Brian Westbrook is entering uncharted territory. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound running back has racked up 95 touches in the past four games, including a season-high 27 in last week's 19-14 win over the Green Bay Packers.
Since selecting him in the third round of the 2002 draft, the Eagles always have been reluctant to overuse Westbrook because of durability issues.
But with Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb gone and the 5-6 Eagles' playoff hopes on life support, coach Andy Reid knows he needs to put the ball in Westbrook's hands as often as possible, ankle sprains, hip pointers and bruised knees be damned.
Westbrook had a season-high 21 carries against the Packers, using them to notch just the third 100-yard rushing performance of his career. He also had four receptions (for just 11 yards) and returned two punts.
"You try to monitor (his touches)," offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. "But when you have a hot hand, you go with it. He's not turning away from any carries. Plus, we had a longer week to get ready (for Monday night's game against Seattle). You've got to go to your playmaker, and he's one of them."
Since joining the Eagles, Westbrook's greatest value has been as a receiver. He had 73 receptions last season and leads the team with 56 this year. But with McNabb out for the season and three new faces on the offensive line, the Eagles have put their pass-happy ways on ice and are running the ball more.
Last week, for the first time all season, they ran the ball more than they threw it. In the past 18 quarters, they've thrown the ball just 22 more times than they've run it (157-135). In the first 26 quarters, they threw the ball 388 times and ran it just 109 times.
But it remains to be seen how much of a between-the-tackles licking Westbrook can take and still keep on ticking. Which is why you probably won't see him carry the ball 20-plus times again Monday night.
The Eagles hope to work in Lamar Gordon and rookie Ryan Moats more against the Seahawks and utilize Westbrook more in the passing game.
Moats, the club's third-round pick out of Louisiana Tech, has spent most of the season on the inactive list as he struggled to learn the Eagles' complex version of the West Coast offense. But he made enough progress to convince Andy Reid to activate him last week, and he responded with 24 rushing yards on six carries, including an impressive 12-yard run on the Eagles' game-winning, fourth-quarter scoring drive.
"It was a blast," said the 5-9, 210-pound Moats. "It was fun to get out there and contribute. I never went this long without playing in my life. There were times I wondered if I ever was going to get on the field. But I've always just tried to make the situation make sense.
"I kind of figured they were just bringing me along slowly. Me getting mad or throwing a fit wasn't going to help the situation. These people have been in the NFL a lot longer than me, so they have a lot better feel for when I'm ready than I do."
SERIES HISTORY: 10th meeting. The Eagles lead the series 6-3. The Eagles won the last two meetings, including a 27-20 victory in Seattle in '02. This is the first time the Seahawks have been to Philadelphia since Andy Reid become head coach in 1999.
Quotes and Notes
--Mike McMahon will be making his second start at quarterback Monday night, but he's going to need to pick up his play if he wants to hang on to the job. While he's thrown just one interception in 67 attempts and has done some good things running with the football, McMahon has completed just 44 percent of his passes in his two starts. Last week against Green Bay, he completed just four of 12 passes for 27 yards in the first half. The previous week, against the Giants, he completed just five of 15 passes for 81 yards in the first half. He's been getting decent protection. He just hasn't been very accurate.
"Right now, it's Mike's position, right now," coach Andy Reid said. "We'll see how he does here. He did some good things (against the Packers). He took a couple of steps forward in the second half. Now we need to get him started a little faster than we have in the last couple of games."
If Reid does bench McMahon at some point, he would replace him with backup Koy Detmer, who doesn't have McMahon's arm strength or mobility but is more accurate and has a better grasp of the offense.
--Donovan McNabb had surgery to repair his sports hernia earlier this week. Reid said the surgery went well, and he fully expects the quarterback to be ready to participate in the club's post-draft minicamp in late April.
--McMahon has rushed for 60 yards in his two starts. That's 5 yards more than McNabb's nine-game rushing total this season.
