- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2009

It was a mystery during and after the Philadelphia Eagles‘ loss to the Washington Redskins two weeks ago.

Why wasn’t Brian Westbrook more involved in the offense?

Coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg suffered a game-long brain cramp - the Eagles ran the ball on only 16 of 64 snaps, and Westbrook touched it only 18 times thanks in part to a smart Redskins game plan but also a playcalling oversight by Reid.

The Eagles overcame that defeat, and with collapses by Chicago and Tampa Bay, Philadelphia captured the final NFC playoff spot with a 44-6 win over Dallas that allowed Reid to limit Westbrook’s snaps.

But when Philadelphia (9-6-1) plays at Minnesota (10-6) on Sunday in the final playoff game of the weekend, the Eagles’ plan should be simple, even against the Vikings’ top-ranked run defense.

Get to it Westbrook. A lot.

Whether it’s on pitches or handoffs, quick slants or screen passes, Westbrook - despite nagging injuries and the emergence of rookie receiver DeSean Jackson - remains Philadelphia’s most dangerous offensive player.

“He brings so many things to the table, so when we get him the ball and get it to him on a consistent basis, you see what he can do,” Eagles safety Brian Dawkins said.

The numbers confirm Dawkins’ statement. When Westbrook posts 20 or more touches this year, the Eagles are 5-1; when he doesn’t, they’re 3-4-1. The DeMatha alum missed two games because of injury.

Westbrook’s 14 touchdowns ranked fourth in the NFC, and his 287 touches were his fewest in three years.

“I think it’s the scheme a little bit, but probably the biggest part of it is that I’ve been banged up a little bit,” he said. “But we have some guys who are playing well.”

Back to relatively good health, Westbrook helped spearhead Philadelphia’s resurgence. The Eagles were in the NFC East cellar at Thanksgiving but dominated Arizona, the Giants and Cleveland to get back in the race. In those three games, Westbrook scored six touchdowns and averaged 27.7 touches.

“The big thing they do is craft game plans, and they don’t get stuck in any one box,” Vikings coach Brad Childress said. “To be able to find matchups, whether it’s for their receivers, tight end, Brian, their quarterback, Andy will come up with something. They have base plays, but it’s a menu of plays they’ll put a different skirt on each week with different wrinkles.”

Before joining the Vikings, Childress spent seven years with the Eagles as quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator.

“Brian can change the game,” he said. “The unique thing about Brian is he can split out as a receiver and you usually don’t look at a running back versus a cornerback as an equal match - you give it to the cornerback. But Brian can run a slant and is a very smart guy when he’s in that position.”

Getting Westbrook going early should be a priority. Philadelphia has outscored opponents 85-53 in the first quarter, and getting a lead plays right into Jim Johnson’s myriad blitz calls. But in some games, Westbrook has been virtually ignored.

He was involved in eight of 29 first-half plays in a loss to the Giants, six of 29 in the tie with Cincinnati and seven of 30 in the loss at Baltimore.

On Thanksgiving night, Westbrook accounted for 16 of 40 first-half plays in a win against Arizona that started the Eagles’ run.

“I think anytime you get in the mode of just trying to run, run, run just because everybody wants you to run, it takes away from what you’re doing,” quarterback Donovan McNabb said. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily getting Brian going early but more about getting the offense going early.”

It likely will be difficult to run against the Vikings, who allowed only 76.9 yards rushing a game in the regular season, so it’s up to Reid to find ways to keep Westbrook involved in the passing game.

Even if the Vikings limit Westbrook’s rushing yards, Childress knows the job is only half-done.

“He’s gotten a little better every year because of his understanding [of the offense],” he said. “I’ve just seen the evolution. He was a special guy when I was there, and he hasn’t stopped being special.”

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