Eagles vs. Cowboys: 10 Keys to the Game for Philadelphia
Another week, another game, and more invested time and energy.
Hopefully, this time, it won't be in vain (sigh).
This Sunday, the hated—no, no, the loathed—rival Dallas Cowboys come to town, sporting the same record as Philadelphia Eagles (3-5), hoping for the same miracle to resurrect their unsatisfactory season.
It goes without saying that, for the second consecutive year, the Eagles have by far been the biggest disappointment in the league. Hell, maybe in all of sports.
As much as Eagles fans would love to press fast-forward on the rest of the season to avoid crying themselves to sleep every Sunday or Monday night, life just doesn't work that way. So get the six pack, order Papa John's, make sure the Kleenex are in reach, sit down and brace yourself.
Fortunately, the Eagles are presented with another winnable game. More importantly, it's the second of six within the division. They haven't won a game since Sept. 30 (it's November 9), and as a result, they're on the verge of absolute collapse. So regardless of a 3-5 record, this is still an important game.
The Cowboys are a very beatable team and exhibit many of the same problems as the Eagles. If Philly wants to avoid all-out chaos in their organization, a bum-rush from fans at Lincoln Financial Field and subsequent riots throughout the city, they should pay close attention to these 10 keys to the game.
Keep It Simple
Every game, Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid try to outsmart the opposing team's coaching staff, but in doing so, they outsmart themselves.
In the NFL, games are won by the team that executes, not by the team with the most extravagant game plan.
In other words, it's in Philadelphia's best interest to keep the game plan simple and call plays that play to their strengths.
For example, in past seasons, the Eagles were revered as one of the best screen teams in the league. And more times than that, those screens would go for big gains.
But for some reason, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have substituted the screen game for the deep-pass plays that take longer to develop.
Teams have caught on, and they're taking the necessary measures to take away the deep ball.
Keep it simple and play to your strengths.
Capitalize in the Red Zone
37.04—Philadelphia's red-zone scoring percentage, which is ranked 30th in the league.
Last Monday night versus the Saints, the Eagles were in the red zone five times and came away with zero touchdowns.
It's mind-blogging that a talented, potent offense like the Eagles averages just under 17 points per game.
However, the Cowboys aren't turning any heads either, averaging 18 points per game, but like Philadelphia, they too have a wide array of weapons on offense.
The Eagles can't afford to leave points on the field, especially with the unreliability of their defense.
Shut Down Talented Receiving Corps
Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree are as good a trio as any in the league.
On paper, the Eagles match up well. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Nnamdi Asomugha and the impressive rookie Brandon Boykin are formidable in their own right.
But all three have struggled at some point this season, especially the coveted 2011 free agent Asomugha.
If the secondary can keep the Dallas receiving corps in check, it might just make things easier on the Eagles pass rush—the same pass rush that's been on the back of milk cartons the past few weeks.
But if Austin and Bryant run wild, it's going to be a long night for the Eagles D.
Contain Tony Romo
One of the underestimated qualities of Tony Romo is his athleticism.
He just doesn't have that look.
But nonetheless, it's there. Romo has this great ability to maneuver within the pocket and extend plays with his legs when it breaks down.
The sole purpose of the wide-nine scheme is to get to the quarterback, but when defensive ends shoot up the field, they leave gaping holes in the pocket that make it easier for quarterbacks like Romo to step up and keep plays alive.
Containing Romo must be a priority for the Eagles defensive line because he's most dangerous when he's outside of the pocket.
Win the Turnover Battle
The only teams that have more turnovers than the Eagles are Kansas City and Dallas.
This works in favor of the Eagles because they're finally playing a team that is as mistake-prone as they are.
Tony Romo is as careless with the football as they come. Newton's law of motion—with every action, there is always an equal opposite reaction—essential describes Romo tendencies as a quarterback. For every brilliant play he makes, there's a least one bone-headed play to go with it.
The point is that there's no reason why Philadelphia shouldn't be able to win the turnover battle. With a bit of pressure, it won't be difficult to force Romo into bad decisions.
Get the Ball to the Skilled Players
Philadelphia's bread and butter is speed.
Speed, speed and some more speed.
DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick—this team is fast, and it's about time they start playing like it.
The big reasons as to why Philadelphia's offense has struggled are the injuries to the offensive line, first and foremost, and, secondly, the play-calling.
The coaches have not been putting their players in the best position to be successful, even though Andy Reid assures us that he'll do a better job of that.
When you boast as much speed as Philadelphia does, logic says to get the ball to those players in open space. Andy Reid hasn't been doing that.
Why? Who knows?
But maybe if he started, his team might score some points.
Limit Michael Vick's Long Drop-Backs
The best way to build Michael Vick's confidence is to get him in a rhythm. The best way to get him into a rhythm is by getting the ball out of his hands quickly on short drop-backs.
When Vick takes five- and seven-step drops, the offensive line has to hold their blocks, and at this point, that's asking too much. The Eagles offensive line is down to one starter, stretching the depth chart to anemic levels.
Keeping Vick off the ground is always a priority, but considering the state of the offensive line, short drop-backs are the best way to do that.
Also, quickly getting the ball out of Vick's hands decreases his probability to turn the ball over.
Play to the Strength of the O-Line
As aforementioned, the offensive line is severely depleted, so pass protection isn't exactly their strength.
Instead of forcing them to hold blocks for extended periods of time, it'd be smarter to get them out in the open field to run-block or block on screens.
Rely on LeSean McCoy
Last week versus the Saints, LeSean McCoy was over 100 yards in the first half. But in vintage Andy Reid style, the Eagles wound up passing the ball 41 times, despite racking up 221 total yards of rushing.
For weeks now, media outlets, sports writers and fans alike have been clamoring that LeSean McCoy ought to be the focal point of the Eagles offense. They've argued that its absurd for an All-Pro like McCoy to be a second option. And they're absolutely right, so there's no point in reiterating the obvious.
But as it pertains to this week's game, and every game for that matter, LeSean McCoy is the key to the Eagles offense. Again, get the ball out of Michael Vick's hands and into McCoy's.
Play with Heart
The reason why there is a picture of Brian Dawkins and not someone from the current team is because, when it came to "heart," he was unmatched.
When Brian Dawkins stepped on the football field, no one ever questioned his effort, his passion, his heart.
You can't say the same for this team. Sure, they wear the midnight green and have the wings on their helmet, but the only sense of loyalty or commitment they feel is to the name on the back of that jersey.
Hugh Douglas said it best:
These Eagles have no heart! No pride!! No guts!! That's right!! I said it!! All talk.— Hugh Douglas (@Bighugh53) November 6, 2012
Hugh is right. There is no pride. There is no guts. This team has no identity.
It's no coincidence that the last time the Eagles won a game, Brian Dawkins was wearing a jersey. His energy is infectious, and his leadership is inspiring. He deserves some credit for that victory.
This Sunday, when the Cowboys come to town, the Eagles need to play the game as if it were their last—with emotion, energy and dignity. They owe it to the fans and the long tradition of Eagles that did it before them.