Friday, January 08, 2010
(Photo, Courtesy: Sportatorium)
Every week this season, we have provided a very lengthy game preview that looks at every aspect of the game in great detail.
In fact, here are the first two we did in this very match-up: Week 9 At Philadelphia , and then Week 17 vs Philadelphia here .
They cover many scenarios and talking points at great length, so rather than just repeat things that have already been covered, I thought today I would change things up and spend this day-before-the-3rd-meeting listing the reasons why I think the Cowboys have a very good chance at ending their playoff drought.
So, let's get down to business:
This game on Saturday night is one that if I am an Eagles fan, I must rely on 2 things to assure myself that this season is not about to end:
1) - History. History is a strong indicator that in a playoff game, we should always believe in Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid against pretty much any foe the NFC has to offer. One thing that Reid/McNabb have going for them is a very impressive resume that suggests that NFC powers have come and gone through this decade, but the Eagles are always in the mix, and the Eagles always get out of the 1st Round. 10-7 in the playoffs under Reid, and 7-0 in the 1st Round. They don't do this 1-and-done thing.
My counter to that of course would be that the Eagles of our memory banks had players like Brian Dawkins, Jon Runyan, Corey Simon, Jevon Kearse, and then the best DC in football, Jim Johnson, that masterminded the Eagles defense in a way that freaked out QBs from the opening snap. They had an offensive line that could always hold its own. They even had guys like Jeremiah Trotter and Brian Westbrook back in their primes. And the 2009 version has none of those things.
On the other hand, we have the Cowboys being coached by the winningest coach who has never won a playoff game, and a QB who has never stepped up to the plate and delivered at the most important moment. This could be classic coyote vs roadrunner, yet again. I just think it is Tony Romo's time. Time to slay that dragon that has haunted him. He has been too focused and too sharp. He looks too determined.
Nevertheless, if the game tomorrow night comes down to a reading of resumes between Reid/McNabb and Phillips/Romo, then the Cowboys are in big, big trouble.
2) - Puncher's chance. The phrase I have used all week to discuss the fundamental match-up issues that the Eagles have with the Cowboys is the simple explanation that "Styles make fights". It doesn't mean that the Eagles aren't as good or better as a football team than the Cowboys. But, when they are on the same field playing eachother, there are certain things that make a head-to-head match-up a very poor scenario for the Eagles. The Cowboys strengths are the Eagles weaknesses. This is never good, and this is why the scoreboard in the first two meetings looks like it does.
But, there is always a puncher's chance when two good teams are playing eachother. In boxing, when one fighter just doesn't match-up well with another, we anticipate that he will try to get in those one or two dramatic fight-changing punches and erase any sort of disadvantage that there might be. Inside the ring, we have the shocking knock-out. In football, we, of course, have the defensive Pick-6, the special teams play that rocks the game, and most importantly with these Eagles, the home-run, 1 or 2 play drive that strikes like a snake in the weeds. And make no mistake; the Eagles are lethal and dangerous in all of these situations.
There must be no counting of chickens before the game is finished. There can be no "Mission Accomplished" banner on the flight deck until this enemy is vanquished.
Beyond that? I see issues all over the field that give the Eagles fits. In no particular order, here they are:
* The Eagles blitz does not have quite the same effect on Tony Romo that it once did or that it generally does against QBs across the league. Of course, it should be noted that we don't know for sure if A) Romo is much better at handling this legendary challenge, B) if the Eagles blitz is still the legendary challenge it was a few years back when they had all of the pieces and Johnson dialing it up, or C) Both.
We can visit for hours on this discussion of whether or not the Eagles were playing vanilla on Sunday in the regular season finale, but at the root of the discussion must be the following question: Does the blitz work as well against Tony Romo as it once did? In Philadelphia, Romo torched them on 3rd Down blitzes. If you don't believe me, the video is all here for you to see on Football 301 from that week .
My opinion is that the Eagles were taken out of their blitz. If you touch an oven and it burns your hand, you generally stop touching the oven.
That doesn't mean they won't blitz tomorrow night more than ever before. Sean McDermott is under immense pressure in the Philadelphia media and given that he has been on the job for 15 minutes and is following a legend, he will not do what he thinks he should do - he will do what he must do. Blitz and blitz and blitz. So, now, it is final exam time for the Dallas Offense and its QB Tony Romo.
* The Eagles are too undersized to deal with the Cowboys power runs out of "12", "13", and "22". When they Cowboys dedicate themselves to early down power runs, some teams have the ability to stand up to them because of their front 7 beef. The Eagles do not have this. They have been playing all season without a Mic linebacker (they have tried 5 different ones) and they already have undersized DEs and do not qualify as stout just about anywhere. We saw it on Sunday and in Philly. The Cowboys stick Deon Anderson, Martellus Bennett, and or John Phillips out there with Jason Witten, and run for big results (10 carries for 101 yards out of "22" on Sunday) and the Eagles know this. This is another reason they are careful with the early down blitzes, because they know if they are not gap-sound, the Cowboys can gash them for 50.
* The Eagles Defensive Backs are not what we thought they were. Again, I don't dispute the fact that they all make big plays on occasion, but as a group, I don't feel this is anywhere close to what it was in the days of Dawkins and Lito. Now, they have no safeties that scare you, they have Asante Samuel who guesses and gambles a ton (and who Romo and Austin went right at on Sunday), and Sheldon Brown who has been torched by Romo for a double-move TD in each meeting so far this year. What makes matters worse, of course, is that their nickel back Joselio Hansen was picked on by Patrick Crayton in the slot, and there seems to be no answer for Jason Witten - unlike in the days of Dawkins, too. Do you think I believe they screwed up the Brian Dawkins decision?
And on the other side of the ball:
* The Eagles seem to have a hard time with their OL blocking the Cowboys 4 rushers in the nickel. 93-90-72-94 get there quite a bit on their own, so why would the Cowboys blitz anymore than they should just to keep McNabb honest? Rush 4, dedicate a 5th (LB) as a spy, and now you can get man-under, 2 deep, or press coverage with a safety high, or any number of conservative pass coverages. So, now the Cowboys respond by making sure that although the WR screen is always available, the chances of getting DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin behind the defense are growing a bit rare. Oh, there will be a shot or two, and those can change the game, but it seems like the Cowboys have had about 120 snaps in 2 games to prove that they have as good a plan as anyone to limit the Eagles big strike attack.
The key is to make the Eagles drive down the field. If they do, then you force them to convert 3rd and short, which is not a specialty at all. Make them run the ball. Make them march it, and do not let them get behind you. If you do this, we have seen the Eagles get frustrated.
Overall, this game gives anyone uneasiness as it pertains to who you are playing and what is at stake.
But, from a strategic football standpoint, the Cowboys seem to have a distinct advantage. Add to this the idea they are playing at home, and the idea that this game has so much riding on it - not just the 2009 season, but full career legacies in some cases - I just don't think the Cowboys let this one get away.
But, a giant punt return here or a 45-yard pass interference there, and obviously, we know that this thing can turn on a dime.
Expect some moments where you may reach for the Pepto Bismol, but I think your drought is about to end at 4,761 days. I really do.
Cowboys 27, Eagles 21
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