How does a team that had so little going for it in Sunday's 24-0 loss to Dallas make a 180-degree turn and play as it did for most of the previous 15 games? An Eagles offense that was as explosive as any in the league never got off the ground in the loss that ended the regular season, and with only a few days to practice between games, you wonder what approach the Eagles will take on Saturday night.
Two running plays opened the offensive approach in the loss, and then Donovan McNabb was sacked on third down and, well, you know how the offense struggled the rest of the way. A 7-0 deficit became 14-0 and then 17-0 and then it was too late to consider having any kind of balance, any kind of rhythm.
What happened to the offense? It is a question the coaches have tried to answer with their quick-turnaround game plan and a week's worth of practice. Will the Eagles do what they've done all year on their way to 11 wins and come out throwing the football to set up the running game, or will they take a more conservative approach and try the smash-mouth game early against Dallas?
Or it is going to be a little of this and a little of that?
"You do what you do best," said quarterback Donovan McNabb. "We have to go back to the basics and take that approach."
If the Eagles are going to do what they've done so well this year, they will run and pass on Saturday night. Of course, they have to keep drives alive and give the game plan a chance to work, the Eagles have to convert on third downs. Let's examine how the offense can succeed on Saturday night ...
USE LeSEAN MCCOY EARLY
Not sure how it will work out with Brian Westbrook and his touches, because the more he plays after coming back from his concussions the more in rhythm he will be. I just think that rookie LeSean McCoy has enough hops to help this offense in the running game.
I want the Eagles to give the running game a shot. The offensive line has a challenge playing against Dallas' excellent front seven, and that group can get it done if given a chance. If the Eagles can establish Westbrook, McCoy and Leonard Weaver early and make the Cowboys respect the running game, the field will open for the passing game.
Dallas is a pressure-based defense. The Cowboys blitz. They play a lot of games with stunts and loops and the like. Dallas is very good at what it does on defense, so the Eagles must be patient, take what is there and take advantage of the opportunities that come free.
Michael Vick works into this equation as well. He should have his burst back and he has fresh legs and the Eagles need to go to him as an option on third downs.
I'm not saying the Eagles should tighten up the offense and play smash-mouth football. That really isn't the personality of the offense. I'm saying give McCoy a shot early, keep him going, and hope that he is the kind of player we think he is: A running back who gets better and better the more he touches the football.
Westbrook has a valuable role, too. He is a fine receiver and a great blocker and he is getting his juice back in the running game. Weaver needs to be involved as a receiver and a running back.
It all sounds great on paper: Use the running backs completely. The Eagles need to keep drives going to make it all work, though.
BE CREATIVE WITH DeSEAN JACKSONWhether the Cowboys are doubling him or using bracket coverage against Jackson, the Eagles need to get him into space and let him run into big plays. Dallas wants to get physical with Jackson, wants to stay on top of him and if he is going to catch some underneath throws, so be it. Just keep Jackson pinned in.
Well, that can work in the Eagles' favor, too. Dink and dunk with Jackson if the Cowboys are playing off coverage and keep the chains moving. That's fine. That's exercising great patience, right? Jackson needs to have the football in his hands, because sooner or later he is bound to take a 7-yard pass 45 yards for a big play.
We've seen Jackson primarily as a home-run threat, and this is not a suggestion to make him a possession receiver. Rather, it is an opportunity to expand his role. I can't see Dallas coming up and playing bump-and-run coverage on Jackson throughout the game. That is playing with serious fire. Dallas will mix it up and show different looks.
Get the ball to Jackson on screens, slants, curls, whatever. Then send him deep and see if he can loosen up the Dallas defense.
GET AVANT BACK INTO THE MIXWhere was Jason Avant on Sunday? The Eagles didn't get the ball to Avant, their money player on third down. In the games this year when Avant has been a non-factor, the offense has bogged down. Brent Celek did an excellent job controlling the middle of the field on Sunday, but the Eagles also need Avant to be involved.
Somehow, the Eagles have to drag some attention away from Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Avant is clutch, completely reliable and a great weapon between the hash marks. He needs some touches, too.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL UP FRONTThe line has a tough assignment against Dallas, and the assignment is taken up a notch in this spot. Jason Peters has to handle DeMarcus Ware, largely on his own. The Eagles have to pay attention to linebackers Bradie James and Anthony Spencer in the blitz game and they have to defeat Jay Ratliff and they have to be just about perfect at the line of scrimmage.
The best-case scenario is that the Eagles score early and put the Cowboys on their heels. Get a lead and then dictate to Dallas. It certainly sounds easier than it truly is, and that's the rub. Dallas has done a good job on the Eagles offense in two games. What can the Eagles do to make a 180-degree turn?
The offense has to set a tone from the start. How they do it, of course, is the mystery that will unfold on Saturday night.