Dynamic quarterback Donovan McNabb is back at full health and running the team's West Coast offense as he did before last season's injury- and controversy-plagued season of unmatched expectations. L.J. Smith has emerged as one of the premier pass-catching tight ends in the entire league, and wide receivers Dont? Stallworth, Reggie Brown and Greg Lewis provide McNabb with a solid trio of downfield targets.
But the player who likely will present the most challenges for the
Dallas defense is running back Brian Westbrook. At just 5-foot-8 and
203 pounds, he's nowhere near the biggest back in the league, and
while he has good quickness, he's not a pure flier in the mold of New
Orleans rookie Reggie Bush. But Westbrook might just be the most
versatile back in the entire NFL.
"They put Westbrook in several different positions," Parcells said.
"He's a very dynamic player. He runs the ball well, he catches the
ball well out of the backfield, and he's very dangerous in open
space. I think he's really a unique player."
Parcells scoffed at the idea that Westbrook is underrated.
"Not by me," Parcells said. "I think if you ask anybody who has
coached against him, you'll find that everyone knows how good he is."
Westbrook leads the Eagles with 44 carries for 256 yards, and has
scored a team-high 30 points (three rushing touchdowns and two
receiving touchdowns). Seven running backs around the NFL have more
receptions than Westbrook's 15 (for another 164 yards), but he has
played in only three games, having sat out Monday night's victory
over the Green Bay Packers.
Cornerback Anthony Henry said Westbrook hasn't looked on film like a
player with a sore knee.
"Against the Giants, he looked fine," Henry said. "He runs the ball
well, and he catches the ball as well as any running back in the
league. There's a lot of things they can do with him."
Linebacker Akin Ayodele has played against Westbrook only once, when
they were rookies (Ayodele with the Jacksonville Jaguars). Ayodele
said that the perception that Westbrook is a "scat back" who tries to
tries to sidestep contact is grossly inaccurate.
"I haven't played against him a lot, but when I see the highlights,
the thing I keep saying is 'wow,'" Ayodele said. "He stands in there
and blocks -- he doesn't avoid contact at all.
"It's important, maybe more than in any other game, that we, as
linebackers, have a great game."
Asked if he preferred to see Westbrook running the ball or catching
it out of the backfield, Ayodele laughed.
"Neither one," he said. "We're professionals, and we like challenges,
but he's an incredible player. I don't see him missing a game against
Because of Westbrook's prowess as a receiving target, some teams try
to match up against him when he splits out wide by lining up a
cornerback across from him. Linebacker Bradie James said the Cowboys
will not take that approach.
"From a linebacker standpoint, we'll earn our checks this week,"
James said. "Westbrook does so much for their offense. Defensively,
we don't want to match up a corner with him, because then we'll have
a linebacker chasing one of their wide receivers. He creates so many
mismatches, and has a lot of ways he can affect games."
Linebackers Ready for Offensive Challenge
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