Rushers Might be Difference in NFC Title Game
by Matt Severance - 01/16/2009
If Brian Westbrook isn't 100 percent, it's hard to imagine the Philadelphia Eagles beating the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.
Westbrook has not been the same since the final quarter of the regular season, and most think it's because of nagging ankle and knee injuries. Westbrook hasn't rushed for more than 53 yards or higher than a 3.8-yards-per-carry average since Week 14. He is averaging just 1.9 yards per carry in the postseason and just 3.6 yards per touch overall if you take away that huge screen pass against the Vikings.
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Westbrook sat out practice on Wednesday and Thursday but did participate on Friday, albeit limited. He will start on Sunday, but how healthy is he? He reportedly tweaked that knee again vs. the Giants.
"It just feels good right now," Westbrook said. "I don't worry about it at all. My knee's fine." Coach Andy Reid has said he needs more out of his backfield - Philly has rushed for just 126 yards in the playoffs.
"We have to be more efficient," Reid said. "We can do a better job schematically from a coaching standpoint and then everybody else, the players, they have to each take that responsibility."
The coach added Friday that Westbrook looks good.
"I think he feels good," Reid said. "He's really practiced well really down the stretch here. I think he's feeling pretty good."
BetUs has a prop bet of Westbrook's total rushing yards at 65.5, and the under looks like a smart play. Yes, Westbrook had 110 yards and four touchdowns in the first meeting with Arizona, but this is a different Arizona D.
Ever since that embarrassment in New England, that unit has jelled. On run downs, the Cards now shift from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3. Defensive tackle Bryan Robinson moves to defensive end and big Gabe Watson is in at nose tackle, alongside tackle Darnell Docket and end Antonio Smith.
Arizona held Atlanta's No. 2 and Carolina's No. 3-ranked rushing defenses to 135 combined rush yards. That defense is second among the league's playoff teams in yards allowed, dropping the per-game number from 331.5 in the regular season to 259.5 in the playoffs. A defense that allowed 26.6 points per game in the regular season is down to 18.5 in two playoff games.
"We just started holding people accountable," Dockett said.
Meanwhile, the Arizona ground game has come alive under Edgerrin James, meaning Kurt Warner won't have to throw the ball all day. In that Week 13 48-20 loss to Philly, Warner threw the ball 39 times but for just 235 yards. The Cards gave up on running the ball, toting it just 10 times for 25 yards (no carries for James) as they were pretty thoroughly dominated.
Now, the Philly secondary has been stellar this postseason, with the Eagles defense allowing a total of 322 passing yards to the Vikings and Giants to go along with three picks. Warner's over/under total of 40.5 pass attempts on BetUS seems like easy money - take the under.
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James, meanwhile, is the BetUS third-favorite to score an anytime TD at -160 (behind Westbrook and Larry Fitzgerald). Not bad for a guy who lost his starting job midway through the season, demanded a trade, didn't play in three games and then got it back in the season finale against the Seahawks.
Arizona ranked last in the NFL in rushing in the regular season (73.6 per game), but it is averaging 115 yards in the postseason. James has 130 yards on 36 carries. His over/under total for Sunday's game on BetUS is 54.5.
"My game doesn't change," James said, referring to those who said he might be finished. "I've led the league in rushing and my longest run was 30 yards. All of the sudden I can't run the same?" Still, even Edge admits he won't be back with the Cards next season.