The Scouting Report this week is an abridged version. I didn’t even bother to tape the Eagles game from last week because there’s very little mystery involved with playing Philly. We see them twice a year and the unit their putting on the field Sunday is pretty much the same as it has been. Donovan McNabb is back, unlike the game late in the year last year when Jeff Garcia abused us. The supporting cast is also very familiar so I’ll just go through some basic points.
Eagles offense vs. Cowboys defense
You can’t hope to stop him, so you can only hope to contain him – I’m talking about Brian Westbrook. He can beat you in the run game or just as easily in the passing game. He’s definitely their main threat on offense. The Eagles don’t run as well out of traditional sets so watch for Westbrook to get the ball in the shotgun formation, or on a variety on draws, delays, and screens. The Cowboys linebackers have to play sideline-to-sideline this week and not lose contain on Westbrook. Philly has surely looked at the game tape from our last few games and determined that you can run on the Cowboys if you’ve got the right gameplan and the right execution. Run defense is still our strength, but in the NFL if you show even the smallest crack in the foundation teams will attack it. The Cowboys defense needs to prove that the Lions game was an aberration and shut down the Eagles running attack. Last week, the Cowboys were over-pursuing and running themselves out of plays. They need a more disciplined effort this week, especially against the shifty Westbrook.
Donovan McNabb hasn’t been the same since the injury of last year. I’m not talking about physically, although that has been a problem, but his game isn’t as sharp and there’s talk in Philly that he’s playing scared, that he’s afraid to take chances. We’ll see, but he’s always turned his game up a notch for the Cowboys in the past. The problem is the Eagles still don’t have any elite players for him to use in the passing game besides Westbrook. Back when McNabb was playing at an elite level, he could elevate his receiving corps – of course they also had T.O. for time – but now with his game not where it used to be, McNabb and his receivers are very average. Kevin Curtis is a great #2 guy, but he’s not playing with a #1. Reggie Brown, who I guess is the #1, is an inconsistent receiver. TE L.J. Smith is another guy whose reputation doesn’t seem to match the stats.
Eagles defense vs. Cowboys offense
On the defensive side of the ball the Eagles will never change as long as Jim Johnson is the coordinator. They’re going to be aggressive and they are going to try and exploit the A-gaps with blitzes more than a couple of times. They will also bring defensive backs on the blitz from the edges and they do it very well. The Eagles defense will have one thing on their mind; disrupt the play of Tony Romo by any means necessary. Sack him, hit him, pressure him, force him to keep backs and TE’s in for protection, anything that can knock him out of his normal routine. By now, I think most NFL teams would rather take their chances with the Cowboys running game instead of facing their high-powered passing attack.
The Cowboys have a couple of things going in their favor that they didn’t have previous to this year when facing the Eagles. Tony Romo has now seen this defense, the Eagles version and the Giants’ knockoff version, four times now. He should have a pretty good idea of what’s coming although I’m sure there will be a few new wrinkles. The Cowboys are also much stronger up the middle than they have been in previous years. Leonard Davis replacing Marco Rivera is a huge upgrade and Andre Gurode is playing at a very high level. If they need to help Kyle Kosier they can do it now. If Dallas can shutdown the interior blitz and force everything to come from the outside, Romo will have a nice pocket to step up in and throw.
The Eagles secondary is good and allows them to play the aggressive blitz-happy scheme they employ. But Dallas has so many weapons that if the defense doesn’t get to Romo he should be able to do what he’s been doing all year.
Stop Westbrook, or at least contain him, and force McNabb and his receivers to raise their game to score points. Based on how they’ve been doing so far, it will be a tall task, On offense, get the middle-blitz blocked and allow Romo time to survey the field and step up into the pocket.