Mike Zimmer and Bill Parcells did go exotic with their second half coverage schemes yesterday, and the confusion it created prevented the Eagles offense from finding an effective rhythm.
The Cowboys had started the game in a nickel set. After stepping out to an early 14-0 lead, the defense went back into its base 3-4 scheme for much of the first half. The defense probably thought an Eagles attack that has ignored the run might try to use some Brian Westbrook carries to turn their fortunes around. The Cowboys had made previously-pedestrian runners like Kevin Barlow and Lamont Jordan look good and wanted to make sure Westbrook didn't break out at their expense.
Once the Dallas lead ballooned to 27-3 and Philly stayed in their pass-all -the-time mode, Zimmer decided that if Andy Reid had forgotten the run, he would too. In the second half, Dallas unveiled yet another strange version of the 4-2-5 nickel package. In this case, Terence Newman lined up as the weakside linebacker, with Aaron Glenn and Anthony Henry outside him and with Roy Williams and Keith Davis providing deep help. (Dallas did not allow their safeties to be isolated after Westbrook just missed a long TD reception on Willie Pile in the second quarter.) Newman matched up well againt Terrell Owens and took away his favorite option, which is working the middle of the field out of the slot.
Some folks on the threads have remarked that Newman put his hand down on the play where he blitzed and sacked McNabb. He was able to do that because he played much of the middle quarters in the box.
When the Eagles got into third and long, Zimmer brought his dime package in, removing Bradie James an adding corner Jacques Reeves. Reeves was assigned Westbrook, meaning the Dallas had corners man-to-man against every Eagles' receiver and running back. They let the safeties cover the linebackers. The extra CBs meant Philly could not create a speed mismatch anywhere in the second half.
To top it off, Zimmer finally unwrapped a few wild blitzes, showing that he has developed some confidence in his coverage packages. In the third quarter, the Eagles faced a third and long and went to an empty backfield, with four receivers and Westbrook split wide on the right. Dallas inverted its coverage, lining both safeties, Roy Williams and Keith Davis, outside the DEs as blitzing linebackers. Newman took T.O. one-on-one in the slot. Bradie James motioned wide with Westbrook and at the snap was lined up as a cornerback, eight yards off the ball. Opposite James, also eight yards off the ball, was Henry. Corners Glenn and Reeves (who has played safety in nickel and dime packages) were back in the safety slots, with each covering a deep half.
The logical option for McNabb would has been Westbrook, lined up against a linebacker in space. But McNabb never had the time to locate him, as Davis and Williams met in the backfield, with Williams claiming the sack.
McNabb is injured, but he still has more mobility than Eli Manning. If Zimmer and his guys are feeling cocky enough to throw coverages like this at a salty vet like Donovan McNabb, Manning should expect to see even more crazy blitzes on Sunday.