When it comes to an Eagles game being played in North Jersey, there’s really only one person to talk to: former running back Brian Westbrook, author of one of the greatest plays in franchise history.
Not only is it a play that will live on in Philly lure as the second of three Miracles in the Meadowlands, but it is also one of many absolute gut-punch losses the Eagles have handed to the Giants over the years. And on Sunday, the two teams will meet up again for what many expect will be another close matchup after Philly narrowly escaped with a win in their first matchup just three short weeks ago. Currently, the Eagles are just three-point favorites, according the TheLines.com.
So when we were offered the opportunity to speak with Westbrook ahead of Sunday’s matchup at MetLife Stadium, well, it was impossible to turn down. With the Eagles at the midpoint of their season, it was also the perfect time to get the Eagles Hall of Famer’s take on the first eight games, how they can right the ship, and what to expect in the second half the season. From needing improved play from Carson Wentz, better coaching from Doug Pederson, and a healthy dose of (a hopefully healthy) Miles Sanders, we covered it all.
What follows is the full transcript of our convo with Westbrook, who was making the rounds this week on behalf of Crown Royal. Enjoy.
Thanks for joining me, let’s get it out of the way right at the top. You’re here on behalf of Crown Royal with a very important message for football season.
Brian Westbrook: I partnered with Crown Royal about four years ago and our ideas about community and football kind of aligned. We’re doing a “Water Break” campaign. And really, we want people to enjoy the entire game day experience. Part of that game day experience for so many people is having an alcoholic beverage, whether it’s a beer or a cocktail or anything like that. So Crown Royal and myself, we wanted to take the initiative and move the ball forward a little bit and say while you’re enjoying the entire game day experience, make sure that you’re hydrating, that you’re equipping yourself with some water so that you can enjoy the entire game day experience. You can make sure that you can see the beginning and end of the game, and enjoy after the game too. And to be able to do that, you have to make sure that you hydrate.
And so, it’s been one of our initiatives and we pushed it forward in restaurants and bars, we pushed it in parking lots as well, and at home now because not many people are able to go to the game. It’s been so positive, and so many people have enjoyed their experience. And they’re hydrating, they’re drinking responsibly, they’re drinking in moderation, and that’s a big time thing for myself and for Crown Royal.
Are you a Crown guy? What’s your drink of choice after a long day?
BW: Oh, I am a Crown guy. I like the Crown Apple and a little ginger ale. On the rocks. Whatever it is, I’m certainly one of those guys that loves to drink Crown and enjoy my cocktail from time to time.
Speaking of needing a drink, what do you think has been wrong with the Eagles this season?
BW: Well, how much time do we have? Do we have an hour or two? [Laughing]
Fair enough. What do you think are the biggest two or three issues with this team?
BW: Injuries, inconsistent quarterback play and inconsistent coaching. That’s been the top three things as far as I see it. They can just do a much better job in all three of those areas, and if they can, then they win many more games than they have. Unfortunately, because of the injuries — and remember, just a couple of weeks ago they only had two of their Day 1 starters on offense, Jason Kelce as well as Carson Wentz playing in the game. And then you talk about quarterback play and inconsistency, Carson Wentz has to be a better quarterback. He can’t be one of these guys that goes up and down from game to game, from series to series, and unfortunately, he just hasn’t put his team in position to be successful not just because of his turnovers, but because of his inconsistency as well.
What can Carson do to get out of his funk?
BW: He has to have the mindset that he doesn’t have to win every game on every single play. He also has to get out of the mindset that he has to be the hero every single week. You don’t have to do that. There are games where he’s going to have to step up and be that guy, but there are also other players where you can say, “OK, this play doesn’t call for me to be the hero. I just need to allow this thing to develop. And if there’s nothing there, I have to throw the ball away.” He has to get that through his mind.
The other part that I think very strongly about is that Carson has to be able to be coachable. And I want him to get better every week, and I’m not sure he’s done that. There have been cases where he’s gotten better and there have been flashes, but there are other opportunities where he should’ve gotten much, much better, and he hasn’t.
Do you think Doug is doing a good job this year?
BW: It’s been inconsistent. It’s been up and down, similar to Carson. And there can be a lot of different reasons for that. I will say this from the positive side: Doug has continued to get these players to play for him. They’ve continued to go out there and play, despite how the season has panned out so far. They continue to go out there. You’re not seeing a lackluster effort from this football team. You’re seeing guys going out there trying to do their best, but sometimes your best just isn’t enough.
Here’s the other thing. When you have players playing that you haven’t had a lot of experience with — meaning rookies, young guys, or just replacement players — it’s tough to get in the rhythm of play calls. It’s tough to get in the rhythm of making great decisions for your football team. And I think Doug has fallen into that just a little bit as well. I think getting healthy and making sure that everyone around your quarterback continues to participate and play better is going to help Doug as a play-caller as well.
