Dallas Cowboys: Keys to Victory Over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17

Chad HensleyCorrespondent IDecember 26, 2008

The Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles meet Sunday for the final game of the season. 

If the Cowboys win, they are in the playoffs. If the Eagles win, they need a loss from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears to get the last wild card spot.


Keys To Victory


The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers blitzed the Cowboys constantly, overwhelming the offensive line of the Cowboys and putting great pressure on Tony Romo, causing turnovers.

I expect Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson to bring pressure on almost every play. He didn't do this in the first game, and Romo lit the Eagles' defense up. 

Johnson will have guys moving around near the line of scrimmage, so Romo and company will have a hard time figuring out who is coming.

To defend this, the offensive line and Romo must work together to figure out who is coming. Calling out the correct blocking schemes will help rookie Tashard Choice pick up the free blitzer and allow Romo an extra second or two to get the ball away.

In the Ravens game, Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett got away from keeping Choice in the backfield to help protect Romo. 

The result was Romo running for his life and getting hit on every passing down. 

Garrett must keep a back in, and even "max protect" to allow time for Romo to pass the ball.

Another thing Garrett can do to keep the pressure off Romo is to slow the defense down with screens. The Cowboys did this in the Giants game and it worked great. They got away from it in the Ravens game.

Quick slants and hitches to the big, physical receivers, Terrell Owens and Roy Williams, can also slow a blitz, as it doesn't allow time for anyone to get to the quarterback.

Garrett hasn't done this all year but it would be great if he started now.

Finding the mismatch will be tough on Sunday. The Eagles have a great secondary, so Romo will need to go to his tight ends, Jason Witten and Marcellus Bennett, and his running backs, Choice and Marion Barber III more often than not.

When they aren't staying in to block, I would throw screens to the tight ends and backs, and throw underneath and in the flat to Choice and Barber as a safety valve.

I believe the Cowboys have the biggest advantage with their tight ends and backs against the linebackers of the Eagles. I would also take any of them one-on-one with Pro Bowler Brian Dawkins, who is a step slower these days.

Finally, to set all of this up, Garrett needs to establish the running game with Choice and Barber.  

Choice has averaged 90 yards rushing in the past three games. Garrett needs to stick to the running game, even if the gain is minimal on early runs.

This will force the Eagles to stay in their base defense, which means using an extra linebacker instead of a cornerback like they would in nickel. This creates the mismatches above. 

Establishing a running game also sets up the play-action pass, slows the blitzes, and controls the clock, which tires a defense.   

If Garrett can do this, the Cowboys offense will score a ton of points on Sunday.



Stopping the Eagles offense is theoretically simple.

Don't allow Donovan McNabb to make plays out of the pocket and contain Brian Westbrook.

The only problem is that both of these guys are superior athletes.

The Cowboys had a horrible time hanging on to McNabb in the first game, and he picked the secondary apart.

They must make sure tackles, and keep contain on the outside, not allowing McNabb to escape.

To stop Westbrook, the Washington Redskins used Jason Taylor to shadow him.

I believe DeMarcus Ware could be used in this role, but Ware is also looking for the NFL sack record on Sunday.

The wide receivers for the Eagles aren't great, so there will be a lot of man coverage played by the Cowboys corners.  

This will allow a rotation of Ware and the strong safeties of Dallas to keep an eye on Westbrook. 

The Eagles get away from the running game like the Cowboys do, so I don't believe that will be a factor in this game. 


Special Teams

The Cowboys must tackle better on kickoffs and punts. 

The Cowboys are the only team without a touchback and the punting has been horrible since Matt McBriar was injured.  

The result has been losing the field position war, especially against the Giants and Ravens, who have excellent punters.


Outside the Game

The game was moved from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET so that a wider audience could watch. This will have impact on the game because the Buccaneers and Bears play at 1 p.m. ET.   

If the Bucs win, the Eagles may have a mental disadvantage in knowing that they cannot make the playoffs even if they win. 

If the Bears win, the Eagles will get an extra boost right before the game starts.


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