--Lamar Gordon's first-quarter fumble Sunday against Green Bay was the first lost fumble by an Eagles running back on a rushing attempt in 799 carries over 41 games. The last lost fumble by a running back on a rushing attempt: Correll Buckhalter on October 26, 2003, against the New York Jets.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I have the ability to run routes as well as run the ball. Whatever way I touch the ball, I'm happy. I just want to touch it. But as a running back, you always want to run the ball first." - Brian Westbrook, who had a season-high 21 carries last week against the Packers
BY THE NUMBERS: 21 - Sacks the Eagles have allowed in 474 pass plays. That's an average of just one sack every 22.6 pass plays, which is the best by an Eagles offensive line in 24 years.
The Eagles made another punting change this week, releasing Nick Murphy after just one game and replacing him with 43-year-old veteran Sean Landeta.
LG Artis Hicks, who missed last week's game with a knee sprain, may be healthy enough to play this week. But it remains to be seen whether he will. His replacement, second-year man Adrien Clarke, played very well in last week's 19-14 win over Green Bay. Hicks has been inconsistent much of the season.
"We'll see how Artis does here," coach Andy Reid said, "how he's feeling, how much range of motion he has in that leg."
--LG Artis Hicks, who missed last week's game with a sprained knee, is listed as questionable for Monday night's game. The Eagles don't resume practice until Thursday, so it's hard to determine whether he'll be able to play.
--DT Sam Rayburn is listed as questionable after aggravating his shoulder injury last week against Green Bay. Rayburn probably will play, but likely he'll have his snaps reduced.
--G Adrien Clarke probably will get his second straight start Monday night in place of injured Artis Hicks. Clarke played very well last week against the Packers.
--RB Lamar Gordon, who suffered a concussion in last week's game against Green Bay, appears to be OK. He's listed as probable for Monday night's game against Seattle.
--P Sean Landeta was signed by the Eagles on Tuesday and will handle the punting against Seattle. He replaces Nick Murphy, who was cut after just one game.
GAME PLAN: Defensively, the Eagles want to try to neutralize Seattle running back Shawn Alexander, particularly on first down, and put the Seahawks in some obvious passing situations. Offensively, they'll probably continue to run the ball a lot and take the pressure off of quarterback Mike McMahon.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Eagles CB Rod Hood vs. Seahawks WR Joe Jurivicius. Hood is subbing for injured Lito Sheppard. Jurivicius isn't fast, but he will have a 6-inch height advantage.
--Eagles LDE Jevon Kearse vs. Seahawks RT Sean Locklear. Kearse has picked up his play and needs a solid performance against Locklear if Eagles are going to neutralize Seahawks' running game.
LG Artis Hicks may miss his second straight game with a knee injury. But his replacement, Adrien Clarke is playing better than Hicks was.
The Cowboys offense has suffered of late because teams have successfully used the blitz to slow them.
They are averaging fewer points per game and gaining fewer yards than earlier in the season.
Quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who once was on pace to break the team record for passing yards in a season, has passed for less than 200 yards in three of the past five games.
Don't think the Giants won't bring the heat as well in Sunday's showdown for the NFC East lead.
The teams are tied atop the division with 7-4 records. The winner takes control of the division and its playoff destiny.
"I would say that teams seem to - whether it's just us or a trend in the league - teams are going continue to blitz us as they blitz everyone else," Bledsoe said. "It seems in vogue, some of these max blitzes. When we go down the stretch, we are going to have to make teams pay when they play us that way. When they choose to pressure us with everyone at the line of scrimmage, we are going to have to make big plays against that stuff."
The Cowboys have not made big plays in the running game all season. They have just three runs of at least 20 yards. They have yet to have a runner top the 100-yard barrier in a game.
Earlier in the season, the Cowboys were making big plays in the passing game. They have 27 pass plays of at least 20 yards or more. However, only eight have come in the last five games. The Cowboys have had only three in the past three games.
Receiver Terry Glenn is a big part of that equation. Eight of his first 21 catches this year gained at least 20 yards. He has had only four catches of 20 or more yards in his last 24 catches. More succinctly, Glenn has three catches of 20 or more yards in the last five games.
