Philadelphia Eagles News

Defense Has Its Hands Full Here

How does Bill Davis, the defensive coordinator who is feeling like his group is taking steps forward, call the shots against quarterback Tony Romo and this powerful Dallas offense? The Eagles have done a nice job of keeping the passing game "in front of them," for the most part, but how can the scheme cook up some pressure up front on Romo and defend against the likes of Dez Bryant, one of the best receivers in the NFL right now, on the back end? How does the coverage keep a future Hall of Fame tight end, Jason Witten, from becoming an easy and automatic outlet for Romo?

This can't be a last-team-that-has-the-ball-wins kind of game, can it?

"They have a complete offense with a lot of great players, so we have to communicate and play our game and be sound in everything we do," said linebacker DeMeco Ryans. "You watch them and they've scored a lot of points and played really well. They're good. They're tough."

There are key matchups to watch everywhere in a game that decides the leader in the NFC East. Can Trent Cole generate some pass-rush pressure against Dallas' standout left tackle, Tyron Smith? Is Cary Williams going to have much of the responsibility against Bryant? How is rookie safety Earl Wolff, who is going to be asked to take a huge role alongside Nate Allen, going to do against the Cowboys' motion and complexity of routes? Is second-year man Fletcher Cox going to take another step forward after what the coaches said was his best game of the season, when he recorded five quarterback hurries against Tampa Bay?

How does the defense react when Romo breaks the pocket and presents the threat of running with the football, while at the same time he is looking down the field to break the coverage with his arm?

"I think one of the biggest things that Romo does is he extends the play," said Davis. "If the initial play is not there, like a couple of quarterbacks in the league, the (Ben) Roethlisbergers, they don't necessarily run to run, they run to extend the play and the receivers do a great job of, when it breaks down, coming back to the ball, finding the open area.

"So we have to be great at finishing the broken play, as far as our coverage and staying attached in coverage.  That's one of challenges, and I think the Denver game kind of showed that.  They didn't stay attached all the time and all of a sudden ‑‑ because Tony will see the field.  He's got vision of the whole field and he'll find the guy that just (you) drift off of and we can't drift off our coverage."

The keys, then: Discipline within the scheme, playing physical football, challenging the Cowboys and making sure that when there are opportunities to take the football away, those moments cannot be squandered.

Davis knew he would have to measure progress in loving spoonfuls this season as the Eagles have turned over everything from coaching staff to scheme to personnel to approach. There have been plenty of challenging moments implementing the X's and O's while at the same time gaining a handle on what the players are capable of doing -- for example, Vinny Curry has seen his reps gain significantly each week -- and each week Davis has accentuated the positives and corrected the negatives.

In this game, there simply can't be many negatives or the Cowboys will score touchdowns. The Eagles must play with more emotion and intensity and win the battle at the line of scrimmage, take the running game away with DeMarco Murry out and rookie Joseph Randle in and then hurry Romo into enough mistakes to turn the game in Philadelphia's favor.

The Eagles, and Davis was very open to admit this, have huge respect for the Dallas weapons. This is a dangerous group capable of scoring from anywhere on the field in a variety of ways.

"They have got some great weapons and a quarterback that knows how to distribute them and that's really what you come against, the big passing offenses, quarterback that can get the ball to playmakers, and the other part of that is having the playmakers and Dallas is loaded with playmakers," said Davis.

So, the challenge is set. The game is upon us. The Eagles defense has a chance to grow up against a premier offense with a few stops here, a big takeaway there and a big play to turn the tide of the game in the favor of the home team.

First place in the division is depending on it.

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