I watched the Cardinals-Eagles game twice, once live and again on DVR, checking out how Brian Westbrook was able to cut up the Cardinals. Like a good handful of Fantasy Football owners out there, I sat Westbrook in my league. Forty points on my bench, and I need to win this week to get a high playoff seed.
Before I break down Westbrook's performance, let's look at why he was a risky play in Week 13. For starters, he had been playing very poorly over his last four games, totaling 61 carries for 186 yards (3.0 avg.) and 14 catches for 74 yards (5.3 avg.) and no touchdowns. This was attributed to knee and ankle injuries slowing him down, and it was obvious watching him in the games before Week 13 that such was the case. And like the rest of the players who played on Thanksgiving, he was going on three days rest. The Cardinals defense was also stronger against the run than the pass, yielding 22 passing touchdowns this season vs. eight on the ground. And, Arizona had allowed one 100-yard rusher all year.
So making the case to call Westbrook a must-start was tough considering these facts. We did refer to him as a "middle-end No. 2 Fantasy RB with obvious upside" in his player analysis days before the game and never called him a must-bench. Obviously, if you did bench him, you did because you had someone else who was healthier and had a better matchup. That makes sense, and it's normally good Fantasy management. Realistically speaking, the only semi-reasonable excuse you could give to call Westbrook a must-start is that "he's a stud and you never ever sit your studs." Of course, if you had used that brilliant analysis in any of Westbrook's previous four games, you looked like a fool. But I digress ...
The primary reasons for Westbrook's success were because the Cardinals didn't defend the run as aggressively as they did the pass, and in conjunction with that, the Eagles' offensive line was highly functional and able to push Arizona's front seven around. Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and quarterback Donovan McNabb also deserve some high praise as they were also big reasons for Westbrook's success.
First drive: Philadelphia went dink-and-dunk, which is common with west-coast offenses, and Westbrook had a hand in it. He had four carries on the 12-play drive and helped set the table for easy second- and third-down conversions with good gains. The Cardinals did a nice job closing in on him once he got past the line of scrimmage, but he routinely was able to scoot through nice-sized holes carved out by his offensive line.
First TD: An awesome play call where McNabb goes back to pass and then shovels it to Westbrook, who made the rest of the play elementary from 5 yards out. I am a big fan of the shovel pass because when the quarterback takes from center, it looks like a pass, and the defense adjusts. But the shovel pass is essentially a glorified handoff, and it fools the defense that's already on its heels and not ready to stop the run.
Second drive: Philadelphia capitalizes on a Kurt Warner interception and rides Westbrook into the end zone. Westbrook gets all but two of the yards on a 41-yard drive against a tired Cardinals defense that had already been on the field for 8:47 of the game.
Second TD: Standard goal-line draw. Nothing out of the norm here, and a solid call.
Third drive: Eagles don't use him at all and go three-and-out. I imagine that someone asked someone else over the Eagles' headsets "And we didn't let Westbrook touch the ball ... why?"
Fourth drive: Philly makes up for the last drive with five runs (four by Westbrook) in their first six plays to get them into the red zone. The lone pass in those six plays was a 20-yard hook-up from McNabb to Hank Baskett on an out route that was good for 20 yards and called on a first-down, catching the Cardinals off guard. Again, excellent play calling.
Third TD: If you saw this play, you knew Westbrook was going to score even before he waved his hand in the air indicating he was wide open. The Cardinals blitzed McNabb while playing zone coverage in the end zone, but they left Westbrook all alone in the right flat from two yards out. McNabb threw a lob that Westbrook easily reeled in. He could have crawled like a baby into the end zone, that's how open he was.
So at this point, Westbrook had three touchdowns and 75 rush yards and 7 receiving yards on two touchdown catches. Mighty impressive output through 1 1/2 quarters of play.
Fifth drive: Westbrook gets one touch and the Eagles pass exclusively inside the 2:00 warning to set up a field goal. It's 24-7 at the half.
Sixth drive: One touch, 4 yards for Westbrook on a three-and-out series. Remember what happened next when the Eagles did this in the first half, dontcha?
Seventh drive: Not as much Westbrook as you might expect (four total touches on the 11-play drive) as McNabb was able to throw short routes and let his receivers do much of the work (DeSean Jackson is perfect for the Eagles' offense).
Fourth TD: Again, a standard 9-yard run. Handoff wasn't odd or anything, and Westbrook got to the end zone before the Cardinals could tackle him.
Eighth, ninth and 10th drives: The Eagles scale back Westbrook's production, holding him to three runs for 8 yards and one catch for 13 yards in 13 offensive plays.
Westbrook's night was over after the Eagles took a 48-20 lead and he didn't participate in the team's last two series.
What is amazing about Westbrook's game is that you never would have guessed he ran for 110 yards or had 22 carries by watching the game. His longest run was for 17 yards and he had just two carries for more than 10 yards. So there was no break-away run, just a lot of pounding and grinding and digging in for yardage. His offensive line really deserves a game ball -- not only did they spring him like they did, but McNabb was sacked one time during the game. Westbrook didn't look perfect -- he likely left some yards on the field, but the team's use of him near the end zone and throughout the first half was a very positive sign.
The good news for Westbrook owners: Now the running back will have as many as nine days to rest up and get his body ready for the rest of the season. This is exactly what he needs.
The bad news for Westbrook owners: The Eagles play at the Giants in Week 14. Even with Westbrook's incredible history before this season, the expectations have to be somewhat in check ... don't they?