The blitz has forced the Cowboys to max protect, meaning they have sent fewer receivers into passing routes. Or they have had to get the ball out quicker, which means shorter throws. It's little wonder receiver Keyshawn Johnson has overtaken Glenn as the team's leading pass catcher with 53 receptions and an average of 11 yards per catch.
"I think as we go down the road here, we're going to have to make some plays against the blitz or we're going to be in trouble," coach Bill Parcells said.SERIES HISTORY: 87th meeting. Dallas leads the series 51-33-2. The Giants have won four of the past five games in New York. Eight of the last 11 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less, including five by four points or less.
Quotes and Notes
--Cowboys coach Bill Parcells is impressed with the career of Giants running back Tiki Barber, who has rushed for 1,118 yards and six touchdowns this season. And he also has 30 catches.
Parcells called Barber one of the most underrated players in the league. He said that Barber and Falcons running back Warrick Dunn, both taken in the 1997 draft, proved the critics wrong who said they were too small to succeed.
"I think they've turned into tremendous players," Parcells said.
--Offensive tackle Marcus Price tried out with the Cowboys earlier in the season but was out of shape and overweight. He went back to San Diego, worked out and served as a volunteer high school coach. The Cowboys brought him in for a second workout last Friday. Price was ready, as he had dropped more than 20 pounds, prompting the Cowboys to sign him to a contract and release Ethan Brooks.
"I'm going to learn the offense as fast as I can so I can be prepared if one of the guys goes down," Price said. "There's a learning curve I'll have to go through."
Price has played with San Diego, New Orleans and Buffalo. He has 10 career starts.
--Linebacker Mike Barrow will earn $225,000 over the final five weeks of the season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 63 - Number of penalties called on the Cowboys, the lowest total in the league (for 480 yards). It's an average of 5.7 penalties per game.
"I couldn't see how anyone would emphasize it more than we do," Parcells said. "The players are listening. I think they're using better judgment and better discipline. It's definitely showed up."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I spent a lot of my boyhood wandering around those meadows. It's my home. It's where I'm from. I have friends there, I have family there. I started my coaching career in pro football there. It's a place that's been very important in my life. Obviously it's different than if I was going to Topeka or somewhere." - Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, a New Jersey native who led the Giants to two Super Bowl titles, on playing at Giants Stadium.
--G/T Cory Procter was signed off the Detroit Lions' practice squad. The Cowboys released G Ben Noll to make room for Proctor. Procter, who signed with Detroit as an undrafted rookie free agent, has worked primarily at tackle after playing guard in college at Montana. Noll was inactive for the first six games, but saw special teams action in four of the past five games.
--LB Mike Barrow may not play against the Giants on Sunday. He signed with the Cowboys on Monday but has not played since 2003 because of injuries. Coach Bill Parcells said it would depend on how much Barrow picks up in practice. But he is already impressed by the veteran linebacker, who last played with the Giants.
"He's a very hard worker, and he's tough," Parcells said. "I can tell he's a knowledgeable player."
--LB Scott Shanle, who missed the Broncos game with an ankle injury, is listed as probable for Sunday's game. He practiced Monday and Wednesday and should be ready to go.
--OT Marc Colombo will be active for the first time since signing with the Cowboys on Nov. 1, Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. The former first-round draft choice last played in the league with Chicago on Sept. 11, 2004. Colombo will serve as a backup tackle for the Giants game probably because Marcus Price was signed on Saturday and is not yet up to speed.
--LB Kevin Burnett was put on the spot by Cowboys coach Bill Parcells two weeks ago. He said the rookie second-round pick needed to step. Has he? "Not the way I would like him to," Parcells said. "Not yet."
--CB Aaron Glenn seems to be getting better with age, at least as far as coach Bill Parcells is concerned. Glenn has seen a lot more action the past few weeks because Anthony Henry has been hobbled by a strained groin. Glenn, 33,has started the past three games and could start against the Giants.
"Aaron Glenn's a good player," Parcells said. "He's a better player now than when I had him with the Jets."
