I was really interested in what kind of Scouting Report I could get out of watching the Eagles play the Rams on my Tivo. The game was so lopsided and the highlights I'd seen were so ridiculous that I didn't know how much real information I could get out of it. Besides, we've seen this same Eagles offense and defense for close to a decade now, it's not like it's going to change much. On the lopsided point, I was amazed at how bad the Rams were, I mean really bad, they stunk in all phases of the game. It's going to be a very long season for them unless they get a miracle turnaround. On the point of the Eagles looking the same, they did in scheme and they did in effectiveness, they made plays all over the field. So in this blowout, how much of it was the Rams and how much of it was the Eagles? Unknown right now, but we'll find out Monday.
In the passing game, Donovan McNabb looked very sharp. His throws were on time and on target and he took advantage of every mistake that the Rams made. That's what a good football player does, takes advantage of the opponent's mistakes and then adds in some plays made on his own. McNabb did that. But, he was operating under very favorable conditions. The Rams pass rush was bad and Donovan had time like Romo did against the Browns and had similar results. He also was facing a secondary that couldn't cover a $10 bar tab with a $20 bill. One example; with about one minute left in the first half and the Eagles facing a third and eight on their own 10-yard line, Donovan McNabb dropped back to pass. Hank Baskett ran a simple stutter-step and go pattern down the sideline while another receiver ran a go down the seam. The Rams had one guy back deep on that side to cover two receivers running a go route on a third and eight with time running down in the half. I mean seriously, how an NFL defense gets in that kind of position in that situation is mind-boggling. The inevitable happened, Baskett goes 90 yards for a TD and the score is 21-0 in at halftime. Now, you have to credit the Eagles players for making the play, but it couldn't have been more gift-wrapped for them. This may be the most egregious example in the game, but while the Eagles WR's put up phenomenal stats, the game had all the challenge of a 7-on-7 drill.
One curious note about the Eagles offense that probably indicates the uniquely bad play of the Rams secondary in the game, Brian Westbrook had two catches for one yard in the game. They didn't need his ability underneath because the Rams secondary blew coverages on a regular basis. Donovan just picked them apart. Against the Cowboys secondary, they won't have WR's running free behind the safeties so I would expect more passes to Westbrook to draw the Cowboys up, and then try for the homeruns. DeSean Jackson was pretty impressive, but again, the Rams gave him favorable conditions. He was getting a free release off the line all the time. Jackson is a small receiver and the Rams didn't even attempt to knock him off his routes at the line. The Cowboys should absolutely look to rough him up.
Westbrook was very effective in the running game, but never busted off one of his highlight runs. When McNabb is in the shotgun they still run the delay handoff to Westbrook up the gut. If the Cowboys are planning on getting after McNabb with the defensive line and shoot the gaps, then Zach and Bradie need to diagnose this run play immediately and fill the hole. When McNabb is under center, they still run a standard off-tackle play that was effective against the Rams. DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis can't get caught inside on the play.
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After watching the tape, I have a hard time believing that the Eagles WR's will have that kind of success against the Cowboys secondary. The Eagles will have to rely more on Westbrook in the passing game to open up the field and make plays. L.J. Smith can also create problems over the middle of the field, putting the linebackers in a bind of getting deep drops to deal with him, or getting up to the line to stop Westbrook's runs. The Cowboys have to get some pressure on McNabb, the Rams were so deficient in this area that even a good cover secondary would have struggled to keep up with the receivers in that game.
Basically, this game was anomaly because the Eagles offense relied on some marginal receivers (besides Jackson who we don't know enough about) to dominate a game. Expect the Eagles to play more to form against the Cowboys; lots of work for Westbrook with McNabb making some plays in the passing game.
The Eagles defense dominated the Rams offense, and they did it in traditional Eagles style, get after the QB. The Rams offensive line against the Eagles standard pass rush was competitive, although the Eagles were getting the better of it. But when the Eagles brought their blitzes, it was all over. The Rams offensive line, tight ends and running backs were simply overwhelmed in pass protection and Philly players were getting free runs at Bulger. I can't count the number of third and longs where Bulger threw short because he couldn't even get back into a full drop before the rush was on him. The Rams pass protection schemes were abysmal. When the Eagles go to the ‘A' gap blitz with two guys hovering over the center, the Cowboys have to know someone is coming off the edge. You either have to fan the protection and leave the tackle/tight end free to pick someone up while using the running back to help with the middle blitzers, or pinch down and make absolutely sure your running back knows he has to pick up the outside blitzer. The Rams never figured this out.
The Rams never did commit to the running game, even though early on they had some moderate success. Once they started losing, they went more and more to the pass even though they were in the game, only down 14 until right before the half. Big mistake. The Eagles simply teed-off on Bulger, sacking him four times, hitting him on numerous other occasions and forcing him to throw short repeatedly. There was one spot where the Rams found some success, TE Randy McMichael over the middle. It's likely the Cowboys will try to exploit this even more with Jason Witten.
The Cowboys do not want to get into a situation where the Eagles are using their pass rush to dominate the game. The Cowboys offensive line is very, very good, but this will be a great test for them to show if they are truly dominant. The challenge is much bigger this week. If the Cowboys line can neutralize the Eagles blitz and this will require physical skill, but more importantly, will require disciplined protection schemes; then the Cowboys offensive weapons will find holes in the Eagles secondary. And Tony Romo will find them.
The game on offense comes down to how well the Cowboys pass protection holds up. A lot of games are decided by that, but it's even more imperative this week. The Eagles main weapon on defense is their blitz. Running the ball effectively would be a help, but the Cowboys will have to pass some to win, and those plays will be the deciding factor.