How much do I hate Dallas? Let me count the ways. Forget that. I'll be here all day. Let's just talk about the game. The Cowboys come to town tonight to battle for first place in the NFC East. This is easily the biggest game of the year for both teams. Dallas wants respectability. The Eagles want another division win and sole possession of first place. Plus, it would be nice to see good triumph over evil.
In all honesty, I'm nervous about this game. We're almost at midseason and the Eagles have yet to play in a back and forth game. The Saints game was close for a half as the teams traded scores, but that turned into a blowout in the third quarter. The Raiders game was tight, but the Eagles played poorly that day and it isn't a good barometer of anything other than how badly the team can play. We need to see the Eagles in a 60-minute game where the teams trade the lead. Most wins this year involve the Eagles getting a big lead and then holding on. I know the Eagles can win a tight game, but we do need to see it.
I think this game will largely be decided on one critical factor – getting pressure on Romo. If he is allowed to sit back and play quarterback, we're in for a long game. We need ""Fast Tony,"" the guy who throws off his back foot and moves around nervously. That guy will kill you on a couple of plays, but will also make mistakes. He'll throw some errant passes and force the ball into coverage as he tries to make something happen.
We lost the first meeting to Dallas each of the last two years. Romo had a ton of time in 2007 and shredded the defense. Last year, he led the team to 34 points on offense (another seven came off a kickoff return) and they won. We've won all three late season meetings with Dallas since Romo took over as the starter in 2006. Romo has been under a lot of pressure in each game. Jim Johnson was more aggressive in the rematches, but it also helped that the players executed better.
Sean McDermott has been very aggressive with blitzing since taking over the defense. We're attacking more than any time since Buddy Ryan left. This is probably the best way to handle Dallas. I don't fear their receivers in the sense of them being playmakers like Santana Moss or Steve Smith. I certainly respect the Cowboys wideouts. They are solid players who are hot right now. Miles Austin is playing at a very high level. Is this a hot streak or is he emerging as a star? Only time will tell. I'm willing to take my chances.
</td> </tr> <tr> <td>Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He's followed the team for almost 20 years. Tommy has been trained by an NFL scout in the art of scouting and player evaluation and runs www.scoutsnotebook.com.</td> </tr> </tbody>
I think the Eagles corners match up well with their receivers. I do have a couple of concerns. Double moves and pump fakes are potentially dangerous. Our corners like to jump routes. Romo burned us for a long touchdown in the early game last year on a good pump fake. My other concern is Asante Samuel trying to tackle Austin out in space. Austin is a big, strong guy that runs through tackle attempts. Samuel isn't exactly a rugged tackler. He cannot let Austin get free down the sidelines for huge gains. Samuel has got to make the stop or slow him enough for Sean Jones or Quintin Mikell to come over and finish the play.
Tight end Jason Witten is a tough matchup against any of our defenders. He always comes up big against us. McDermott will use multiple players to try and cover Witten. Chris Gocong normally would be one of the guys, but he's hurt and is doubtful for the game. Rookie Moise Fokou will start if Gocong can't go. Fokou will be a target for Romo and Witten to attack. I think the big focus with Witten is limiting his yards. Don't let him get open for big catches down the field. Also, tackle him quickly after the catch. He isn't a guy you want running free in the secondary.
Dealing with the Dallas running game will be tough. We can't commit eight to the box on a regular basis because of guys like Witten and Austin. That means the front seven has to penetrate, play tough on the edges and tackle well. I'm pretty confident that the defensive line will handle the run. The linebackers must tackle well. Fokou will have his hands full with the speed of Jones and power of Barber.
One guy who could make a difference for us is Will Witherspoon. We now have a middle linebacker that has the speed to handle Dallas' running backs on the edge. He also can help on Witten. And we know he can be a playmaker around the line of scrimmage. Witherspoon could be an important player in this game.
Trent Cole must get pressure off the edge. We can't solely rely on the blitz. Cole has had good and bad days against Flozell Adams. Cole has to pressure Romo. Sacks are great, but at least get some hits. Chris Clemons had a couple of sacks last year in the 44-6 win. He owes us a big game this year. Darren Howard has played some of his best games against Dallas. Let's hope that trend continues.
The Eagles offense will have some success. Remember, we put up 30 points on them (Gocong scored a touchdown on defense) in the early game last year with Greg Lewis starting at receiver, Tony Hunt at fullback and L.J. Smith at tight end. I don't think anyone would argue that Jeremy Maclin, Leonard Weaver and Brent Celek are big upgrades. Also, getting Westbrook back this week is huge. He plays well against Dallas. He knows how to find holes in their defense and get upfield, if only for a couple of yards.
We hurt them in both games last year with catches by the running backs. Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter combined for 13 receptions. Westbrook will do his part, but LeSean McCoy has to help as well. He must get to the correct spot, catch the ball cleanly and get upfield. I would also appreciate it if McCoy would quit swinging the ball. I have to hold my breath every time a defender comes close to him.
I do expect us to go downfield in the passing game. DeSean Jackson burned them for a long play in each game (60 yards and 34 yards). Maclin has the speed to also burn them downfield. The presence of Celek and Jason Avant in the middle of the field will be tough on them if Dallas wants to keep safety Ken Hamlin deep all game long. You can't take away everything. We have enough weapons to work downfield or short and medium stuff.
In order to have a good passing game, we need Donovan McNabb to be accurate with his passes and he needs good protection from the guys up front. Jason Peters must control DeMarcus Ware. I don't expect Peters to shut him down, but he does need to keep Ware under control. We'll use Celek to help there. We'll also have Avant chip on him. And the running backs will help as well. Blocking Ware will be built into the game plan.
I hope Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg mix in some plays with Weaver in the ace formation. We had success with that last week and Weaver is the kind of north-south runner that could break a good run against Dallas if he hits a seam.
While this game does make me nervous, there are some things to be excited about. Dallas hasn't had to face us with Celek playing this well. They haven't had to face this good a pair of Eagles receivers in a while. Witherspoon is the kind of playmaking middle linebacker that could be big against a team like Dallas. We're playing very aggressively on defense. That's something they haven't seen a lot this year. Finally, our back seven is doing a great job this year of picking off passes. If Romo does get careless at all, we'll make him pay.
Keys To The Game
Under Pressure – The Eagles must get regular pressure on Romo. He can not be allowed to sit in the pocket and get into a good rhythm. The defensive line must win some battles up front. The blitz must be effective. Quarterback hurries, hits and sacks will be crucial. In the loss to Dallas last year, Romo didn't get sacked once. He was sacked four times in the game we won.
Sustain Drives – Dallas has a big-play offense, like us. One way to frustrate them is to have long, sustained drives of our own that keep Romo and company sitting on the sidelines. We don't want to just play small ball, but we do need to mix some of that in.
Tackle Well – Dallas has some players that are really tough to bring down. Barber is one of the toughest runners in the entire NFL. Witten is dangerous in the middle of the field. Austin has been dynamic recently when catching passes on the edge and breaking out of tackle attempts. Our linebackers and defensive backs must rally to the ball and make sure tackles. Everyone needs to hustle to the ball.
Limit Mistakes – This is a generic key, but it really is true in situation like this where you have two good teams. In the loss last year there were crucial errors. Jackson dropped a third-down pass in the red zone that forced a field goal attempt. Defensive backs bit on a pump fake that led to a touchdown. The kickoff coverage unit was sloppy and gave up a touchdown to Jones. McNabb and Westbrook had a fumbled exchange on a series where we were driving into scoring territory. We had five penalties.
We won the rematch in part because Dallas was the sloppier team. We had one turnover, but no other major mistakes. We also had no penalties. Dallas had a nightmare game. They had five turnovers. They blew coverages. They had five penalties. If it could go wrong, it did go wrong. That was a good day to be an Eagles fan.