I watched the Philadelphia game against Minnesota from last week to get an idea of what the Eagles are up to this year. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Eagles looked pretty much like they always do. Here’s the scouting report.
Eagles offense vs. Cowboys defense
The Eagles running game from conventional running sets and formations is not very effective. I counted over 10 times when they lined up in the I-formation, off-set I, or single tailback run formations and couldn’t run the ball effectively. I only saw three maybe four times when they ran effectively from a traditional set. They are just not a traditional running football team. No news flash there. Where they can run the ball is when they use draw plays to Brian Westbrook, which is their most effective run play. But you can count the Eagles’ screens, shovel passes and other short, high-percentage passes as part of their running game. Westbrook had a breakout run on a screen pass, and Correll Buckhalter can also run the screen. McNabb also uses both backs in the flats as a substitute for running. As always, Westbrook is the guy we have to contain, and the LB’ers have to pick him up in the flats and on screens.
The Eagles passing game was very effective against the Vikes. Then again, who hasn’t been? Even though Donovan McNabb had a statistically good game, they used a lot of short and mid-range passes to get it done. McNabb did look like he was moving fluidly in the backfield and had a couple of great throws on the move. But in general, the Eagles offensive line was providing pretty good protection, and when McNabb has time he does a good job of reading the coverage. The Vikes had success when they got a LB’er on a RB in the pass protection, and LT William Thomas had some problems in the game with bull rushes and up-and-under moves. Dallas needs to get pressure on McNabb, you can’t just let him sit back and watch him throw, but the Cowboys need to be careful with their blitzes and stunts and not lose pass rush lane integrity. They also need to watch for blitzing against a screen and getting burned.
McNabb was using the middle of the field in the passing game effectively and tried to go to his TE several times in the redzone. L.J. Smith is back from injury and could be a weapon against Dallas although he didn’t do much in the game. They also used the shovel pass in the redzone to Westbrook for a TD. Also, as well as McNabb played, the Eagles got a couple of great catches at opportune times, I’m not sure their WR’s can make those kinds of plays consistently. WR Reggie Brown finally had a breakout game, and teamed with Kevin Curtis can cause problems.
Eagles defense vs. Cowboys offense
The Eagles run defense was outstanding against the Vikings. Their front four was having success in penetrating the line and causing timing disruptions in the backfield. It was obvious the Eagles didn’t have a lot of respect for the Vikings passing game and they were run-blitzing and shooting linebackers into every gap. They also were rolling the SS up to the line a lot. If the Cowboys can establish a little running game, the play-action pass could become a useful weapon later in the game. Early in the game the Vikings were able to generate some yards running at the left-side of the Eagles defense, but for the most part the Eagles were stuffing the run. Against the Cowboys they might not be able to be so aggressive with the LB’ers because Dallas can throw the ball, so we’ll have to watch how they play it. One thing that really benefited the Eagles run defense was sure tackling, including their secondary.
The Vikings aren’t a great passing team but they were able to exploit the middle of the Eagles pass defense. Part of playing your LB’ers so aggressively against the run is the pass defense over the middle suffers. The Vikes, especially the TE, were able to continually exploit the opening. OLB Chris Gocong had troubles covering guys and Jason Witten could have a huge day against Philly. The Eagles were running zone-blitzes and this had some effect in confusing the Vikings offensive line. They like to play with the A-gap on the blitz, sometimes bringing a guy through, other times faking it and bringing a CB on a blitz. Other times, they brought both. Andre Gurode, Kyle Kosier and Leonard Davis have to be strong up the middle and the running backs have to read the blitzes and pick up the right guys. Watch the CB blitz, it was effective against the Vikings.
The guy you really have to watch is DE Trent Cole. In the game he split a double-team block from the LT and the TE and went right through for a sack. Later he used a speed rush to get another sack. He also is good against the run and trapped Adrian Peterson in the backfield once. We have got to get Cole blocked. Surprisingly, Javon Kearse didn’t do much of notice until the end of the game when he got an easy sack. Finally, the Eagles secondary was jumping routes all over the place, if the Cowboys can run some pump fakes or double-moves, they could hit a big play.
On defense, watch Westbrook wherever he goes. The Eagles have a ton of formations and run some non-traditional running plays. The Cowboys need to be aggressive on the front line, but they have to be smart and not over-commit. Screens, draws and plays like those are the Eagles lifeblood. Rush McNabb, but keep pocket integrity. Make their WR’s and TE’s be the guys that beat you.
On offense, strength up front in the middle of the line is key. You can’t let the Eagles exploit the A-gap in their blitzes, and keep an eye on the CB blitz. Try to establish a semblance of a running game and then use the play-action later. Utilize Jason Witten to his fullest in the middle of the field where the Eagles had trouble in coverage.