To blitz, or not to blitz? That really isn't the question for defensive coordinator Sean McDermott on Saturday night. The question is this: How does McDermott create pressure on quarterback Tony Romo and on the Dallas running game without exposing the back end of his defense to big plays? If it were just a matter of ordering more blitzes to reverse the performance of the defense from Sunday's loss to Saturday's game, it would be simple.
This is anything but simple.
From the moment he was named the team's defensive coordinator, replacing Jim Johnson, McDermott stressed the importance of pressure. A defense needs it. A defense must bring it on every play. But a defense can apply pressure in other ways, too.
"It isn't just blitzing," McDermott said on that day in the summer, just one day before the Eagles reported to Lehigh University for training camp. "You can create pressure without blitzing. I'm going to look at everything possible to make sure we have the pressure we need -- blitzing or not blitzing."
The Eagles were too passive on Sunday, everyone says. They brought a couple of blitzes early and Dallas won the battle and gashed the defense for big gains and the Eagles had to back off and Romo picked the defense apart and Dallas ran for 179 yards and oh, Saturday night just can't get here fast enough.
This time around, McDermott will make some changes. You can bank on that. How subtle they are, and if they involve personnel, remain to be seen. And the changes can certainly be strokes of brilliance and they can create a fog in Romo's head and they can do all the things McDermott designs them to do with one caveat: The players have to execute.
I'm not getting all caught up in the machinations of change. The focus here is not necessarily on the X's and O's, because while I think they are ultimately important, the truth is that the players have to go out and execute the scheme. The players have to get off of blocks, they have to tackle well, they have to make interceptions when the play is ripe to be made.
The question, above all else this week for me is not what the coaches are going to do to reverse the score from Sunday, it's what the *players *are going to do to beat Dallas.
Hey, McDermott can draw up all the fancy-schmantzy designs he wants, but if the players who are in position to make the plays don't make the plays, the Eagles are in a world of trouble. And to me, it's all about the line of scrimmage. Trent Cole, double-teamed in oblivion on Sunday, has to get free and make plays in this game. Tackles Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley can't let the big Dallas offensive line have its way inside. The edges where Dallas struck so successfully running the football on Sunday has to be much more effective. The linebackers, pushed around too much in a game in which Dallas rung up nearly 500 yards of offense, have to get off blocks and tackle better.
The secondary has to challenge the Dallas receivers and get physical and win battles.
We're only a couple of days away from a playoff game. I know how disgusted the players were with themselves on Sunday during and after the loss, and I hope they carry that feeling into this weekend.
Look, I know a lot of people are talking about changing this, and tweaking that and I'm all for change. I'm sure the coaches watched both of the games against Dallas until their eyes bled and will make some moves in the X's and O's department and in personnel. Can't wait to see what is different.
At the same time, it is going to come down to each player on this roster. How embarrassed were they on Sunday? How much do they want to win this game? Is the talent on the roster as good as we all through it was when the Eagles won 11 of their first 15 games of the season?
It comes down to man vs. man more often than not in football. This game is no exception.
* NEWS, NOTES AND THIS AND THAT *
- Sounds like it is no layup that Quintin Demps plays on Saturday night. He practiced with full participation on Wednesday and hopefully he is ready to return kickoffs. Then again, there isn't much to return against Dallas.
- What will Michael Vick's role be in this game? I can't want to see, actually. I expect he will play 5-7 snaps, as usual. I just think Vick needs to keep drives alive. It was alarming to see the Eagles' failure to keep the chains moving on Sunday.
- The Eagles really need their safeties to be more involved around the football in this game. They need Quintin Mikell, Sean Jones, Macho Harris and Demps if he plays to force a turnover or two.
- Why is Jason Witten so difficult to jam at the line of scrimmage? Well, he's big, he gets off press coverage well and he can run right past a linebacker who whiffs, so that is why teams often play zone against Witten. He is that good.
- I think the Eagles need to get the ball to Brent Celek more and more and take advantage of some key matchups in the middle of the field.
- No truth, not yet anyway, to the report that the Eagles are playing the 49ers in London next season. Whether it actually happens or not, I don't know. But nothing has been said to the Eagles officially at this point.
- I have to believe that playing at Cowboys Stadium a second time will help the Eagles. The "Wow!" factor just won't be there six days after seeing it for the first time. Now go out and get a lead and silence those 100,000-plus Cowboys fans in attendance, please.