Posted: Thursday January 27, 2005 3:43PM; Updated: Wednesday February 2, 2005 11:27AM
Matchup of the Day Patriots LB Tedy Bruschi vs. Eagles RB Brian Westbrook
Tedy Bruschi has 16 tackles in two playoff games this year.
Harry How/Getty Images
Bruschi has become the poster boy for the Patriots, because to many, he embodies what this team is about: He's not the most physically gifted linebacker, but he buys into the team concept and works as hard as any defensive player in the league. But to call Bruschi simply an effort guy isn't doing the nine-year veteran justice. He has incredible instincts and a knack for being in the middle of big plays.
Like Westbrook, Bruschi's versatility makes him invaluable. He finished second on the team in tackles, had three interceptions, 3 ½ sacks and contributed heavily on special teams. His willingness and ability to do anything are key factors in the success of coordinator Romeo Crennel's defense. He may end up spending time covering Eagles tight end L.J. Smith or he might concentrate on containing Donovan McNabb. It's certain, however, he'll run into Westbrook at some point, both on passing and running plays.
The amazing thing about New England's defense so far in the playoffs was its ability to stop Indianapolis' wide-open passing game and Pittsburgh's power running game. Bruschi's wide-ranging skills helped the Patriots equally in both cases and will be valuable against Westbrook.
Brian Westbrook averaged 4.6 yards per carry this year.
Westbrook's versatility as a runner and receiver may give the Eagles their best chance of attacking a Patriots' defense that has shown no chinks in the playoffs. Westbrook is one of the NFL's most versatile backs, and with his quickness he can be very dangerous in open space. The word "slippery" has been used to describe him by many of the defenders he's tortured this season.
Dating back to the regular season, Westbrook has had more than 100 combined rushing-receiving yards in eight straight games, and he's averaged 6.6 yards per touch during that streak. Westbrook has looked particularly sharp in the postseason after resting the final two games of the regular season. One of his best performances this season came against Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game, when he for 96 yards on 16 carries and caught five balls for 39 yards.
The Eagles use Westbrook like a chess piece, moving him around as much as possible to get a favorable matchup. Look for them to try to spread the field by lining up wide receivers outside, leaving New England's interior linebackers, like Bruschi, to deal with Westbrook on passing plays. There are very few LBs who can even come close to runing with Westbrook.
THE EDGE: As outstanding as Bruschi has been, if you're the Eagles, this is one matchup you have to like. In the battle between the lightning-fast back and the instinct-driven linebacker, speed will carry the day. The question is, how often will Philly get this kind of one-on-one matchup? This matchup favors ... the EAGLES