With the Cowboys forced to start third-string quarterback Stephen McGee and the Eagles already locked into the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs, this Sunday’s matchup between the teams doesn’t possess the normal magical feel. Philly is likely to sit some of its starters, particularly quarterback Michael Vick.
Still, it always feels good to beat the Eagles, no matter the situation. For Dallas to not let a second game against Philly slip away from it this season, this is what it needs to do...
DO open up the playbook for Stephen McGee.
Normally you would want to protect a young quarterback on the road, but what’s the point? While winning is always important, there are times when performing sub-optimal tasks in a football game are acceptable.
This is one of them, as placing McGee in unique situations so the coaches can properly analyze his performance is more valuable, in my view, than forcing him to continually throw screens and dump-offs. What can you really learn about McGee from that?
DO run some designed rollouts.
In the beginning of the season, I thought we’d see more designed rollouts from the Cowboys. That hasn’t been the case, particularly since Jon Kitna took over as the starting quarterback (and rightfully so).
McGee has shown tremendous mobility, however, and seems to throw pretty well on the run. He appears to have a skill set that more closely resembles that of Tony Romo as compared to Kitna. Plus, designed rollouts could aid a struggling offensive line, i.e., a struggling Marc Colombo.
DO blitz more often than in the first matchup.
A few weeks ago, it was difficult for the Cowboys to blitz much because playing man coverage against Michael Vick can be deadly. With the defenders’ backs turned to the quarterback, he can run wild.
Vick is unlikely to play in this game, however, and Kevin Kolb is nowhere near as nimble as Vick. He can beat you with his legs, but not to such a degree that it makes man coverage impossible.
As always, blitzing the defensive backs could create problems for Philly. Last night, it had tons of problems blocking the Vikings’ nickel back. Orlando Scandrick has found a lot of success on blitzes this season, so Paul Pasqualoni should dial up those exotic blitzes even more often than usual (which wasn’t near enough in the first place).
DON’T place Alan Ball anywhere except over top of DeSean Jackson.
It’s unknown how long Jackson will play or if he will even suit up at all, but if he does, he’s got to be the defense’s top priority. Jackson single-handedly beat Dallas a few weeks ago, even when the ‘Boys were in rather safe coverages.
There’s not much else you can do other than place a cornerback on him and a safety over top, so the secondary needs to mentally rise to the challenge this week in Philly.
DO double-team Eagles defensive end Trent Cole with tight ends and running backs.
From my Cowboys-Eagles Week 14 Preview:
In my view, Cole is by far and away the Eagles’ top defensive player. He creates havoc in the opposition’s backfield whether defending the run or the pass. He’s consistently one of the most underrated players in the NFL. I place him on par with guys like Dwight Freeney and even Ware (but no, I wouldn’t prefer Cole to Ware).
If the Cowboys leave Doug Free on an island against Cole, he will get abused. Free has been the Cowboys’ best offensive lineman all season, but I don’t think he’s up for that sort of challenge just yet. Look for the Cowboys to run the same “Gun 5 Wide Tight” formation they created for last week’s game in Indy to help Free and the always helpless Marc Colombo.
DON’T start Marc Colombo.
Last week, Colombo played one of the worst games I’ve ever seen an offensive lineman play. I attributed four sacks to him, but he got beat on virtually every snap. Starting Colombo would signal to the team that awful play is acceptable.
DON’T leave Colombo on an island (assuming he does start), unless you want McGee to die.
I’m guessing Colombo will still start, even though he shouldn’t. If he’s left on an island, Trent Cole and Juqua Parker will absolutely dominate him. It’s getting to the point where the Cowboys need to be concerned about the health of their quarterbacks. Look for a lot of “right-handed” formations with Martellus Bennett helping Colombo.
DO place Colombo at quarterback and let him see how it feels.
Last one. I swear.
DON’T call two plays in the huddle as often as normal.
As you probably know, Jason Garrett loves to call two plays at a time. The offense plans to run the first one called unless the quarterback sees something from the defense he doesn’t like and issues a “Kill” call. The offense then switches into the second play.
This week, the Cowboys should back off from that approach a bit. In Week 14, the Eagles really confused Jon Kitna and the Dallas offensive line with their defensive looks. They often blitzed without showing it and dropped out of alignments that appeared to be blitzes.
Actually, Philly blitzed only 12 times, yet disguised them so well that the Cowboys mustered only 38 yards on those plays (all passes). Kitna generated just a 60.4 passer rating on Eagles blitzes. Meanwhile, Philly showed blitz five times but then backed out, and Dallas gained only 17 total yards on those plays.
To counter the Eagles’ unique pre-snap alignments, the Cowboys could benefit from implementing a “dummy” snap count. This would force the Eagles to show their intentions prematurely, providing McGee with a better idea of where to go with the football.
To use a “dummy” snap count, however, the offense needs time on the play-clock. That time is severely limited if the Cowboys call two plays in the huddle.
Plus, I don’t trust McGee’s ability to correctly check into the correct play as much as that of Romo or Kitna, so a “dummy” count could provide more value to Dallas than “Kill” calls.
DO throw plenty of screens.
In the first contest, the Cowboys found some success on screen passes against the Eagles, running five of them for 44 yards. I think you could see more than 12 blitzes this week from Philly, so the screen pass (specifically to Felix Jones) could be of use.
DO run more counters.
In general, the Cowboys should run far more counters. Thus far this season, they have run only 24 of them, yet gained an astounding 202 yards (8.42 yards-per-carry).
Counters are particularly useful against ultra-aggressive defenses, which is exactly how I would describe the Eagles’ defense.
DON’T be so nonchalant at the end of the half.
The Cowboys’ lack of urgency in hurry-up situations is a product of coaching. It all starts in practice, and it is clear the ‘Boys need to dedicate quite a bit of practice time to their two-minute drill.
Sometimes, it appears as though Garrett is content just getting into field goal range instead of pressing the issue and getting the offense in position to take some shots at the end zone.
DON’T keep making poor decisions on fourth down—be aggressive!
In recent weeks, the Cowboys have punted the ball on fourth down in opponent’s territory far too often. When at the opponent’s 40-yard line, for example, an offense should statistically go for it all the way up until 4th-and-15. The Cowboys have been punting in situations such as 4th-and-3 in that area, however.
DO play with pride.
In my opinion, this game will be an excellent test for Garrett. It’s easy to get a team with playoff hopes to play hard, but how about a team that underachieved incredibly all season and is on the road with “nothing” to play for in Week 17?
If Garrett can get the team to fight on Sunday, it will go a long way in letting Jerry Jones know Garrett has what it takes to properly motivate a football team.