So, those same Philadelphia Eagles, who are the gold standard in the NFC East for the entire decade, are coming to Arlington in Week 17 for a rematch of the Week 17 all-or-nothing game that concluded the 2008 season in Philadelphia? 44-6 has a chance to be avenged? What are the odds that the schedule makers would make this happen? Pretty good. What are the odds that the two teams would emerge at the top of the NFC East this season to play a game like this with everything on the line with 1 game to play? The luck of the NFL strikes again.
Well, the Cowboys have put themselves in position. Like we talked about back before this stretch run began, my projections from Dec 4th have proven correct :
8-3 as they enter December is very nice. 3 wins in your next 5 will win the division (I assume). 2 wins in your next 5 gets you a trip to the playoffs. 1 win or less, and you have no business in the NFL Playoffs.
This is their chance to win that 3rd game, secure their division title, and set up the first home playoff game in the new stadium. It is all right in front of them.
Let's take a quick look at home game history:
On December 11, 2005, the Cowboys beat Kansas City at Texas Stadium to get to 8-5 and put themselves in a decent spot with 3 weeks to play to make the 2005 playoffs. The next week, though, they were drilled in Washington, and finished 1 game behind the Redskins - and were swept by those same Redskins - and missed the playoffs.
Little did we know, that over 4 years later, we would be looking at that game against the Chiefs as the last game before the Cowboys forgot how to play a home game late in the season. Check out their "Post Dec 1" home games since 12/11/05:
|1/1/06||St Louis||L||20-10||Dal by 12.5|
|12/10/06||New Orleans||L||42-17||Dal by 7.5|
|12/25/06||Philadelphia||L||23-7||Dal by 7|
|12/31/06||Detroit||L||39-31||Dal by 13.5|
|12/16/07||Philadelphia||L||10-6||Dal by 10|
|1/13/08||New York||L||21-17||Dal by 7|
|12/14/08||New York||W||20-8||Dal by 3|
|12/20/08||Baltimore||L||33-24||Dal by 5.5|
|12/13/09||San Diego||L||20-17||Dal by 3.5|
1-8 in their last 9 home games after December 1 - favored in all 9 of them. This surely puts to rest the explanation that the reasons the Cowboys do not have a good December record is because their schedule is so darn difficult - they were expected to win every single one of these games! This presents plenty of questions, not the least of which would have to be with this trend, how can Vegas continue to make the Cowboys favorites?
Regardless, the Cowboys clearly do not have a very good grasp of closing out teams in front of their home fans in the Tony Romo era. In a December that has been filled with Romo quieting critics on a number of fronts, this is his final regular season hurdle; a home game with all of the marbles for a NFC East Division Crown laying right there in front of you.
Yet another reason to wish with all of your might that the Cowboys can close out their most hated of rivals.
ON OFFENSE:The Eagles lost back to back games back in November to the Cowboys and a trip to San Diego to take on the Chargers. This dropped their record to 5-4, and some of us wondered what the death of Jim Johnson and the exit of Brian Dawkins had done to their defense. Since then, they have played 6 games, won 6 games, and held 4 teams under 300 yards offense. This is a huge number. In fact, a 5th team, Washington, gained 303. The only team to blow this trend out of the water were the Giants on that crazy 45-38 Sunday Night game when the Giants lost, despite 512 yards of offense.
But, what is making the Eagles defense remind us of the Eagles defense over the years? Easy. Takeaways and Sacks. 15 takeaways in the last 6 games (The Cowboys have 19 takeaways in 15 games) show us they are doing what they do - go get that ball and keep it. They have also out-sacked Dallas 42-38 this season, so they still get in your QB's face, too.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys move the ball up and down the field. They are 3rd in the NFL with their average game yardage at 394 per contest. The troubling part of this trend remains, though, that they are merely 14th in the NFL in points per game (22.5). We saw more of that on Sunday in Washington. 393 yards, 17 points. Remember what Bill Parcells used to tell us - that every 100 yards should represent 7 points. So if you are getting 400 yards, you need to be close to 28 points.
Points left on the field. You don't need to explain the issues to Cowboys fans. They know all about the untimely penalties, the dropped passes, the lack of converting a 3rd and inches, and so on. That must improve here at money time.
1) - Finish the Job, Tony - By now, anyone who has paid attention has come to accept that Tony Romo has arrived as a QB. He has played so soundly with the weight of the football world on his shoulders that you are almost proud of the guy for making this big step. However, we all know that the big prizes are still in front of him. He has already won a division title, but a 2nd in 3 years would enhance things. But, more importantly, this is a true showdown game. Win that, and then we get to slaying the dragons in the playoffs. But, he just has to keep doing what he is doing. He looks calm, composed, and confident. Don't change anything.
From the last Philadelphia game, here is what I wrote that next morning:
Adam Schefter had a few stats on his twitter page that I thought you would enjoy: All those Tony Romo bashers should note that on third downs last night - only third downs - Romo compiled a passer rating of 149.1 and,then this one: On third down, where Dallas won the game, Tony Romo was nine-of-11 for 140 yards, one touchdown and that quarterback rating of 149.1.
Wow. Burn the blitz on 3rd Down. Look at this perfect execution:
By the way, check out the entire Football 301 from the game at Philly Here , it is good stuff before this rematch - you know the coaching staffs from each side are pouring over this stuff.
2) - Slow down the Blitz by pounding the rock - Let's not kid ourselves. That first meeting was A) the first win was waaaay closer than your remember and B) the Cowboys offense was successful because they hit the perfect play once or twice. Our memory recalls those 2 or 3 huge plays that highlighted the win in November, but in reality, the Cowboys offense was stifled a big part of the night. Expecting the Cowboys to hit that home run to Austin down the left sideline on 3rd and long is like expecting to pay your mortgage on a lottery ticket. You got away with it last time, but you can't expect it this time. You must grind out drives the way you have proven you can in about 13 of the 15 games so far this year - by pounding the rock, and play action passing. That is the only consistent way to slow down those exotic blitz looks.