You mentioned getting into a rhythm with the new guys. One guy who Wentz hasn’t had an issue with is Travis Fulgham. Suddenly the Eagles have some young promising guys with him and Jalen Reagor and Greg Ward. What do you like about the team’s young receivers?
BW: Well, Travis Fulgham has done a great job. The only reason that they’ve won three games is because of Travis Fulgham, period. There’s no other way to look at it. He’s done a great job of being a guy that the offense and Carson Wentz can rely on. He’s a guy that catches almost everything thrown his way, and his body and body control and how important that is. He also gets that this may be his one and only opportunity to play at this level. So he has to make the most of every opportunity, and he’s done that so far this season. I’m happy for him and I’m really proud of the way he’s competed thus far this season.
Greg Ward continues to get better. I think he is a staple in this offense in that slot position. And now we’ve got to see what we can get from Jalen Reagor. Obviously, coming off injury, that hand injury, he has to be better. He has to continue to play, but he also has to get healthy and that’s going to be a big part of his game as he moves forward as well.
The team should be getting Miles Sanders back soon. How important is that to the offense?
BW: Well, I thought Miles was the key to the offense from the beginning of the season. Being able to establish a run game, being able to take some of the pressure off Carson Wentz is going to be huge. And Miles provides that. He provides that option that defenses have to pay attention to. He provides that person that you can swing the ball out to and he can make a two-yard pass into a 70-yard run. He has the ability to do that, and that’s what Carson needs. He needs more playmakers like Miles around him.
The biggest thing for Miles is, he has to get healthy and stay healthy. It’s hard to do — I battled injuries throughout my career, and I know it’s really, really hard to stay healthy. But he has to find a way to do it if he wants to be the player I think we all believe he can be.
Will Doug commit more to the run when he gets back? Is it frustrating when they don’t stick with that?
BW: I think Doug is one of these guys where he loves to pass the ball. He will run the ball in certain situations, but he likes to throw the ball. He believes in Carson Wentz and his arm, and so because of that, his reliance on the pass is something that’s never going to go away from Doug. So I don’t see him changing in that way, quite honestly.
Our Eagles writer, Jimmy Kempski, wrote on like the first or second day of training camp about how even that early it appeared Doug was trying to use Sanders a bit like how Andy Reid used to use you, lining you up all over the place, splitting you out wide, and so on. Do you see a little of yourself in Miles Sanders, especially in terms of the versatility?
BW: Miles is just a talented running back, and I don’t even need to compare him to what I was able to do. I just think he’s a talented guy and that he has all the assets that can make him one of the best running backs in the league. He still needs to work on his pass protection, still needs to work on his route running just a bit, but once he gets that down pat and gets healthy, we’ll be talking about Miles Sanders as one of the best running backs in the league for a long time.
It seems like more and more that teams are looking for players with that kind of skill set, do you see yourself as an original or trendsetter in that way?
BW: The running back position went from, before I was in the league, where they wanted a guy to be a one-dimensional guy. They wanted him to be able to run the ball, run the ball, run the ball. Nowadays, teams want running backs to be multiple threats. They want you to be able to run and to catch and do a lot of different things out there. So I am appreciative of my time in Philadelphia, what I was able to do there, but I certainly helped to push the game forward and evolve different guys into being able to do different things. And I certainly have Andy [Reid] to thank for that, because he put me in the position to run the ball, in the position to catch the ball out of the backfield, and that’s what you’re seeing from a lot of these young running backs at this point.
So far we’ve talked a lot about what went wrong in the first half of the season. Do you see the second half being any different?
BW: You know, I hope that they can find a way to get consistent play — out of their quarterback, out of their coach, out of everyone. The other part is, I hope they can find some healthy people. It’s important that they find healthy guys that can help them win games. Thus far, it’s been a struggle to keep their guys healthy, so they have to find a way to do that. But they also need to play a better brand of football during the second half of the season. And if they can do that, I believe that can win the NFC East.
Finally, when you think back on your career, what’s the first moment that comes to mind?
BW: Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the runback in 2003 on the punt return, being able to get into open space and try to propel our team to win. We were able to win that day on that punt return and, you know, we went on a stretch where were won, I don’t even know, seven or eight games in a row. So it kind of helped our team get to a better place, and that was important for us and for me as well.
It also jumpstarted my career. It put me in a position where people now knew that I was a player and that I could be a force in the NFL. And I was appreciative of that, so that’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think about playing the Giants.
Prediction for Sunday?
BW: You know, this is going to be a tough game. The Giants almost beat Philadelphia in Philadelphia. If Evan Engram could actually catch the football, then the Eagles would have lost. So I don’t see the game going any differently. I think it’s going to be tough. And listen, the Giants have been playing hard. They haven’t won a bunch of games, but they’ve been playing really, really hard, and a part of that is their coaching. I think Joe Judge has gotten these guys to do the things that he needs them to do to be able to win, so it’s not going to be an easy game by any means for the Eagles.