Eagles need spark from Westbrook
Eric Allen gives his take on Brian Westbrook returning punts, Romeo Crennel's future and more.
Editor's note: Each day last week, Eric Allen gave his take on a couple of compelling questions surrounding the Super Bowl matchup between the Eagles and Patriots.
Friday, Feb. 4
Eagles: Can the Eagles repeat if they win?
The NFC isn't a dominant enough conference to discount the Eagles' ability to win it again. They have consistently done a great job getting the right personnel in the mix and I don't see that changing this offseason. They are only going to get better defensively as their younger players get better and more comfortable in this system. Of course their success next season will be partially dependent on which team they face in a potential NFC championship showdown. Will they face a resurgent Carolina Panthers team fresh from an injury-depleted season or a Michael Vick-led Atlanta Falcons team with better receivers? Those are the early front-runners in my mind to potentially knock off the Eagles.
Patriots: If they win are the Pats one of the greatest teams of all-time?
The other day I was thinking about this question and the top teams of all-time. I think the Dallas Cowboys of the mid-'90s, Pittsburgh Steelers of the '70s, San Francisco 49ers of the '80s and the Green Bay Packers of the '60s were dynasties and I place this Patriots group on that list also. They might not be in the Top 5 personnel wise, but they are a great team. They've done a remarkable job over the years of adding and subtracting players at the right times and not making many mistakes. The credit has to go to coach Bill Belichick just like it went to Chuck Knoll, Jimmy Johnson, Bill Walsh and Vince Lombardi. Belichick has been an integral part in the development of this team and should be proud of the masterpiece he's put together.
Thursday, Feb. 3
Eagles: What type of coverage will we see from the Eagles cornerbacks?
Because of the talent in their secondary, the Eagles will probably play lots of zone-man coverage. They'll try to get Lito Sheppard to secure his side of the field and then roll his coverage over. After the receiver is in that next level of the defense for a few seconds, he then becomes the responsibility of that section of the zone. Brian Dawkins provides a great deal of flexibility for this defense so they won't worry about his place on the field.
Patriots: What type of blitz packages will McNabb see on Sunday?
Donovan McNabb is going to see blitzes from all angles and some of them are going to look eerily familiar because the Pats are probably going to borrow from the Eagles' defensive playbook. He's going to see corner blitzes, blitzes up the middle from the linebackers and some safety blitzes. The reason the Pats are going to be so blitz happy is because they don't have much respect for the Eagles receivers. The Eagles will have an injured Terrell Owens, who is at 81-percent according to him, and a corps of receivers who haven't set the world on fire before T.O. got to Philly or during his absence.
Wednesday, Feb. 2
Eagles: What should the Eagles do to get more opportunities for its passing game?
I think putting Brian Westbrook in different areas will help the Eagles passing game a great deal. It's going to be difficult to make big plays because the Patriots are so good, so the Eagles will have to be patient. They should dink and dunk, run patterns where the receivers catch the ball in front of and behind the linebackers and run some tight end delays. Those plays will force the Pats to change up defensively, which will put the Eagles in position to make a play or two deep.
Patriots: How can the Pats linebackers stymie Westbrook?
The Patriots linebackers are going to need lots of help to stop Westbrook. This corps of linebackers is excellent, but its strength is definitely not covering running backs one-on-one. The safeties or the slot cornerback will have to cheat up to help out when Westbrook comes out of the backfield. If the Pats rely on their linebackers to singlehandedly stop, Westbrook they could be in for a long day.
Tuesday, Feb. 1
Eagles: How can the Eagles stop Dillon from dominating?
This portion of the game is going to be a test of wills between the Eagles front seven and the Pats offensive line. This season, Corey Dillon has dominated in big games, while stopping the run has been a problem for the Eagles all season. The Eagles absolutely must get Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis involved in the running game because they can't rely solely on their front seven. Dawkins has the ability to stop the run from his safety position and that's what they are going to have to do to stop Dillon from having another big postseason game.
Patriots: How can the Pats limit McNabb's opportunities to run?
I'm not sure the Pats will really try to limit his opportunities to run. Donovan McNabb has transformed himself this season by changing from a running quarterback to a quarterback who scrambles to buy time for his receivers. That's a major difference and it's borne out in his amazing rise in statistics. If he's just taking off and running, then it works in the Patriots' favor because they will have the chance to tire him out by teeing off and getting some big hits. Also, if McNabb is running around, then he might be exhausted in the fourth quarter when his team could need him the most.
Monday, Jan. 31
Eagles: Is it a good idea to risk Westbrook returning punts?
It's definitely worth the risk to have Brian Westbrook returning punts. This is the last game of the season and the biggest game of these guys' lives and he must do it if there's any chance of him making a play. The Eagles are going to need a big play outside of the offense and Westbrook gives them their best chance to generate that play. He's the most important offensive guy on this team right now with the exception of Donovan McNabb. He can create a mismatch on special teams and get this team short field position.
Patriots: Are the "Romeo Crennel to the Browns" rumors a distraction at all for the Pats?
These rumors won't affect the players because they are experienced and too focused on the job at hand. I would be worried if this was a younger team, but the Pats won't let anything get them off track. Each and every player on this team knows they will get Crennel's full and undivided attention this week no matter what is happening outside the New England Patriots team. Coach Bill Belichick did a great job answering all the questions to take some of the pressure off this team. There's no doubt that the Pats will miss some of Crennel's tenacity and swagger after he leaves, but that tenacity and swagger will be there at least through Sunday night.
Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.