3) - Get Short Yardage squared away - I have certainly spent enough time on this already (check the Monday and Tuesday entries if you missed them), so I won't repeat myself over and over. But, I will be very interested in seeing if the Cowboys try to clean up what they have installed, or if they try out some new wrinkles that seem to be logical alternatives to what they have already tried. These could perhaps include Tashard Choice and or Felix Jones in these spots - although I will tell you that Felix seems to be a horrendous choice for 3rd and 1 unless he can get airborne, which we have certainly not seen so far. The other idea might be to trust Tony with the sneak a bit more often. Heck, they are already asking him to hold for kicks, so why not be the occasional short yardage back, too?
4) - Flozell vs Trent Cole - Speed rusher who has 12.5 sacks against a left tackle who looks like he is wearing down again. Trent Cole is a perfect attack on Flozell, and we all know it. Can he keep Cole from being a huge factor in this game? If so, the Cowboys are in great shape.
ON DEFENSE: I write this entire preview with a certain pain in the back of my head. It is all built on this premise: It is tough to beat the Eagles. It is tougher to beat them twice in one season. And, gulp, it is seemingly impossible to beat them thrice.
All of that may not have particular Cowboys defensive applications, but let me now apply it to the defense this way: The Cowboys took DeSean Jackson away in the 1st meeting for just 2 catches and 29 yards. In fact, if you include rookie stud Jeremy Maclin (boy, the Eagles seem set at WR now for a while after the last two drafts, eh?) they combined had 5 catches and 73 yards.
Only 1 team in the NFL has more 20 yard passes than the Eagles 61 (the Chargers with 64), so since they do it every week, I would say the odds are good that they will do it Sunday. But, if you take away the big play and make them mount a drive, you will be pleased with the results.
Is it textbook pessimism to suggest that the Cowboys cannot do that again? On the fast track in Arlington? Perhaps, but I think that it is realistic to assume that playmakers will eventually make plays, and then you just have to try to limit the overall damage. So, how do we get there?
1) - 93 - 94 Meet at the QB - Now that I have jumped to the conclusion that Anthony Spencer has arrived based on his play since Thanksgiving, now I am going to make the dangerous jump to expect him to get to the QB around the edge and to race DeMarcus Ware to McNabb. This, of course, is a real key. How many times over the years did Ware and Ellis get there a second too late as McNabb whips the ball 50 yards down the field to Fred Ex, Hank Baskett, or Terrell Owens for a big score. Must get there quickly and change the game by putting him down and making the Eagles max-protect.
2) - Jenkins/Newman on the spot again - Since I write this almost every week it is more of a sign that the NFL is about the QB and the CBs. Every week, we ask Jenkins and Newman to shut down the huge threats down the field, and they often do a pretty salty job. Well, this week might be one of their more difficult challenges. So, can they do it? Can they keep the game in front of them? Surely, this is a major tipping point in this contest.
3) - Takeaway, Takeaway! - In 7 games this season, the Cowboys had 0 interceptions. But, in December, they have a 4 game streak going, where they picked off Manning, Rivers, Manning, and Campbell. Donovan McNabb is traditionally a very low-interception QB - he has never thrown more than 13 in a season (a shockingly low total) - so, if they can step in front of a pass or two on Sunday, it could have a remarkable impact on the game.
4) - Ratliff versus Nick Cole - Jaamal Jackson was lost for the remainder of the season last week when he blew out his knee. So, that means that RG Nick Cole must slide over, which weakens two spots on the Eagles OL. And which two spots? The two spots that traditionally seem to have to deal with Jay Ratliff. I am not suggesting that Mr Cole has a pork chop hanging around his neck, but Ratliff has been playing extremely strong football, and I can only imagine how well he should be able to dominate the line on Sunday. Trust me, this matchup is freaking out the Eagles coaching staff more than any, and this causes dominoes throughout the line. Perhaps, this allows Marcus Spears to make a play (Seriously, it could happen) or single coverage for Ware or Spencer in a given sequence.
EDIT: DC Fanatic sent me an email after he read this today:
Just read the game plan. Great stuff. I always feared this game would be for all the NFC East marbles.
This was the postgame playbook vid from the Nov game. Good stuff on the Cowboys defense slowing down the Eagles deep pasing game.
Thought it would fit nicely in with points #2 and #3 on the defensive objectives.
SUMMARY: A game I absolutely cannot wait for. A game that should be an absolute thriller. I am happy to report that the only way there seems to be a rematch possible next week is if it is in Arlington (If Minn wins) next week. In fact, if the Cowboys win, it seems pretty bloody likely that the Eagles are here next week, too.
So, we could ask the question if that is good or bad, or the Cowboys could stop waiting for fate to do them a favor and start making their own fate. That means to go for it all. And if that means beat the Eagles in back to back weeks, then do it.
Do you remember Jan 2, 2000? On that day, the Cowboys ended the 1999 season with a 26-18 win over the Giants to end the year 8-8, and then go to lose to Minnesota in the Wildcard round. I remember this because this was the week that Norm Hitzges came down from 570 KLIF to work at our station. But, the real reason I bring it up is that this was the last time the Cowboys won a regular season finale. Seriously. 10 years ago.
I said back in August that this team seemed different. They seem to operate independently from Cowboys failures past, and they can prove it on Sunday and beyond. They could easily lose this game, but if they want to separate themselves from their predecessors, it is time they win.
Cowboys 24, Eagles 20
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