The Philadelphia Eagles can be a dangerous bunch if a game starts to go their way, so that’s why the No. 1 priority for the Dallas Cowboys will be to score on their opening drive, and combine that with either a defensive stop or a scoring second drive.
Donovan McNabb is good at making things happen, and when he’s got a cushion to play with he tends to put up his best numbers. It all comes down to whether his team is ahead or behind though.
The Eagles haven’t lost one in 2009 when leading at the half.
Philadelphia, when ahead, completes passes for an 8.3 yard average with 12 TD’s. In contrast, it’s a 7.5 yard average with only six touchdowns when playing from behind. The rushing attack in Philly hasn’t been great this season, but it also is at its best when the team is leading.
The Eagles are a passing team with two big playmakers in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. But it all comes down to pressure. When they have to make a big play to take the lead, they usually fail. It’s when they have the lead that they make the most of their opportunities.
So, the Cowboys absolutely must come out and score on their first possession and take control early. This team is capable of putting pressure on the Eagles, who will likely fold under it.
Mike Jenkins has done a remarkable job of keeping pace with DeSean Jackson in two games between Dallas and Philadelphia this season. He has only five catches for 76 yards against the stingy Dallas defense in 2009. That’s a long reception of 32 yards, an average of 15.2 yards, and zero touchdowns.
He simply hasn’t done much against the blue star.
Jeremy Maclin has only managed to be slightly better against the Cowboys in ’09, amassing six catches for 91 yards total, but still with no touchdowns.
The second key to the Cowboys W is going to be keeping those two in front of them. As we’ve seen already the Cowboys have done well to limit the big play. Even though they’ve allowed a lot of completions underneath while locking it up deep, it’s not been enough to earn the Eagles a Dallas defeat.
In the 10 games he’s won this year, McNabb has had the benefit of good protection with only a two-sack-per-game average. But he’s sacked almost four times a game when they lose.
Of the 35 sacks McNabb has taken this season, Dallas accounts for seven of them.
That’s 50 yards given up to Dallas on sacks. In games in which he’s been sacked three or more times he’s 10/four TD/INT, but he tosses for a touchdown in every game that’s he sacked fewer than three times.
Aside from numbers, it’s just a fact that any quarterback in football will produce less when he’s pressured more, and McNabb is no exception. In fact, he might just be more prone to buckle under pressure than any other franchise quarterback in the league.
So the Cowboys need their big three pass rushers to be very active in this game. DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, and Anthony Spencer will play a huge role in determining the winner on Saturday.
That’s all the Cowboys have to do to win this game. Score early to put the ill-equipped Eagles in catch-up mode, contain Jackson and Maclin to prevent the big plays, and keep Donovan McNabb uncomfortable with pressure and knock-downs.
If we had to consider a fourth step it would undoubtedly be to protect Tony Romo. While he has been a rock over the past nine games (12 TD 3 INT 0 FUM), he is at his best when he has time to throw the ball. Plus, a nagging back injury he calls "soreness" needs to be taken care of during the game.
Overall, the Cowboys are playing their best football right now and are the only team riding a three-game winning streak in the NFC heading into round one of the playoffs.
The Eagles may very well be better than they played in week 17 at Dallas, I certainly felt that while watching the game, but in 2009 they’ve hit three rough spots. The Raiders and Cowboys have given the Eagles fits and I expect that to continue in the playoffs. Cowboys win a fairly close one.
Dallas 21 – Philadelphia 14
Read more from Bryson Treece @ DallasCowboysNation.com