Sat, Jan 15, 2005 - Page 18 News List

McNabb-Owens combination broken

NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUEEagles quarterback Donovan McNabb says he will look for running back Brian Westbrook to make up for the loss of Terrell Owens


Donovan McNabb, left, starting quarterback of the Eagles talks to teammate Jon Runyan on the sidelines during their game against the Bengals at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Jan. 2. McNabb's favorite receiver, Terrell Owens, tore ligaments in his ankle and fractured his leg on Dec. 19.


From the back of the interview room, in his mock-reporter voice, Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb called out to running back Brian Westbrook: "What are you going to do with T.O. out?"

It drew a big laugh on Wednesday, but the question has been on the mind of every Eagles fan, and likely every player, too, since receiver Terrell Owens tore ligaments in his ankle and fractured his leg on Dec. 19.

What is the Eagles' offense going to look like without him?

Will McNabb run more often? Can receivers Freddie Mitchell and Todd Pinkston make up for Owens' absence? Will the Eagles be rusty or rejuvenated after most starters rested during the final two regular-season games and the team had more time off with a first-round bye in the playoffs?

The local math goes like this for the Eagles' National Football Conference divisional playoff game tomorrow against Minnesota: The subtraction of Owens is offset by the addition of Westbrook, who missed the playoffs last season after a freakish injury. He tore a triceps tendon during the final regular-season game while bracing to hit the ground.

"I don't see anybody on their defense that can cover Westbrook," Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter predicted on the radio of the Vikings' defense, which is ranked 28th in the National Football League.

Generously listed at 5 feet 10 inches and 205 pounds, Westbrook brings a threatening versatility to the Eagles, as a younger Marshall Faulk did for St. Louis. With his ability to play running back and line up as a receiver, Westbrook led the Eagles with 812 yards rushing and finished second to Owens with 73 receptions.

The only coach who truly shut down Westbrook this season was Andy Reid, who did everything but package him in bubble wrap while shelving him for Philadelphia's final two regular-season games.

Uncomplaining about his enforced vacation, Westbrook said he felt rested and sensed that his elusiveness might provide an edge over the size and muscle of Minnesota linebackers Chris Claiborne (6-3, 259), E.J. Henderson (6-1, 245) and Keith Newman (6-2, 248).

"They are bigger guys," Westbrook said. "They play the run very well, and we have to use our advantages. My advantage is to get them matched up on one-on-one situations and try to use my quickness to make them miss, or use my quickness to run routes. That helps both our running game as well as the passing game."

There is much speculation here about how Westbrook will be used in the playoffs. Some believe he will spend more time as a receiver, with Dorsey Levens getting extended time at running back. Many would like to see Westbrook returning punts again. Last season, he scored twice on punt returns.

Reid suggested few alterations with Westbrook, saying: "We will do what we have done with Brian all year. We are not going to change the offense."

Brad Childress, Philadelphia's offensive coordinator, left open the possibility of something exotic and inspired. He knows that the Vikings are guessing as urgently as Eagles fans are about the new offense.

"Curiosity is a good thing," Childress said Thursday.

Westbrook throttled Green Bay with his resourcefulness during a 47-17 victory on Dec. 5. He caught 11 passes for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Packers tried to cover him with a cornerback, linebacker and safety, but he kept slipping his defender at the line of scrimmage and racing free into Green Bay's poor-tackling secondary.

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