All-22: The Art Of the Screen Play

lesean screen 5

Brian Westbrook, one of the great screen running backs in the history of the league, continues to be a guiding voice in the ear of LeSean McCoy. It probably came as little surprise, then, that McCoy had a message waiting for him on his phone following the Tampa game on Sunday.

“He texted me after the game and said, ‘Come on, bro. You’re supposed to score on that play.’ ”

The play was a screen pass to McCoy on the Eagles’ first offensive snap of the game. Everything was perfect, from design to execution. What’s more, the Bucs were in the worst possible defense for this particular play call. The seas parted and McCoy was in the wide open field with blockers set up in front of him. He got 44. He could have had the whole thing.

“I should have scored,” McCoy admitted.

Let’s take a look at the anatomy of a near-perfect screen play with the help of the players involved and the screen maestro himself, Westbrook. Read more »

Duce Chooses McCoy Over Westbrook

LeSean McCoy alone running with football

The question came from about 20 feet away, a parting whaddyathink after a 15-minute conversation with Duce Staley about star running back LeSean McCoy.

So who’s better: B-West or Shady?

Staley turned and started walking back to a pair of reporters. “Right now? McCoy,” he said.

“Right now if I had to go back and get Brian Westbrook at the peak of his career and get LeSean McCoy at the peak of his career…if you were playing fantasy football, who would you pick?” Read more »

Eagles Wake-Up Call: The ‘Compelling’ 2004 Squad

Today, we take a trip down memory lane and remember a team that will either bring a smile to your face or elicit tears from your eyes: the 2004 Eagles.

ESPN.com is doing a series on the five most compelling NFL teams since 2000, and the 2004 Birds, led by Brian Dawkins, Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens, Brian Westbrook and company came in at No. 3, behind only the 2010 Brett Favre-led Vikings and the 16-0 New England Patriots (2007).

Ashley Fox provides a recap of the 13-3 campaign, which ended in a 24-21 loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl:

“When we stepped on the field from OTAs to the first game against the New York Giants, we felt no team could beat us,” Ike Reese said. “We were hunting for the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. That’s who we had to beat. I just remember the level of confidence was at an all-time high for a team coming off three NFC Championship Games. It took us to an almost invincible feeling.”

It’s impossible to discuss that season without mentioning the fallout afterwards. Despite how things turned out with T.O. and the ensuing 6-10 campaign in 2005, Andy Reid told Fox the gamble on Owens was well worth it.

“I like Terrell. All of us could’ve handled it a little different,” Reid said. “I take a little of the blame for that. Everybody I know wants to come after Terrell. I take some of the blame, too. There were things we could’ve done better after the way it worked out. But was it worth it? Yes. I would do it over again. I would. I wish things could’ve worked out better during the Super Bowl. Philadelphia deserved to have a championship there, but it didn’t pan out that way.”

The Eagles had strong leadership on that team, but nobody could seem to find a way to keep McNabb and Owens on the same page for another season.

“If you can somehow keep that team in tact, that offensive staff in tact for another season… you would definitely be the favorites to win the Super Bowl,” Westbrook said last year. “That offense [would have been] the No. 1 offense in the league for a long time, and we would have been so productive.”

Added Dawkins: “What I tried to do was pull guys to the side, away from everybody, and just have conversations with them. ‘What’s going on? What’s the deal? What can I do to help? This is what we need to do to get back on the winning track, and if I can assist in any way, let me know. Even if you don’t let me know, this is what I’m willing to do. This is what we need to do in order for us to get this thing going in the right direction.’

“The thing that you always want to do is get everybody in the room at the same time. That was never able to be done.”

And so, Eagles fans are left to wonder what could have been. But there’s no doubt that “compelling” is a fair way to describe the team that got the franchise closer than any other to the Lombardi Trophy.

WHAT YOU MISSED

What the Oregon sanctions mean for Chip Kelly.

Will Kelly run a physical camp? Players weigh in.

We asked three players a simple question: What do you know about Kelly now that you didn’t know a few months ago? Here are their answers.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Tommy Lawlor of IgglesBlitz.com offers some thoughts on the defense:

The defense won’t be a top unit until the right players are in place. It is possible we could find out we already have those players, but I think that is an extreme longshot. I like this group, but don’t see them turning out to be a great defense. The secondary still needs work and there are front seven questions to be answered.

