Cowboys vs. Eagles: Players Who Must Step Up in Must-Win Game

Ian Hanford@Ian_HanfordFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 04:  Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys yells to the sideline against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on November 4, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

There's no way around it; Sunday's game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles carries must-win implications.

Neither team wants to be 3-5 at this point in the season. Falling to 3-6 would be a dagger for either team, and eventually for Andy Reid and Jason Garrett, too.

Winning Sunday's NFC East game is going to come down to a few select players. Both teams have the same issues week in and week out, and those problems are going to play a major role again in Week 10.

Here are four players who must step up in Sunday's contest for their team to win, but, first, let's check out this video previewing Sunday's action:

Dez Bryant

Bryant epitomizes squandered potential. It has nothing to do with his physical ability, unless you want to count his inconsistent hands. Instead, it's all about focus for the Cowboys wide receiver.

As good as Miles Austin and Jason Witten can be, Bryant is this team's game-breaker on the outside. He's gifted in terms of size and speed, and he has the explosiveness necessary to make defenders miss in the open field, but he disappears for long stretches.

Tony Romo needs Bryant to be great. Too often will Bryant have a breakout game then disappear for a one-catch performance in the next week.

Many people consider Bryant a bust already because he's so infuriating. Like him or not, though, he presents a major matchup problem for Philadelphia, as he does for most NFL teams.

If he can keep his head on straight on Sunday, he could make a few plays to flip the script in Dallas' favor. But, hey, what else is new?

Eagles Offensive Line

Singling out one offensive lineman wouldn't do this unit justice. They're terrible, and it doesn't matter which way you cut it.

Allowing 27 sacks at this point in the season is appalling. Blaming Michael Vick for the Eagles' struggles is easy, and it is partially his fault, but no one could survive behind this group. It doesn't matter if it's King Dunlap, Demetress Bell, Evan Mathis, Dennis Kelly or Dallas Reynolds; it's just a bad collection of players.

It's simple: If the Eagles don't improve up front, they're going to keep losing. Blitzing Vick is like target practice right now, and Dallas will pin its ears back and attack on Sunday with DeMarcus Ware leading the way.

Rob Ryan likes to crank up the heat. The hogs up front must play like NFL players rather than the poor excuses they've been playing like lately.

If they can't, this game is already over.

Tony Romo

Romo always carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. Either he plays like he's capable of, and Dallas moves the ball efficiently through the air. Or, he throws interception after interception and Cowboys fans scream countless obscenities in his general direction.

Philadelphia is as familiar, if not more, as anyone in the NFL with Romo's ability. They know how much he likes to create with his feet outside of the pocket, and they know that he's also capable of throwing the ball to the wrong team several times in one game.

In the best and worst way, you don't ever know which Romo you're going to get.

The formula is pretty simple. If he turns the ball over, and the Eagles get extra opportunities to put points on the board, Philadelphia will eke out a victory.

On the other hand, if he takes care of the rock, Dallas should have no problem winning this must-win contest and curtailing the boos for a week.

Michael Vick

Whether he's receiving unfair treatment as the scapegoat in Philadelphia's demise or not, Vick must bring his best game against the Cowboys on Sunday. He's going to be facing an elite secondary and a front seven that will be attacking him for four straight quarters.

Yes, Vick has been sacked and knocked down more than the NFL should legally allow, but that doesn't mean he hasn't had his own struggles. Being under constant duress must play a role in his nine interceptions, but he still must be smart.

Vick knows the heat is coming at this point. He can't do anything about it. No quarterback could make a solid decision in 0.7 seconds, and that's how much time Vick seems to have on a play-by-play basis.

But, again, it's no surprise at this point.

If nothing else, Vick must avoid turnovers in this one. He must do whatever he can, depending on how much his offensive line gives him in return.

If Vick can make a few big plays with either his arm or his legs, he will provide Philadelphia with the spark it needs to capture a big win.

If he can't, look for more of the same.


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