Two teams coming off impressive openers clash in an NFC East battle on Monday night at Texas Stadium. Both the Eagles and the Cowboys are coming off blowout wins last Sunday, and both bring gaudy numbers and a lot of confidence into this game. Where do you begin when talking about one of the great rivalries in the league? We break it down in our Countdown to Kickoff ...
Head coach Andy Reid said following Saturday's practice that there is a chance that wide receiver Reggie Brown will play Monday night against the Cowboys.
Brown was limited in practice on Thursday and Friday, but showed enough improvement on Saturday for Reid to be optimistic. Brown has not played since the second preseason game against Carolina because of a hamstring injury. Kevin Curtis is also out as he continues his recovery from sports hernia surgery.
Even if Brown suits up, don't expect him for a huge chunk of plays. The key for the Eagles will be spreading the football around. And don't be surprised to see a lot more of Brian Westbrook in the receiving game.
Donovan McNabb hit seven different receivers in the season opener, and while Westbrook was one of them, the team's leading receiver in 2007 with a franchise-record 90 grabs had only one catch against the Rams. Don't expect the same Monday night.
In the late-season clash against the Cowboys in Dallas last year, Westbrook had nine receptions. In the previous meeting in Philadelphia, Westbrook had 14 catches to tie a team record. That's an absurd 23 receptions in two meetings.
The Cowboys have a tough front seven to run against, that's why the Eagles will do what they can to stretch the secondary. Pro Bowl cornerback Terence Newman is questionable with a groin injury. He missed Dallas' season opener. Strong safety Roy Williams' cover problems have been well-documented.
All throughout the offseason, Reid said the one noticeable difference with his team is its speed. It's evident in the receivers with DeSean Jackson and Hank Baskett. And complementing Westbrook, the offense has speed in the backfield with Lorenzo Booker.
The Eagles are going to test the Cowboys secondary and if they can stretch the field early like they did against the Rams, look out for Westbrook to take command of the game underneath.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
LB Bradie James: Quarterback Donovan McNabb called James the most underrated player on the Cowboys' defense. James has played in every game for four straight years and has recorded over 100 tackles in each of the last two seasons. James has made his presence felt against the Eagles as well, notching 10 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery in two games last season.
WR Patrick Crayton: It seems as though the Cowboys have found a complement to Terrell Owens. Since joining Dallas in 2004, Crayton's production has steadily increased, including 50 receptions for 697 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Against the Browns in the opener, Crayton picked up where he left off, catching six balls for 82 yards. Against the Eagles last season, he had just two catches for 54 yards.
LB Chris Gocong: In the Eagles' base 4-3 defense, Gocong will be responsible for covering Dallas tight end Jason Witten, which is no easy task. Gocong should have over-the-top help from safety Brian Dawkins, but Witten is Dallas quarterback Tony Romo's safety blanket. Originally a pass-rushing defensive end in college, Gocong's coverage skills have improved dramatically.
T Tra Thomas: Not only is Thomas responsible for protecting quarterback Donovan McNabb's blind side, but he has stop outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware from getting to him. That may be easier said than done – Ware has notched at least one sack in four straight games against the Eagles. Ware finished the 2007 season with 14 sacks, good enough for third in the NFL.
FROM THE COACH'S DESK
Imagine that. Jim Johnson has been scheming. And he's had an extra day.
Monday night games give the ""mad scientist,"" as safety Quintin Mikell called him this summer, more chemicals for his concoctions. Good thing, too. Johnson called the Cowboys one of the most balanced – and potent teams – in the NFL.
In other words, the defensive coordinator needs to turn his 11 studious Dr. Jekylls into snarling Mr. Hydes by gametime. He's lucky for the spare change.
"You like the time, there's no question about it. You've got to monitor your time so you don't put too much in, for the players too," Johnson said. "That's probably the biggest thing; you have too much time, you put too much in and all of the sudden they don't have enough time to absorb it all. There's a happy medium, but I do like the time."
Aside from the total package of playmakers the Cowboys possess, Johnson said physicality defines them; the only way to counter that is to slug right back.
"There's no reason that we think they're going to change," he said. "They've got so many weapons."
KEEP AN EYE ON ... EAGLES CB LITO SHEPPARD
For a while now, Lito Sheppard has become a favorite target for some unwilling Dallas quarterbacks (eight interceptions in 10 games). And since Terrell Owens became a Cowboy in 2006, The Eagles have topped Dallas three times. In those victories, Sheppard has nearly as many interceptions as Owens has catches (four to seven), more yards (119 to 105) and each has one touchdown. To say that Sheppard comes to play when T.O. lines up across the field is pretty much the understatement of the century.
That's why we can expect to see a lot of Sheppard on Monday night, and the new wrinkles in Jim Johnson's defense could help him make more of the big plays he's become famous for. With three Pro-Bowl caliber cornerbacks, including new acquisition Asante Samuel, the Eagles don't have to limit themselves defensively to provide Sheppard help with Owens, allowing him some cushion to try to make a play on the ball.
As in the Week 1 matchup with St. Louis, combinations of all three cornerbacks will be utilized, and all three might be on the field as much as 80 percent in a nickel formation.
With Sheppard manning things on the outside, Sheldon Brown can provide help over the top like a safety. Also, the sure tackler can drop into the flats or across the middle to try to contain tight end Jason Witten, practically the second wide receiver in the Cowboys' scheme.
It's easy to believe that this is exactly the scheme Eagles coaches were looking for when they decided to bring in Samuel.
FIRST AND LONG
- This week's game marks the 40th time the Eagles have traveled to Texas Stadium to take on the Cowboys. This is also the sixth meeting of these two teams at Texas Stadium on Monday night.
- Philadelphia has won 13 of the last 18 meetings against Dallas.
- QB Donovan McNabb is starting in his 14th-career Monday Night Football game (most in franchise history among QBs). He boasts an 8-5 record and averages 211.2 passing yds./game with 14 TDs and
only 5 INTs (84.4 rating).
- The Eagles are 37-1 (including playoffs) when McNabb has a 100.0-plus passer rating.
- CB Lito Sheppard has an interception in seven of past eight games with Dallas (8 INTs).
- In his last three games against Dallas, RB Brian Westbrook has 427 scrimmage yards (142.3 per game).
- Andy Reid has directed the Eagles to a 10-6 (6-2 on the road) record on Monday Night Football. In those 16 contests, Reid's Eagles have outscored their opponents, 326-267.
- The Eagles offense scored a TD on the opening drive of 2008, marking the first time they have done so since 2000 vs. Dal. Since that time, they are 25-6 when scoring an opening-drive TD and 73-28 when not allowing an opening-drive TD.
- Dallas' offense had six plays of 20 yards in the season opener; Philadelphia had five.
- The Cowboys have an NFL-best 40 wins on Monday Night Football.
- Dallas WR Terrell Owens has 12 receiving TDs in past 10 Monday Night Football games (58 rec., 914 yards, 15.8 avg.).
- When Cowboys RB Marion Barber has 11 or more carries, the Cowboys are 20-1, including 2-0 vs. Philadelphia.