I’m not enamored with the system we’re running, but it has grown on me. The most important issue for me is that the team did hire the right coaches to teach the scheme. This staff has a lot of 3-4 and hybrid defense experience. If you want to be creative and complex, you must have the right teachers. I think the Eagles accomplished that.

Over on The Philly Post, Richard Rys is not happy that Marvel has teamed up with the Cowboys:

What’s worse, for me as an Eagles fan, is that the one Marvel/NFL tie-in that makes sense for adults who are not virgins is right here in Philadelphia. Future Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins was known for his love of Wolverine, the X-Men member with unbreakable bones and a berserker rage. He kept Wolverine figures in his locker and named his on-field alter ego after the character’s code name, “Weapon X.” Marvel honored Dawkins with a Wolverine-inspired poster after he retired. But they could have made a mint with Weapon X shirts; in fact, one local company has made a very cool Dawkins tee that isn’t anywhere near as corny as the Cowboys line. Forget Hugh Jackman — if B-Dawk says a Canadian with retractable claws is cool, it’s gospel.

COMING UP

Haven’t you learned by now that we always come up with something?

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Westbrook Backs New Rule

Brian Westbrook knows that 25-year-olds usually aren’t thinking about what their lives are going to be like once their football-playing days are over.

And so, he has no problem with the league changing the rules to make the game safer.

Westbrook, 33, sustained at least two concussions during his playing days and said recently that he’s already suffering from short-term memory loss.

While many running backs – Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk and others – have spoken out against the new rule that will penalize offensive players from using the crown of their helmets against defenders, Westbrook supports it.

“If the NFL and Roger Goodell and the owners are trying to bring some more safety to the game, make this a better game and a safer game, not for 25-year-olds, but for those 25-year-olds that are now 45, then I think it’s a good thing,” he said during a recent interview with Mike Missanelli on 97.5 The Fanatic.

One important distinction with the new rule is that it only applies when the ball-carrier is outside the tackle box. In other words, if a running back (or quarterback) ducks his head to pick up a 4th-and-1 or to get in the end zone from the 2-yard-line, the rule doesn’t apply.

Here’s the official wording:

Under the new rule, a runner or a tackler would draw a 15-yard penalty if he initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players clearly are outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle to tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team’s end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or a tackler against an opponent would not be deemed a foul.

The last sentence there means this will be an extremely subjective call left to the interpretation of the officials. That’s where the most valid criticism comes in.

“How they enforce it will be very interesting to see,” Westbrook said. “I think if there’s any rule that you’re putting in place for the safety of the players, it’s a good thing. I think this rule is just going to be very hard to put in place and referee it, because everybody in the NFL does it – whether it’s the running back, wide receiver, the quarterback running the football, whoever has the football in their hands, the tight end, they always do that.”

As for the notion that new rules are going too far and turning the NFL into a flag football league, Westbrook said that’s off-base.

“I hear a lot of players, especially some of the older players say the game is changing, the game is different,” he said. “Well, yeah, the game is changing, the players are changing, and so you have to keep the rules up with the current game.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones says he has a private workout scheduled with the Eagles. Analyst Brian Baldinger thinks Jones would be a no-brainer for the Birds at No. 4.

The Eagles reportedly have interest in free-agent defensive tackle Vaughn Martin.

What does Chip Kelly think of Moneyball in the NFL? T-Mac has the story.

QBs coach Chris Weinke has been working with Geno Smith to tweak his game. He thinks Smith and Kelly would be a perfect fit.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Tommy Lawlor of IgglesBlitz.com chimes in on the possibility of the Eagles targeting Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson with the fourth pick:

Johnson at 4 may seem early.  I’m trying to think like Chip Kelly and the Eagles might be thinking. Johnson does make a lot of sense.  He is the most athletic of the stud OTs.  Chip loves athletes.  Johnson played RT in 2011 and LT in 2012.  He could step in at RT this spring and play right away.  This wouldn’t be a crazy projection where you hope he could handle playing on that side.  If anything happens to Jason Peters, you could slide him to the left side.

ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano offers his thoughts on the Eagles possibly taking Smith:

I think the Philadelphia Eagles are wisely considering every option available to them, both at the quarterback position and with the No. 4 pick in the draft. For that reason, I have no doubt that their look at West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is a serious one. Will they take him? They probably don’t even know that yet. But they are in need of a franchise quarterback, they hope they won’t be picking this high again for a long time, and so it behooves them to consider whether Smith can be that franchise quarterback. What I have been told on Smith by scouts that have evaluated him is that he’s got the tools to be great but that his college tape shows a lack of consistency from game to game — i.e., he wasn’t great every week, the way an Andrew Luck was at Stanford or a Robert Griffin III was at Baylor. That leads to questions, and it’s for the evaluating teams to decide whether they want to spend a top draft pick on the chance that they can draw that consistency out of the guy at the highest level. In the end, I don’t think the Eagles take Smith at No. 4. But that doesn’t mean they’re not seriously considering it.

COMING UP

The draft is officially one month away. Lots to get to between now and then.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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A ‘Humbled’ Brian Westbrook Officially Retires As An Eagle

Villanova head coach Andy Talley said he only brought up Brian Westbrook‘s name to Andy Reid once. It was at a banquet, and it was short and to the point.

“I just shook hands with him, and I just said: ‘Our No. 20 is very special.’ I never said another word to him,” said Talley. He trusted the Eagles would see the value all on their own.

A decade later, Westbrook stood at the podium inside the NovaCare auditorium, in front of a large gathering of family, friends and former teammates, to deliver his retirement speech and be honored as one of the team’s all-time greats.

“I spent eight of the best years of my life playing for the Philadelphia Eagles,” said Westbrook, his No. 36 jersey encased in glass just offstage to his left. “When you go somewhere else you actually see that this is the best organization in the NFL, the best coaching staff. And I mean that. I’ve been on the other side and I see how things are done differently. The way that Coach Reid handles things, Mr. Lurie, Mrs. Lurie handles things here, provide for the players, is special. And I’m just really appreciative and humbled by the experience here.”

Reid introduced Westbrook and said he has never coached a more intelligent player. Tammy Reid was in attendance, as was former teammates like Hugh Douglas and Hollis Thomas. LeSean McCoy watched from the back. Jason Avant and Todd Herremans both made their way down to hug and congratulate the former star back.

Westbrook ended his career with the Eagles in 2009 as the franchise leader with 9,785 total yards from scrimmage. Coming in with concerns about his size and injury history, he played in 107 games for the Eagles.  He  ranks second in franchise history in rushing yards (5,995), third in receptions (426) and total touchdowns (68).

Westbrook literally thanked everyone from the owner to the kitchen staff Wednesday. He called Brian Dawkins one of the best teammates he has ever played with. Said that Donovan McNabb called him to wish him well on Tuesday, and is the best quarterback this city has ever seen. He thanked Duce Staley, his offensive line, his coaches and a host of others for their roles in his achievements. He named the 84-yard punt return against the Giants as the play that immediately jumps to mind when he thinks about career highlights.

Running backs coach Ted Williams said that he didn’t get to see much of Westbrook in college because Villanova wasn’t on TV very much. But once he brought him in for a workout, he was sold.

“His workout was extraordinary,” said Williams. “The quarterback was nervous, so he was throwing the ball all over the lot. And he was still catching everything. I said, ‘Brian, he isn’t doing you any favors.’ And he said, ‘Man, I didn’t know what was going on out there.’ But he got through it, never complained and did a fantastic job. At the end of it I thought, ‘Hey, he’s pretty good.'”

Westbrook, given that he didn’t play for a major program, turned out to be a pretty well-kept secret, and the Eagles were able to wait until the third round to select him. He went on to become the club’s top back all-time  in receptions, receiving yards (3,790) and receiving touchdowns (29). He also holds the mark for most postseason rushing yards (591) and total touchdowns (6).

“He could run the football, he could catch the football, he could pass protect, you could split him out as a wide receiver; he could play both return games for you. This guy did it all,” said Reid. “He will go down as one of the all-time great Philadelphia Eagles.”