The Philadelphia Eagles we'll see on Monday is not the same team we saw earlier in the season. Just like we are a different team with Tony Romo, they are a different team with Jeff Garcia. In our case, it turned a struggling team into a contender. In their case...it turned a struggling team into a contender. That's right, at the end of the Tennessee game when McNabb got hurt; the Eagles were 5-5. After getting plastered the next week by the Colts, Garcia has them on a three game win streak and on the doorstep of the division. But the Cowboys stand in that doorway, so let's check out what kind of team the Cowboys will be facing. I reviewed the Eagles/Giants game from the weekend and this is what I saw.
With Garcia at the helm, the Eagles will dink and dunk you to death. Make a box from hash-mark to hash-mark and extend it about 8-yards from the line of scrimmage, and it's a good bet that's where his passes are going. Garcia doesn't possess a big arm so he's not going to challenge you deep, but he's extremely accurate on the short to intermediate throws and he's very good at reading the defense. He's still got good mobility and can escape pressure while still making a play, with his arm or his feet. When the Eagles want a pass on the edges of the field they'll roll Garcia out. The Eagles receivers - especially Westbrook - were pretty good about picking up some much-needed YAC. Garcia also spreads the ball out well among his targets. In some ways, he's not unlike Tony Romo, although Romo possesses a better arm and better touch on the long ball. One thing Garcia does not do is throw interceptions.
The Cowboys have a choice; they can play aggressive by shortening the LB drops in coverage and pushing up with the SS into the middle of the field. This will take away the dump reads that Garcia likes to use and force him to make longer throws and passes out beyond the hash-mark. Or they can stay back, rely on good tackling and force the Eagles to use long marches to get points, keeping all pass plays in front of the secondary. If I was Dallas, I would be more aggressive. I watched the Giants play the passive approach and they eventually got beat. I think its key to make Garcia throw passes he's not comfortable with. He also can get happy feet if you put pressure on him while keeping him in the pocket, something the Cowboys did pretty well against Mike Vick last week. When Garcia gets happy feet, his mechanics breakdown and his passing is not as accurate.
Believe it or not, the Eagles do run the ball and they ran it effectively against the Giants. What's surprising is that when they run their standard hand-offs to Westbrook or Correll Buckhalter, it usually straight up the gut. They occasionally pitch it wide to Westbrook or run off-tackle, but they like their backs to get north/south in the running game immediately. Maybe it was because it was working, but they repeatedly went up the middle against the Giants run defense. If they want to run outside, they usually just use a swing pass or a screen pass. Westbrook can be murder in the flats and Dallas has had trouble containing that area of the field. Thomas Tapeh is their FB, so he might be end up being a fantasy football pick-up this week with the way Dallas has handled the FB over the past two weeks.
On defense, the Eagles are soft against the run. They are very fast to the edges but can be victimized by misdirection or simple cutbacks. The Giants had some success with this early, but for some reason got away from the run as the game wore on. If I'm the Cowboys, I would stick with the run because the Eagles defense can be gashed by running counters and other misdirection runs. They also had plays when the middle is open because the defensive tackles couldn't hold their space, Dallas has a big offensive line and they me be able to wear down the Eagles defense by running straight at them.
The Eagles still blitz a lot on defense and they do it mostly from the inside. They like to overload a gap with a couple of LB's or with a safety and try to create a jail-break up the middle. We all remember how well that worked for them in the first game. It was still pretty effective for them against the Giants. But lately, the Cowboys line has done a much better job with blocking down on blitzes and forcing the free rusher to come from the outside, where the backs can pick them up. Tony Romo is quick to escape the pocket and throws well on the run, so this might not hurt us as bad as it did in the first game.
Garcia throws short and over the middle very well. Dallas should press its coverage forward to take away his first reads and force Garcia into longer throws and throws to the edges. Without McNabb's arm, Philadlephia doesn't have the quick strike abiltity deep so Dallas can gamble some. They need to keep him in the pocket. Philadelphia also likes to pass on first down, so the Cowboys need to watch that trend during the game.
When the Eagles run the ball, they like to go up the gut. Jason Ferguson will be a key on defense, along with Spears and Canty. On handoffs, they need to pinch to the middle. If the Eagles want to run outside, they'll often use a screen or a swing pass in the flats, or a pitch to Westbrook. The Cowboys have to play better in this area than they have in the last two games.
The Dallas offensive line has to protect the middle on the blitzes. If they force the rush to come from the outside, Romo can more effectively deal with it.
Run the ball early and often. The Eagles run defense has been very porous over the last month, so take advantage of that. The Eagles couldn't cover Jeremy Shockey, so they may have the same problem with Jason Witten.
Watch out for the T.O. factor. After getting snubbed by the Pro Bowl voting, he gets a national stage on Christmas to torment his former team and show everybody they were wrong. These are just the kind of things that make him excel.