Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Preview (Nov. 8)
Can it get much more exciting than this? It's Week 9, Sunday Night Football, and the Philadelphia Eagles are hosting their hated rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, for sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
Both teams are 5-2 and coming off blowout victories. Who has the edge? Let's take a look at some of the matchups.
When the Eagles have the ball
Eagles' Pass Offense vs. Cowboys' Pass Defense
This is probably the most important matchup. When Eagles' quarterbacks have had time this year, they have been pretty close to unstoppable.
The player to watch for the Cowboys is outside linebacker Demarcus Ware. Along with Jared Allen and Julius Peppers, Ware is one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the NFL.
A freakish combination of size and speed, Ware has been a problem in the past and will need to be accounted for on every play.
The onus will be on the Eagles' prized offseason acquisition, left tackle Jason Peters, to get out and keep Ware out of the pocket.
On the occasions that Ware does get around, the interior line will need to provide McNabb with room to step up on the pocket.
Up front, the Cowboys are solid, led by Ware and Pro Bowl tackle Jay Ratliff and have been getting great pressure. The Eagles' offensive line is still jelling and will face their biggest test so far on Sunday.
In the secondary, the Cowboys are young. Terrence Newman is solid at corner, but elsewhere, the Cowboys have had problems.
Mike Jenkins, a former first round pick, starts at the other cornerback position but has not lived up to his draft status yet. On the other side, the Eagles' receivers are as good as any team's.
Desean Jackson, one of the fastest receivers in the NFL, has had a breakout year so far. The Cowboys will likely use Newman on him; it will be interesting to see if they leave Newman in one-on-one situations with Jackson.
Last year, Newman had a lot of trouble with Jackson, most notably being burned for 60 yards in the first meeting.
Most likely, they will shade a safety toward that side, and leave Jenkins one-on-one with rookie Jeremy Maclin.
This is a matchup the Eagles can exploit. Maclin beat Corey Webster last week for a touchdown, and has the speed, size and body control to make plays consistently downfield against man-to-man coverage.
The double coverage on Jackson will also lead to opportunities for Brent Celek, Jason Avant, and the Eagles' running backs in the middle of the field.
Quarterback Donovan McNabb is coming off a near-flawless performance. If given time, he should be able to pick apart the Dallas secondary.
Eagles' rushing offense vs. Cowboys' rush defense
The Cowboys come into the game ranked sixth against the run, and their front seven is big. The Eagles have not been particularly successful running the ball, relying mostly on occasional big plays.
Again, the Eagles' offensive line is still jelling. However, a couple of big runs may be all they need to make the Cowboys think twice about blitzing, setting up the pass.
The Eagles are not going to run as the bulk of their offense; but establishing some semblance of a rushing attack will help the passing attack.
When the Cowboys have the ball
Cowboys' passing offense vs. Eagles' passing defense
Tony Romo has been playing like a man possessed. He has not thrown an interception in four games, and has been making big plays with his newfound star at receiver, Miles Austin.
Austin is a big, physical receiver: the kind who has given the Eagles' smaller defensive backs trouble in the past, and he will most likely make a couple of catches.
However, Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown will keep him from taking over the game the way he has the past few weeks. The Eagles' cornerbacks dominated the Cowboys' wide receivers last year.
The Eagles' problem, of course, is the tight end. From Fred Davis to Kevin Boss to Zach Miller, opposing tight ends have had some field days against this Eagles' defense. And the Eagles have not faced anyone like the Cowboys' Jason Witten, arguably one of the three or four best tight ends in the NFL.
Will Witherspoon has helped improve the Eagles' coverage, but if there is a place to attack this Eagles' defense, it is with the tight end. Another concern is that Chris Gocong, the starting SAM linebacker for the Eagles, is banged up.
Rookie Moise Fukou will likely start in his place. While Fukou has showed promise, it is asking a lot of a rookie to cover an elite tight end in a big game against a division rival.
The key here for the Eagles will be the pass rush, particularly from the front four. Trent Cole has been a monster, and tackle Broderick Bunkley has also improved in the pass rushing department.
For the Eagles to be successful, someone has to step up at left end. Jason Babin has a sack in each of the last two games and is a former first-round pick.
If the Eagles can get consistent pressure from their front four, they will be able to throw a lot of different looks at the Cowboys, and when they do blitz it will be much more effective.
If you give Tony Romo time, he will beat you. That is a fact. The key is to pressure and force him into turnovers. A couple of turnovers could swing what is likely to be a shootout in the Eagles' favor.
Cowboys' rush offense vs. Eagles rush defense
The Cowboys have the best set of running backs in the NFC East. Marion Barber is a relentless grinder, Felix Jones is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and Tashard Choice is a versatile player who can create matchup problems.
However, Barber is banged up and has been taking snaps from Choice. The Cowboys' offensive line is one of the biggest in football and has been able to create holes for the running backs.
However, the Eagles come into the game ranked second against the run. They bottled up Brandon Jacobs last week, and should be up to the task of containing the Cowboys running backs.
Like that of the Eagles, the Cowboys' running game will not be the crux of their attack. Rather, it will be used to counter blitzes and to set up play action.
Special Teams: Both teams have dangerous returners. Patrick Crayton has a punt return for a touchdown in each of the last two games, while on the other side DeSean Jackson is...well, DeSean Jackson.
Ellis Hobbs had a couple of big kick returns last week against the Giants. David Akers has been off at times (costing the Eagles the game against Oakland), but he is an experienced, mostly reliable kicker. Nick Folk is also very good in this department for the Cowboys.
Both teams have had trouble with punt coverage, and I would not surprised to see either of these dangerous returners take one back.
Wade Phillips, who many saw as a coach on the hot seat, leads the Cowboys. He has yet to win a playoff game, and his teams have underachieved in the past. On the other side is experienced playoff veteran and master game planner Andy Reid.
If the game comes down to halftime adjustments, don't expect much out of either coach. But Reid will have his troops ready, as he excels at pre-game planning.
The matchup of first-year defensive coordinator Sean McDermott of the Eagles against offensive coordinator prodigy Jason Garrett will be intriguing.
I am too emotionally invested in this game to make predictions. The Eagles will win if they can contain Demarcus Ware and exploit the Cowboys' secondary. The Cowboys will win if they can run the ball or one of the wide receivers has a big day (probably Miles Austin).
I am taking it for granted that Jason Witten will have close to 10 catches for over 100 yards, but if the Eagles shut down the rest of the Cowboys offense, they can still overcome this.
This should come down to the end of the game, with whoever's defense can make a key stop or force a turnover to decide a shootout.
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