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Nothing Fancy: Game Is On The Lines

In the days ahead, the glamour boys will get all of the attention. The Eagles vs. Cowboys is going to be billed as McNabb vs. Romo, Westbrook vs. Barber/Jones, Owens vs. Samuel, etc. This is good stuff for the headlines and for hype. The truth of the matter is that when the hype is gone and the game is just a game, it boils down to which team wins the line of scrimmage.

That is the nature of football. Always has been that way and always will be that way. If there is, for example, one thing the Eagles absolutely, positively must do offensively, it is protect Donovan McNabb when he drops back to pass. If there is one thing the defense must do, it is to get after Tony Romo and take off off his comfort points.

Simple stuff. Essential basics. When you win the line of scrimmage, you win the football game.

"It all starts up front. This game is no different than any other game in that respect," says head coach Andy Reid. "It starts at the line of scrimmage and moves out. Both teams are good at the line. It's going to be a challenge both ways, I think."

Over the years, the Eagles have made it a priority to have as much at the line of scrimmage as possible. They have overhauled the defensive front four since the Super Bowl season of 2004 and now think they have a pretty good group there. Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley start at tackle, but Dan Klecko and Trevor Laws mixed in throughout the preseason and last Sunday and have played very well. Trent Cole is a Pro Bowl right end and Juqua Parker is a good left end, but the Eagles need Darren Howard and Chris Clemons to play productive snaps on Monday night, too.

Along the offensive line, the Eagles have a group that has been together for years. Tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan are as good a pair of bookends as you will find in the league, and the interior three -- guards Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews and center Jamaal Jackson -- are big and strong and playing at a higher level now than they were early last season and, maybe, at any time during the 2007 campaign.

Both sides of the ball are going to have to be at their best against Dallas, which has a physical, fast and very strong offensive line, and a defensive front that creates pressure and forces turnovers. If you watched any bit of the Dallas 28-10 win over Cleveland on Sunday, you saw Romo stand untouched in the pocket throwing darts, and you saw the Dallas front seven swallow up the Browns offensive attack.

One of the more fascinating sub-plots here is how the coaches are going to scheme things. Jim Johnson, you know, has some aces up his sleeve. He has the horses to be creative with his scheme to make sure he takes away 1) Dallas' outstanding running game, which kept the Cowboys in third-and-short situations all game in Cleveland and; 2) The play-action abilities of Romo to go over the top to Owens and tight end Jason Witten.

The Eagles foiled Romo last December by blitzing him effectively, blocking his vision down the field and not giving him room to step up in the pocket.

How the Cowboys figure to slow the Eagles offense is a mystery, of course, but a good guess is that they want to minimize Westbrook and take their chances with the receiving corps. There is also the element of containing McNabb's mobility and rushing him off the edge.

But who knows? Only the coaches, who have put in 16-hour days with an extra 24 hours-plus to prepare for Monday night.

And yet, as we understand, no matter what the coaching staff schemes to do, and what the X's and O's are designed to execute, it is going to come down to the line of scrimmage. It isn't glamorous. There won't be a war of the words between linemen. But the job the Eagles -- and the Cowboys -- do up front is going to determine who wins the game.

That's football, whether it is at the NFL level or at the pee-wee level.


  • The Eagles have practice Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week before leaving for Dallas on Sunday afternoon. Making things sticky is Hurricane Ike, which could hit the Texas coastline and have a serious weather impact in the 24 hours leading up to the game.
  • Dallas is going to be at or close to full strength. Barber practiced on Wednesday and cornerback Terance Newman should be back on the field after missing last week with a groin injury.
  • Reggie Brown's status? We are going to know a lot more on Thursday. If he practices and then recovers to work on Friday, he should play on Monday. How much remains to be seen, of course.
  • What is the theme of the media invasion on Thursday and Friday going to be? Probably to stir up some boastful chatter from the Eagles, who certainly have no right to say much of anything. This is Week 2 of the season, after all.
  • When you looked at the schedule back in the spring, you probably thought, "Boy, Seattle is going to be a good team and a very tough game in November." It probably will be, but the Seahawks have a river of injuries and were embarrassed Sunday in Buffalo. Suddenly, Arizona looks like the best team in the NFC West.
  • Are you putting too much hype into the Dallas game? Well, go ahead and do that, but remember that Pittsburgh comes to town six days later and a road trip to Chicago follows. Those are two teams coming off great wins in Week 1.
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