There are so many fascinating angles to contemplate leading up to Monday night's game in Dallas. I'm caught up in the matchups within the matchups, the chess match the coaches are playing right now and one the players will carry out at Texas Stadium. How do the Eagles beat the Cowboys? What can the defense do to neutralize Dallas' weapons? Can Donovan McNabb put the offense in the end zone enough to pull off the upset?
Questions, questions, questions to ponder.
How Can The Eagles Defend The Dallas Passing Game?
The easy answer is to pressure quarterback Tony Romo and make him throw in a hurry and into coverage and blah, blah, blah. No kidding. Dallas knows it has to protect Romo, and is going to come up with a blocking scheme to give Romo the best chance to set up and throw. Maybe he will get the ball out quickly off a lot of three-step drops. Maybe Dallas will use some maximum-protection blocking and see if they can free tight end Jason Witten and the wide receivers.
Maybe Dallas will check down to its running backs and have the kind of success it had last November in the big win at Lincoln Financial Field.
Maybe Jim Johnson has thought of all of this and a whole lot more and is going to come to the table with some plans to try to take most of it away.
See, Johnson can't take it all away. He knows that. He is going to attack areas he thinks he can exploit, and he is going to try to take Romo out of his rhythm. Johnson has to deal with Owens, with Witten, with Patrick Crayton and with some good running backs. The Cowboys can use a two tight end set and play power football, too.
I've been thinking about this all week. What I like is that Johnson has a lot of weapons at his disposal. He can interchange a lot of his personnel. The challenge is that Dallas is loaded offensively. Johnson wants to take away the highest of priorities. He knows the Cowboys are going to get a couple of plays. Johnson wants to keep them out of the end zone.
What Is The Offense's Priority To Contain?
Dallas puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the pocket and on the line of scrimmage. They have a very good front seven, they have experience and they have a lot of speed.
Linebacker DeMarcus Ware has to be the first concern. He has given the Eagles some problems in the past off the edge, and he is a rare combination of speed and strength. Tra Thomas knows he has his hands full, and the good news is that Thomas is playing excellent football.
Dallas also has some power inside and on the left side of its defensive line, and its secondary has playmakers across the board. The question mark is cornerback Terence Newman, who has only seen limited practice time this week. Pacman Jones is a big-play cornerback and Ken Hamlin is a Pro Bowl safety. Roy Williams makes big plays and is an extremely physical player.
The scheme is not complicated, and the emphasis for Dallas is on crashing the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys want Zach Thomas to clean up with his speed and they want to force teams into third-and-long desperation.
Who Makes The Returns: Pacman Or DJax?
Special teams are going to play a huge factor, of course, and both teams have explosive ability in the return game. Jones hurt the Eagles in the 2006 season as a Tennessee Titan, and that memory burns bright. DeSean Jackson had a 60-yard return last week in his regular season debut, and Eagles fans are on the edge of their seats on every return now.
The coverage has to be air tight for the Eagles to win this battle. I don't know that Rory Segrest is planning anything unusual. He certainly has a lot of confidence in his group, led by Akeem Jordan, Joselio Hanson and Tank Daniels. The coverage units have to hustle to the ball, play within their lanes and tackle very, very well.
Which Running Game Does The Most Damage?
Both teams can really bring it in the ground game. Brian Westbrook, Correll Buckhalter and Lorenzo Booker give the Eagles three threats in the backfield, while Dallas has Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. Both teams also figure to run the ball and try to establish the line of scrimmage.
The styles may be different between, for example, Westbrook and Barber, but they are both highly effective and versatile. Jones is an exciting and dangerous rookie, along with Choice. The Eagles can counter with the different styles of Buckhalter and Booker.
Is Discipline The Key To Winning?
In a very large way, yes. How the players react to the pressure of the event and the tempo of the night is very important. The Eagles did a nice job of staying away from penalties against the Rams. They played a very smart game. They stayed away from dumb penalties.
Oh, this is important. I wonder who is going to blow a gasket on the field and just lose it. I consider who is going to make the smart play and simply walk away.
I think about everything with this game. It has been a long week. We still have a couple of days to go before the kickoff. The matchups within the matchups are what have me obsessed about a game that is lip-licking in Week 2 of this 2008 season.