Watching New England dismantle the New York Jets on Monday night reminded me of a couple of NFL mantras in which I believe. One, the quarterback is what makes everything go, and if he has time to set up and throw the football and if he is a quality player, the passing game is going to flourish. Two, it doesn't matter how many "big-name" wide receivers and skill-position players a team has. We overplay that angle. Watching Tom Brady tear apart the Jets throwing to Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead and Deion Branch was extremely telling.
In the NFL, more than anything, the scheme matters. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don't have good coaching and a good scheme that fits your personnel, you aren't going to win. You can have coaching and a good scheme and still win without the best-of-the-best talent. The truth is, many teams win without having the very best talent.
In the Eagles' case, on the offensive side to begin, they have the best of both worlds. Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have a tried-and-tested West Coast offense that has evolved in the 12 seasons Reid has been here. Mornhinweg has added his many touches to the scheme, and the result is an offense that has been as varied, as explosive and as consistent as the Eagles have ever had.
I'm not saying talent doesn't matter in the NFL. Of course talent matters. But games like the Monday night blowout illustrate the importance of teaching, of good practice habits, of having players "in the right position to make plays," as Reid likes to say.
We're seeing the difference with Dallas. The talent has always been there with the Cowboys. On paper, this team is loaded, perhaps more so than any group in the NFC. Not until the Cowboys installed Jason Garrett as the head coach have the Cowboys seen the on-field results improve. Why has it happened? Because, in part, Garrett has tweaked the philosophy offensively, and because the defense has become more more aggressive, more attacking with Wade Phillips out of the way.
We have watched the Eagles offense grow up very quickly this season, and right now the team needs to average a hair under 22 points per game in the final four weeks to establish a franchise record for most points in a season. It would be the third straight season the Eagles did so, and the reality is that Reid's offenses have always scored a lot of points.
The best tests come in these final four games against quality defenses in must-win situations. These Eagles are fortunate to have top-shelf talent and a first-rate scheme, all the reason to expect the offense to continue to impress.
NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT
It is only a minor surprise that the Redskins placed defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth on the suspended list on Tuesday, sidelining him for the final four games of the season. Haynesworth, an immense talent, goes down as the worst free-agent signing in the history of this league, and is a Class A example of how risky it is to pay huge dollars to players changing teams. The interesting piece to consider is how next year's free agency will play out (assuming there is a free agency, of course). The word is that the streets will be filled with quality players looking to cash in. I think that the 2010 offseason will be perhaps the largest test of all for NFL front offices. The Eagles are going to have several difficult decisions to make on pending free agents. These are very, very interesting times in the league ...
- Who is the most improved player on this team? I would say running back LeSean McCoy, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and, certainly, center Mike McGlynn rate up there. But defensive tackle Antonio Dixon has to be the guy. He has literally come from the streets -- Dixon was a waiver-wire pickup prior to the 2009 season -- to becoming a sometimes-dominating and always-productive starter here. Dixon needs to play Sunday night against an outstanding Dallas running game.
- Expect cold, but clear, weather at Cowboys Stadium. That said, the retractable roof will likely be closed for this game. Shame. And that means the Eagles and the Cowboys should have no barriers to running their offenses. I think a few points are going to be scored in this game.
- Sunday is a battle of backup quarterbacks, when you think about it. But both Michael Vick and Jon Kitna are playing terrific football, again underscoring the value of having quality No. 2 quarterbacks on a roster. Think about all of the teams out there that wish they were so well suited for the long haul of the season.
- I know that the Giants are a great rivalry and that rarely do we have a chance to enjoy NFC East games like this in back-to-back weeks, but there is something special about playing at Dallas, on national television, with so much on the line. It's Dallas week! That has a magical ring to me.
- DeSean Jackson caught 6 passes for 110 yards in his first career game against Dallas. The Cowboys have done a fine job closing in on Jackson since that time. Later in 2008, Jackson caught 2 passes in the final game of the regular season, the blowout win over the Cowboys. Last year, Jackson had 7 catches for 79 yards and a touchdown -- late in the playoff loss -- in three losses. What are the Cowboys doing to take Jackson out of the equation? Watch the chess match on Sunday night as the Eagles look to get Jackson loose against the Cowboys' secondary.
- Good news that both Asante Samuel and Juqua Parker are expected to practice on Wednesday and, barring setbacks, would play on Sunday night. Concerning news that right tackle Winston Justice remains a question mark. It is good to know that King Dunlap played and played well in a couple of starts at left tackle in place of Jason Peters. The Eagles must win the battle against the Dallas pass rush that begins with outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, and inside with tackle Jay Ratliff.
- A couple of injuries in Dallas to keep an eye on. Obviously, rookie sensation Dez Bryant is out of the season with a fractured foot. But tight end Jason Witten is battling a high-ankle sprain and cornerback Orlando Scandrick suffered a concussion on Sunday and could be a question mark for this game.