Cowboys Defense vs. Eagles Offense
The Eagles offense has injury problems that could greatly alter the landscape of this game. QB Donovan McNabb's two biggest weapons are RB Brian Westbrook, who is questionable for the game, and WR Donte Stallworth, who is doubtful. Early in the week the consensus was that Westbrook would play, but as the week has gone on his status has become less certain. Stallworth is looking more and more like he won't play. For analysis sake, I'm assuming Westbrook will play and Stallworth will not.
Westbrook is an all-purpose back who has given the Cowboys defense fits over the years. Some of his biggest plays come when a defense is aggressive and the Eagles toss the ball to Westbrook out in space. I'm guessing the Cowboys defense will not be overly aggressive in dealing with Eagles offense. Dallas tends to play a disciplined 3-4 defense, without a lot of blitzing and exotic coverages. Expect that to continue as they will try to bottle-up Westbrook.
The downside to playing a conservative defense is the time it will give McNabb in the pocket, who is having a terrific season. He is also capable of beating teams with his legs so this creates the problem of whether to be aggressive and try to sack him versus playing conservative and keeping him in the pocket. Dallas will opt to play a little conservative and see if McNabb can beat them through the air. WR's Greg Lewis and Reggie Brown are not talented enough to beat CB's Terence Newman and Anthony Henry in the passing game; this will force McNabb to rely on TE L.J. Smith and Westbrook.
The Cowboys had problems covering the Titans TE's last week, so this will be a match-up the Eagles will try to exploit. Roy Williams has improved his pass coverage this year but it may not be enough to hang with L.J. Smith. The Eagles would also be smart to get Westbrook isolated in the flats against OLB Greg Ellis, who simply doesn't have the speed and agility to stop Westbrook. If Dallas slides Roy Williams over to help, then L.J. Smith could end up in coverage against LB's, a losing proposition for the Cowboys. Another solution for the Cowboys would be to use OLB Kevin Burnett more in this game and give him responsibility of covering Westbrook.
The Eagles have a good offensive line and could create trouble for the Cowboys in the running game. The best defense against the Eagles running game is Eagles HC Andy Reid. Reid is insistent on passing the ball and the Eagles do that about 70% of the time. But in a game where they have injuries at CB and WR, the Eagles might want to control the ball and the clock, so they could turn to their running game more. The health of Westbrook will have a lot to do with that decision, as will the confidence they have in RB Correll Buckhalter. My guess is they will try to establish the run early in this game, and use it as much as possible to keep the Cowboys offense off the field. Expect to see a rotation of Eagles running backs as they try to establish the running game.
As mentioned before, the Eagles WR's minus Stallworth are not talented enough to threaten the Cowboys' corners deep. The Eagles WR's will be utilized in the short passing game and as decoys to clear out zones for L.J. Smith and Brian Westbrook. This strategy means the Eagles will have to be very efficient on 3rd down to sustain drives without the benefit of quick strikes. Donovan McNabb will have to continue to not throw interceptions and the Eagles skill players can't fumble the ball. If the Eagles have problems with turnovers, it's unlikely that they could recover.
Overall, Dallas will play a conservative defense, will tailor their coverages to handle Westbrook and Smith, and force the Eagles to put together drives with lots of 3rd downs. They will not allow the Eagles to get quick strike TD's and will play a lot of Cover-2 with emphasis on controlling the intermediate routes. When they blitz, which shouldn't be often, they will come up the middle with Roy Williams and Bradie James. Expect Dallas to form a containing wall around McNabb and let the pressure come up the middle.