--RB Julius Jones came into the season hoping to rush for 1,700 yards and 20 touchdowns. So far he yet to top the 100 yard barrier and is way behind in touchdowns. He is still hoping for a 1,000-yard season and needs to average 86 yards per game over the last five to get there.
"It hasn't been what I expected," Jones said, "but we're winning, and that's all that matters."
GAME PLAN: The Cowboys lead the league in time of possession and again will try to control the ball with the ground game. However, they must make big plays downfield to keep the Giants honest. Defensively, they need to contain running back Tiki Barber and limit big plays to receiver Plaxico Burress.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Giants DE Osi Umenyiora vs. Cowboys OT Torrin Tucker. The Giants finally have a pass rusher opposite Michael Strahan. Umenyiora has an NFC-leading 10 sacks. He beat Seattle Pro Bowl tackle Walter Jones for two sacks last Sunday and is likely licking his chops to get at Tucker, a fill-in for injured LT Flozell Adams. The Cowboys will not be able to give Tucker much help because they will have to help Rob Petitti on the other side with Strahan. They will likely chip him with a back, but Tucker will have his hands full in a matchup that could decide the game if Umenyiora can disrupt QB Drew Bledsoe and the Cowboys passing attack.
--Cowboys CB Aaron Glenn vs. Giants WR Plaxico Burress. The Cowboys signed Anthony Henry because he had the size to handle big receivers like Burress. Glenn, a 12-year veteran, was signed to be a nickel cornerback. Glenn might have to start if Henry remains hobbled by a groin injury. Although he has held his own this year and in the past against big receivers, the matchup is an advantage to Burress and the Giants. Look for Eli Manning to try to exploit size difference for big plays in the passing game. Glenn held up well against Detroit's Roy Williams and Denver's Rod Smith. The odds likely will catch up with him against Burress. Glenn is 5-foot-9. Burress is 6-5.
--CB Anthony Henry (groin) did not practice Wednesday. He is listed as questionable for the Giants game. If he can't go, Aaron Glenn will start in his place.
--C Al Johnson (knee) did not practice on Wednesday. If he doesn't practice on Thursday, the Cowboys might make a roster move on Friday to shore up the offensive line for Sunday's game against the Giants.
New York Giants
Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones is considered one of the top three to play that position in the NFL, along with Orlando Pace of St. Louis and Jonathan Ogden of Baltimore.
To support that lofty reputation, consider the fact that Jones had not allowed a sack for almost two full seasons.
Until last Sunday, when Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora nailed quarterback Matt Hasselbeck twice, along with recording eight tackles and forcing a fumble.
Oh, don't misunderstand. Jones is still one of the top three tackles in the league. It's just that Umenyiora, in just his third season, is rapidly climbing the ladder among defensive ends.
"Everybody knows about the other end on that line, Michael Strahan," Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said. "But this other kid, wow, he's going to be very, very well known soon."
Umenyiora, from Troy University in Alabama, is 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds. Only he's too fast for that weight, or too big to be that fast. He was a decided draft risk by Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, who took him in the second round, and Umenyiora needed some time not only fill out but to learn the pro game. His level of college competition, as you might imagine, wasn't major.
The Trojans' schedule included Florida International, Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Middle Tennessee State and Cal Poly.
But there is something to this kid. He leads the NFC with 10 sacks, 2 1/2 more than his famous teammate, Strahan. He's the player Accorsi wouldn't give to the San Diego Chargers at the 2004 draft.
That was the day the Giants managed to acquire quarterback Eli Manning, the NFL's first overall pick, and in order to do that - for a kid who swore in public that he would never play for the Chargers - the Giants gave their fourth overall pick, quarterback Philip Rivers; their third-round pick in 2004; their first-round pick in 2005 and their fifth-rounder in 2005.
But San Diego general manager A.J. Smith was kind enough to tell Accorsi that he would take Umenyiora instead of the 2005 first pick.
Accorsi's response? "I'm sorry, we won't do that."
