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The VRR: Cowboys Will Take a Team-First Approach into Philadelphia

The numbers 44-6 still have a sting to them, but this Dallas team is different from the last one that management fielded against the Eagles.

"That was a low point that everybody still tastes, everybody remembers," Jerry Jones said Sunday evening. "We brought it on ourselves, more so than anything else, and we’ll remember that as we go back up and play in a similar situation."

While the Cowboys seem to be benefiting from a growing team chemistry, they are also much healthier going into this game.

Some things are clearly different now, such as Miles Austin. The only time he touched the ball against the Eagles was on kickoff returns. That night, at least, there were a lot of them.

"We have a lot of other new faces here," Jones countered. "Just add them up." He chose to add up faces that have healed. "I think Romo is healthier and better than he was against Philadelphia," Jones said. "I think Marion Barber is healthier. I think Felix Jones is healthier."

Romo’s thumb had mostly healed by late December, but point taken. Barber was bothered at the end of last season by a sore toe, and he carried only three times in the finale against the Eagles. Felix was out.

More VRR after the jump.

The Eagles, though, have attained some new weapons for themselves - particularly on offense.

As if one outstanding dual-purpose running back wasn’t enough in Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia added second-round pick LeSean McCoy (294 yards, 4.2 average). McNabb has a dependable target in tight end Brent Celek (37 catches), but wideouts DeSean Jackson and rookie Jeremy Maclin worry Dallas the most. Jackson has five TDs this season (three receiving, one punt return and one rushing) that have covered 50-plus yards. Dallas coach Wade Phillips was asked how he plans to contain Jackson.

"Help, help," Phillips said. "You got to get some help on him. They know that. We know that. You get a guy like that who makes a lot of big plays, you’ve got to have somebody else looking for him other than a corner."

It's no secret that the Eagles WR DeSean Jackson is their most dynamic player. I'm not so sure Dallas will just stick one guy on him, as this article suggests.

Who has to stop him? Terence Newman followed Steve Smith all over the field when the Cowboys played Carolina and limited him to four catches for 38 yards. Newman could draw Jackson this week. