Last week's 24-0 loss is ancient history. Let's now talk about this week. I think Eagles nation is pretty confused right now. Some people are down because of the loss. Others are optimistic because this is the playoffs and Dallas hasn't won in the postseason since Ben Franklin was in Junior High. Many fans are just unsure of what to expect. I'm here to tell you the Eagles can win this game.
We'll start on defense. I've talked quite a bit about the need to be more aggressive. I am not telling Sean McDermott to be reckless. He must be sound and limit the times he goes all out, but there is a need to be creative and aggressive. Dallas went 11-5 this year. Two of the losses were to the New York Giants. The other losses were to Denver, Green Bay and San Diego. What do those three teams have in common? They all run the 3-4 defense.
The point I'm getting at is the importance of pre-snap confusion. Teams that run the 3-4 will normally send at least four rushers. The offense sees the defensive linemen, but doesn't know which linebacker will rush. This confusion affects the quarterback in his pre-snap reads. It also affects the linemen as they try to figure out who to block. The Giants did a lot of stuff to confuse Dallas in their second game this year. The Giants had most guys standing upright and moving around so that the Cowboys would not know who was rushing and where exactly they were coming from. This tactic was very effective.
If I know this you can bet McDermott does as well. We did little of this last week. I will be highly surprised if we don't do more of it this time around. The basis of good defense is winning one-on-one battles, but there is nothing wrong with some tactical advantages. The goal on Saturday night is to have Tony Romo thinking and not smiling. Hit him. Confuse him. Keep him off-balance. Last week might as well have been a 7-on-7 drill at training camp. This week must be different.
We are a blitzing team. Do what you do. We must blitz. There is risk involved. I accept that. We might give up plays. I can live with mistakes as long as they come with us playing our brand of football. There is an old Latin phrase that fits this situation well. It translates to ""fortune favors the bold."" Take some chances. Be aggressive. Don't be careless or dumb, of course. Fortune does not favor the stupid.
</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>
We can't attack on every play and that means that the defensive line must win some battles. Trent Cole needs to step up his game and be the leader up front. He was far too quiet on Sunday. Cole hasn't had consecutive bad games all year. I think he will be a man on a mission. We'll need him to be a force against the run as well as getting after the quarterback.
McDermott has a key decision to make at linebacker. I think he has to start out with Jeremiah Trotter in the middle. Trotter was the best linebacker last week and played the run very well. He also brought a lot of fire and energy to the defense. Sometimes that stuff can be overrated, but it was important on Sunday. We needed a spark. It was too little too late for that game, but I'm hoping that some of that emotion can carry over to this week.
The downside to starting Trotter is that he's limited in coverage. That puts additional pressure on the outside linebackers as well as the safeties. I think that is a risk we must take. We need a physical presence in the middle of the defense. We cannot allow the Cowboys to run. At some point, you have to pick your poison. You can't stop everything when you face a talented, balanced team. There is logic to focusing on either the run or pass. I think we need to focus on the run. Part of the problem last week was that Dallas was able to establish a ground game and get our pass rushers on their heels. The Dallas line played with confidence. Our guys were uncertain what play was coming and we lost the battle at the line of scrimmage. We were more aggressive in the second half and that showed up in run and pass defense.
I'm not advocating loading up the box with a bunch of defenders. I think the free safety needs to stay back. Quintin Mikell can sneak up on some plays to create an eight-man front. Most of the time we need the front seven to control the run. The best way to do that is with Trotter in the middle. SAM linebacker is another spot where McDermott has to make a choice. Moise Fokou gives us speed. Chris Gocong gives us experience and physicality. The guys split time in practice this week, according to reports. I've gone back and forth with what to do, but I'm now thinking that Gocong should be the choice. He can take on blocks because of his size and strength. He's also a better blitzer. No matter which player gets the call, he has to do a better job of jamming Jason Witten so he doesn't get a clean release on pass plays. Throw off his timing. Make him work to get open.
I don't know that the secondary needs a lot of schematic or personnel changes. We had defenders very close to breaking up several passes last week. We need the guys to make plays this time around. Let's win some individual battles and stop Dallas drives.
That same theme should largely be true for the offense. We had players open on several occasions only to see some breakdowns. The design worked well, but not the execution. The Cowboys will adjust to what they saw so we'll need a few wrinkles. The real key is for Donovan McNabb to come out and play well.
McNabb has made plenty of big plays in his Eagles career. He's won us some big games and played well in the postseason. That's the guy we need to see. He played well last year as we made a run through the playoffs. McNabb doesn't need to be Superman and carry the team on his back. That was the case back in 2000 and 2001. Now McNabb has a strong supporting cast. He simply needs to use his weapons effectively.
The young skill players had mixed showings last week. For every good play there was also a mistake. We can't have that in the playoffs. The receivers must run correct routes and catch the ball when it comes to them. Dropped passes are backbreakers. The line has done its job. The quarterback has done his job. The receiver has gotten open. The last part of the equation is the catch. You hate to see guys drop passes, especially downfield or on third downs. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are dynamic talents. We need to get them the ball on both shallow and deep routes. One player I would like to see more involved is Jason Avant. He's only got six catches in the last four games combined.
We do need to run the ball more. Last week's score affected the playcalling, but we have to run more no matter what. The offense needs the balance and the running backs need the touches. Brian Westbrook was the primary runner on Sunday. I'm thinking we feed the ball more to LeSean McCoy this time around to take advantage of his speed. We know there will be plenty of 2 and 3-yard gains. McCoy gives us the chance to break a 15- to 20-yard run. Even if we don't gain a lot of yards we need to keep the Cowboys off balance. We don't want their front seven being able to tee off and attack McNabb.
I thought the offensive line did some good things in pass protection last week, at least in the first half. Now we need to get better run blocking and good pass blocking for the whole game. Linemen had some costly penalties. Dallas is a tough team to move the ball on. We can't afford to have dumb penalties that stack the odds against us even more. Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles now have more than seven quarters of time in their spots. This group has no excuses. They can and should play well.
Andy Reid has won 10 playoff games in his career. He knows how to prepare a team for the postseason. He understands how to deal with the pressure of the situation. You want the players fired up, but also focused. This is an especially odd playoff game. We've faced Dallas twice already and just played them last week. I don't think there will be a lot of new wrinkles for each team. We simply must execute better.