the Philadelphia Eagles' versatile, multi-talented and do-everything running back is a catchy nickname with which to adequately describe his talents.
As New England Patriots prepare for Philadelphia and next week's Super Bowl, there is little question it's Westbrook who is "Mr. Everything" in the Eagles offense. Westbrook has forged his way from college star on the NCAA I-AA level at Villanova University to star on the NFL level in three seasons, developing into a focal point of Philadelphia's offense heading into next week's throw-down with the Patriots.
Westbrook has established himself as the Eagles lead back this season after the departure of Duce Staley to Pittsburgh and a season-ending knee injury to fellow back Correll Buckhalter. In his third pro season and first as a full-time starter, Westbrook set career-highs in carries (177) and rushing yards (812) while leading all NFL running backs in both receptions (73) and receiving yards (703). Those numbers were good enough for fourth in the NFC in total yards from scrimmage (1,515) despite missing three games, as Westbrook produced 117 total yards per contest.
Patriots veteran safety Rodney Harrison used the term "explosive" as the one word that comes to mind when watching Westbrook on film this week.
"He's a great running back," Harrison said. "He's an explosive receiver. He can catch out of the backfield, screens, draws - he can do it all. He's really a force on the team. Everyone is talking about T.O. but no one is talking about Westbrook and giving him the respect that he deserves."
Westbrook is getting plenty of respect around the Patriots locker room. In fact, the most common comparison that is drawn to Westbrook's talents by several of the Patriots is that of seven-time Pro Bowl running back Marshall Faulk.
"He's a lot like Marshall Faulk," said linebacker Rosevelt Colvin. "He's a good running back, he's good out of the backfield as far as a receiver and the things he does for them and what he means for their team. We have to be prepared, because he can do it all. I think their offense utilizes him in every way they need to, to keep him involved and to keep the offense moving."
]()Like Faulk, Westbrook is as good a receiver as he is a runner. Like Faulk, Westbrook is more explosive and quick than he is fast. Like Faulk, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 211 pounds, the 5-10, 205-pound Westbrook possesses great vision and doesn't take many direct hits because he is adept at making the first tackler miss. And just as the Rams use Faulk, Westbrook will go in motion and line up all over the field as the Eagles look for potential mismatches.
"He reminds me a lot of Marshall Faulk," linebacker Don Davis agreed. "He can catch the ball coming out of the backfield, he can line up as a receiver, but a good running back too. He's got good speed and balance and he can just power it up in there. He's a very good back."
Westbrook's strength is that he doesn't have just one. The Eagles prefer to use him all over the field, motioning out of the backfield on passing downs or using him in a tight slot formation or offset in the backfield, making his release into pass routes easier. He has proven to be as dangerous on vertical routes downfield as he is on intermediate passes near the line of scrimmage.
As much as the Patriots can focus on one aspect of Philadelphia's balanced offence, knowing exactly where Westbrook is on the field is the starting point.
"Basically we just have to try and have his number," said safety Eugene Wilson. "They do a lot of things with him, split him out, run the ball with him, he's a big player for them right now. We're going to have to know where he is at all times."
Westbrook has proven that knowing where he is on the field isn't always enough. The combination of his elusiveness and explosiveness often allows him to elude the first defender and makes him difficult to corral in the open field. The onus will be on the Patriots defense to gang-tackle and pursue the ball on plays involving Westbrook, ensuring that if the first tackler misses, more are ready to make a play. It's an aspect the Patriots have witnessed during film sessions this week.
Westbrook, who recorded two 100-yard rushing games and a 100-yard receiving game this season, also has a penchant for the big play. He accounted for five plays of over 30 yards this season, three as a receiver. Of his 22 career touchdowns, he averages 24.0 yards per scoring play.
"He's a great player," linebacker Mike Vrabel said. "He's very dynamic. He has the ability to turn a 5- or 6-yard gain into a 35-yard gain in a hurry just by making one guy miss a tackle that you think is a sure tackle. It will be important for us to know where he's at and also execute the play."
Westbrook has regained his stride in the playoffs after not playing in the final two games of the regular season. He gained 70 yards rushing on 12 carries and added five receptions for 47 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown pass, in Philadelphia's 27-14 win over Minnesota in the Divisional Playoffs. He recorded a career-playoff high with 96 yards rushing in the NFC Championship Game against Atlanta, while adding 39 yards receiving on five receptions.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is this: The Eagles are 22-1 overall when Westbrook gets 10 or more touches in a game. You get the idea.
"There's no question Westbrook has a major impact in [the Eagles offense]," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "He's fourth in the league in yard from scrimmage. Of all the yards that are being gained, he's gaining about as many as anybody. They have good balance on offense, and Westbrook is a key part of that. There is not question about it."