The second game on Saturday of Wild-card Weekend pits two teams that are extremely familiar with one another as this will be the third time they meet this season. In the 8:00 P.M. start in Dallas, the 11-5 Eagles will try to avoid being swept by the 11-5 Cowboys after dropping the second game of the season series 24-0 last week.
This loss was devastating to Philadelphia, as it dropped them from the No. 2 seed and a week off to the No. 6 seed and another trip to Cowboys Stadium to face one of the hottest teams heading into the post season.
In last week’s game, Dallas relied on running back Marion Barber and a punishing rushing attack along with a stifling defense to completely shut the Eagles down. This game was never close as the Cowboys took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards in nine plays for a touchdown.
The seven points were all they really needed as Philadelphia’s big play offense was totally negated by a persistent pass rush that hounded Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb all day long and a secondary that held All-Pro wide receiver DeSean Jackson to just three receptions for 47 yards.
When Philadelphia did move the ball deep into Dallas territory, the turnovers, penalties, and a missed field goal never allowed them to put any points on the board.
Dallas, on the other hand, could basically do no wrong.
Quarterback Tony Romo hit his receivers in stride while Barber and Felix Jones were able to break tackles, turning short yardage plays into big gains. Wide receiver Miles Austin had a big day, catching seven balls for 90 yards, and tight end Jason Witten added six receptions for 76 yards and a TD as the Eagles were unable to put any real pressure on Romo, allowing him to pick their secondary apart.
Coming into last week’s game, Philadelphia had won six straight and appeared ready to make another serious Super Bowl run. For the most part they have remained healthy, but did lose their starting center Jamaal Jackson in the game against Denver, which has already proven to be a huge hole to fill.
If they are to have any chance to win this week, his replacement, Nick Cole is going to have to play much better than he did in last week’s game. The strength of this team relies on the offense’s ability to make big plays and the defense’s ability to be a disruptive force through an elaborate series of blitz schemes.
Neither one of these elements were present last week.
Dallas has been dogged all year long as underachievers. When December rolled around and they lost the first two games of the month, most, if not all of the critics wrote them off for the year.
Behind a solid defense and running game they have built momentum from a three game winning streak that is going to be hard for any team to stop. Now that they have exercised the demons of past late season swoons, they still have one more to go—winning a playoff game.
Romo and the ‘Boys appear ready to move past this obstacle as well.
For Philadelphia, they need to quickly put last week behind them and get back to doing all the things that got them into the playoffs in the first place.
On offense, they have to run the ball effectively, protect McNabb better, and put the fear of the deep ball back into the hearts of the Dallas defenders. On defense they have to stop the run and get after Romo.
For Dallas, all they simply need to do is execute last week’s game plan one more time.
If Barber and Jones can chew up yards on the ground it will open up the short passing lanes for Romo to find his receivers, just like before. Defensively, they have to keep McNabb in the pocket so he cannot extend plays long enough to find someone open down field.
In the NFL, it is extremely hard for any team to beat another three times in one season, especially when they know each other so well. This game will be much closer this time around as Philadelphia’s playoff experience will work to negate the Cowboys' momentum.
I’ll take the EAGLES and the four points in a game that goes OVER the total.