So now, as the Giants prepare for their biggest game of the season, a first-place NFC East showdown with the Dallas Cowboys (both teams are 7-4), Umenyiora is finally getting the recognition he is due. His reaction has been puzzling. He has always been friendly and easy to talk to, but just this week he politely shook his head and turned down interviews.
"It's his way of dealing with the pressure, I guess," linebacker Reggie Torbor said. "Osi knows he has turned the corner this year. Is he jealous of the attention Michael (Strahan) gets? Absolutely not. He knows Michael is one of the best defensive ends to ever play."
Regardless of how he reacts, Umenyiora cannot hide the fact that he is becoming a star.
SERIES HISTORY: 87th meeting. Dallas holds a substantial 51-33-2 lead and won the last meeting, a 16-13 overtime decision on Oct. 16. The Giants have won four of the past five games in Giants Stadium, and seven of the past 11 games overall.
Quotes and Notes
--The Giants' self-destructive penalties against Seattle last Sunday included five false-start flags thrown at left tackle Luke Petitgout and three at left guard David Diehl. A few of the players, unwilling to be named, insisted that the Seahawks have implanted wireless microphones along the stands around the stadium, and that they are hiked up to full volume to enhance the noise. "Man, you can hear it during the warm-ups," said one player, "and nobody cheers that loud during warm-ups."
--Center Shaun O'Hara was incensed at the false-start penalties (11 overall), and while he didn't draw one of the flags, he said the line has accepted blame as a unit. "That's us out there," he said. "Our names are on the jerseys. That is not going to happen again, not ever." When asked if he thought the Seahawks pumped up the volume, he just shrugged. "Shouldn't matter," he said.
--Veteran defensive end Michael Strahan was walking to a meeting and reserve tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, walking next to him, turned to a few of the players still at their lockers and said: "Hey, when did Michael start playing? It was the 1970s, wasn't it?" Strahan is 34 years old, nearly 10 years the senior of Shiancoe.
--Right cornerback Will Peterson (back), who hasn't played since the third game of the season, practiced lightly Wednesday and, according to coach Tom Coughlin, will get some snaps from scrimmage on a limited basis this week. "Then we have to see how he feels tomorrow morning," he said. "You never know that for sure, but I can't say he is definitely out for the rest of the season."
--Michael Strahan is one sack behind the late Derrick Thomas for 10th on the NFL's all-time sack list. Strahan's total of 125 1/2 is just seven away from the legendary Lawrence Taylor for the Giants career sack record. Also in the record category, QB Eli Manning has thrown at least one TD pass in 12 consecutive games, three shy of the team record of 15 set by Y.A. Tittle.
--Tight end Jeremy Shockey seems to have focused especially hard on Sunday's game against the Cowboys. "This is the biggest game of the season for us," he said, a statement somehow not in keeping with coach Tom Coughlin's credo that "the next game on the schedule is the most important of the year." Shockey insisted otherwise. "We need to win this game, and we need to get Dallas out of first place. We're tied. That's not right."
BY THE NUMBERS: 35 - Penalties accrued by the Giants' offensive line this season through 11 games. That total includes 13 by LT Luke Petitgout, the "team leader," who has eight false starts, four holds and a tripping call.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I can't wait for this game. I look forward to the Dallas Cowboys coming here. I am going to be all worked up, and I'm hoping to be able to go out there and knock somebody's head off on a kickoff." - Giants' PK Jay Feely, who missed three consecutive field goal attempts last week. Any one of them would have won the game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Giants haven't announced any impending lineup changes - they never do unless it is inescapable - but there is a chance that veteran RCB Will Peterson will see some action, if not as a starter, after missing the past eight games with a back injury, diagnosed as a stress fracture of the transverse process. He started lightly practicing Wednesday and much must be determined as to his recovery time and overall physical wellness, but there is a chance he'll play.
Even if he does, there is still no question that either Curtis Deloatch or Corey Webster will start at right corner (probably the rookie Webster) and that the other will be the first man in on nickel and dime formations.
