Monday Night Football is here ladies and gents. Well not yet, but when it comes it will be fantastic. Two of the top teams in the NFC facing off to determine who will take a 2-0 lead.
The Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles each won one game out of last year's two division battles. The Cowboys won the first 38-17 and The Eagles won the second 10-6.
Now the teams have made significant improvements and those factors along with the rest of the team have been taken into account and I think it is a deadlock.
These teams have the ability to either shut themselves out or score 100 points together in bloodshed. Yes, I said bloodshed. The Cowboys-Eagles rivalry is not as well publicized as the Redskins one because to my knowledge, Dick Vermeil never got on television acting like an idiot saying "We are going to beat those God Damn Cowboys in their own backyard." That rivalry got George Allen a bust in the Hall of Fame. The Eagles, in my opinion, became really vicious under Buddy Ryan. He would go to any length to embarrass Tom Landry and make the Cowboys look bad. He had a double motive though. He hated Mike Ditka and Ditka had been a Cowboy as well as a Bear. Then the entire Eagles stadium cheered when Michael Irvin was injured in what would be his last game. And don't get me started on the amount of trash talk the fans give each other over the web. Its like watch My Cousin Vinny. Every other word is a four letter one!
The rivalry alone is only a piece of the puzzle. The Eagles were a .500 team last year when in 2004 they went to the Super Bowl where they lost to Tom Brady. Philly has never won a Super Bowl so that adds another factor. The Cowboys were 13-3 last year and the Eagles resent that because the year before that they were 10-6 and the Cowboys were 9-7.
Now for the gameplans. If I was Andy Reid I would focus on giving Donovan McNabb pocket protection. Last year in their loss to the Cowboys, on their first play McNabb fumbles the ball and the Cowboys recovered it. McNabb had excellent protection when he threw his touchdown passes against the Rams. If he is afforded the same protection, then there is little doubt as to whether he can do it again. It will be difficult at battling the Cowboys cornerbacks especially since Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis might not be able to play. I would aim at Adam Jones. If Terence Newman does not start then Jones will and Jones is rusty so he will be the weak point.
The running game will be difficult since the Cowboys crushed Jamal Lewis last week and Brian Westbrook is good, but so is Zach Thomas, the Cowboy's new middle linebacker who is a maestro at stopping the run. Westbrook will need holes space to get away from Thomas if he wants to get any first downs. Last but most important is the defensive line. The Cowboys have an excellent offensive line with 3 Pro Bowlers from last year and the Eagles cannot afford to give Romo time. Any quarterback who has enough time to look will find an open receiver. I don't care if you have Asante Samuel or a real eagle guarding them. They also need to focus on Jason Witten at short catches and on Marion Barber's stiff arm. It will be difficult to stop the Cowboys, but it is possible.
Now if I was Wade Phillips I would intend on giving the game ball to Marion Barber because to call a lot of pass plays on the Eagles's corners is like lighting a fire in the middle of a rainstorm. It is very difficult. The Eagles have not two but three top notch corners on their roster. Asante Samuel from the Patriots in free agency, Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard. All very deadly so the slot receiver has to be very good to match up with them. The Cowboys will have to exploit the youth of the Eagles linebackers and short passes to Witten. My goal would be to minimize turnovers in this game because that was what killed them in the 10-6 loss.
Next, I would focus on the d-line. They have two important objectives for Monday. Stop Westbrook and sack McNabb. The Cowboys have had excellent success in the past at getting to McNabb, and they will need to repeat that success. If they can crush the pocket then McNabb will make a mistake and these young receivers will have to learn fast to catch up because the Cowboys cornerbacks and safeties will attack that ball and if cornerback Terence Newman plays then McNabb has his troubles doubled. When Terence Newman is healthy he plays, in my opinion, better than some Hall of Fame cornerbacks.
The d-line also has to batter the run so Westbrook can't make plays. He is one of the top fantasy picks for a reason. The Cowboys picked up Zach Thomas for guys like Westbrook. In his 12 seasons with the Dolphins he has recorded 1041 tackles. With Westbrook taken out then the defense focuses on the pass and sacking McNabb. The entire defense has to be consisitent if they want to succeed. Romo has to watch where he throws the ball and the defense has to make sure that McNabb doesn't throw it at all! It will be difficult to stop the Eagles, but it is possible.