For those with a football mindset, the Next Game is always the Biggest Game. But aside from that general truism, let me attempt to build a case that this Sunday's joust with the Eagles specifically is the biggest game to date of the Jason Garrett Era.
It will not be JG's first game against a divisional foe, or against an NFC East leader, for that matter. That November 21 road win over the Giants in JG's debut met those specs.
But the coaching change that preceded that game created a novelty and a hyper-enthusiasm that made it atypical. Don't misunderstand; it was a great, and fully deserved win. But that "newness," along with the possibility the Giants underestimated the then 1-7 Cowboys, cannot be ignored.
Beating the Lions was nice. But hardly a signature win. Hasn't every team since the Earth cooled beaten the visiting Lions?
The frustrating Thanksgiving loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Saints was just that. Frustrating. And a loss. I'm not into "moral victories."
And can we be honest about the overtime win over the Colts? Indy has now lost four of its last five. In their current, depleted state, the Colts are not a good football team. The Cowboys had every reason to win that game. Dallas should have won that game. It was a nightmare matchup for the thin, undersized, can't-run-the-ball and can't-stop-the-run Colts.
Which brings us to this Sunday against the "Iggles." Ooh, baby. This is a big one. And the most valid measuring stick yet to determine how much growth the Cowboys have achieved under Garrett. Who knows what these teams' respective situations and attitudes will be when they play again in Philly in the season finale January 2? Nope, it's this meeting that should tell us as fans what we want to know. Dallas is hot, motivated, focused and playing at home. At 8-4, the Eagles are in a nose-to-nose race with the Giants atop the NFC East. (Remember, Philly currently holds the tiebreaker over the G-men by virtue of the Birds' 27-17 home win three weeks ago. They'll meet again December 19 at The Meadowlands.) Philadelphia will be ready to play, and still stinging from the three beat-downs the 'Boys gave them last season.
The Eagles and Vick will stretch the Dallas defense on every axis. Philadelphia arguably has the most overall offensive team speed in the league, paced by dragsters DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean MCoy. Dallas doesn't dare blitz Vick on more than a handful of snaps. He'll win that duel. Bitzing means playing man coverage behind it. Man coverage means DBs running with their backs turned to Vick. That means he runs for 85 yards and is money on third down conversions.
The Cowboys' ability to match Philly's offensive explosiveness is damaged somewhat by the loss of Dez Bryant, both from scrimmage and in the kicking game. Miles Austin, in particular, needs to turn in a big numbers. Jon Kitna, while he has played more than competently, will be under consistent pressure to get the ball out of his hand quickly. In last year's regular season finale, followed by a playoff win six days later, Dallas rushed for 179 and 198 yards, respectively. It'll take something close to that for the 'Boys to get it done this time.
This is a very big game. And not just because it's the next game. This will give us a more accurate read on the current state of our team than any of the other previous four games under JG.
One footnote: It's Tuesday as I post this. And, if anything, I'm taking the passing of Don Meredith more painfully today than I did even yesterday. A gentle goodbye to the coolest Cowboy ever.