Another possibility, though less likely, would be a switch from LT Luke Petitgout to backup Bob Whitfield, a 13-year veteran and former Pro Bowl choice. Petitgout has been erratic lately, and last Sunday in Seattle was flagged for five false start penalties plus a hold.
"These are veteran players," coach Tom Coughlin said. "They know what to do; they know what has to be done. If it isn't done right, then I have no choice (but to replace Petitgout). At this moment I am not expecting to do that."
--FS Brent Alexander, 34, leads the Giants with three interceptions. Three others have two apiece; the team has a total of 13, only one less than its total for all of last season. "It's the system," said Alexander, who played for defensive coordinator Tim Lewis when both were in Pittsburgh. "It's designed, in a way, for the free safety."
--PR/KR Chad Morton is one of coach Tom Coughlin's "tough guys," shrugging off minor injuries and pretending they never happened. He took over kickoff return duties from Willie Ponder, who seemingly slid into the coach's doghouse, and now returns punts and kicks. Coughlin said: "He had a slightly sprained ankle last week, and the other day I walked up to him and said, 'Chad, how are you feeling?' He looked right at me and said, 'I'm fine, coach, why do you ask?' I like that in a player."
--PK Jay Feely, despite his three missed field goals against Seattle, has hit the 100-point mark in scoring. He is the first Giant to reach that level since Matt Bryant scored 108 in 2002. "The misses were gone from my mind by Monday," he said. "I invoked the 24-hour rule. You can't worry about what happened longer than 24 hours later."
--WR Amani Toomer, almost silently, isn't far from TE Jeremy Shockey in total receptions. Shockey, after his 10-catch, 127-yard performance Sunday, has 48 for 713 and seven TDs. Toomer, after his six-catch, 62-yard day, has 42 for 468 and five TDs. The team leader is WR Plaxico Burress (60 for 928; he has six TDs).
--LG David Diehl, who had three of the 11 total false-start penalties last Sunday, says it's over and done with. "You can't take them back, and you can't make believe they didn't happen," said the 6-foot-5, 315-pounder who hasn't missed a game since he was a rookie three years ago. "I have to take this on as a learning experience."
GAME PLAN: This is the biggest game of the season, made more so by the fact that the Giants missed an opportunity after the Cowboys lost on Thanksgiving Day. Both teams are 7-4, and the NFC East appears to be going to the winner. To stop the Cowboys means the Giants will have to take a different tack than in the past, when they have determined that stopping the running game was the key in every game this season. They'll try to apply undue pressure on less-than-mobile QB Drew Bledsoe, and they might do it with more blitzing than they have shown so far.
Offensively, the running game will be key against the smaller, quicker Cowboys front seven - seal blocks and pulling guards are now in vogue.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Giants RDE Osi Umenyiora vs. Cowboys LT Torrin Tucker. Umenyiora has become one of the NFL's best pass rushers and leads the NFC with 10 sacks. Tucker is starting because of the season-ending injury to Flozell Adams and is 6-6 and 315, slightly bigger than Umenyiora (6-3, 280). But he isn't a classic left tackle, and he should have his hands full.
--Giants RCB Curtis Deloatch (or Corey Webster) will have to step up and cover WR Terry Glenn, who is having a top-notch season (45 catches, 804 yards). Deloatch was benched last week, although the team claimed an injury (turf burn infection) kept him out of the starting lineup. Webster is more athletic and a harder hitter but as a rookie still has much to learn.
--Giants QB Eli Manning vs. the Cowboys' secondary, notably RCB Anthony Henry. The Giants will try to isolate WR Plaxico Burress on Henry (he's 6-1, Burress is 6-5), as well as a similar attempt to put TE Jeremy Shockey (6-5, 255) one-up on SS Roy Williams, the Pro Bowler. Henry (groin) is listed as questionable.
INJURY IMPACT: The Giants don't list many injuries, but WLB Nick Greisen (hamstring) might be significant. DT Kenderick Allen (hamstring) and KR Chad Morton (ankle) are listed as questionable. Only Greisen didn't practice. RCB Will Peterson (back) is doubtful. DT William Joseph (elbow) is out.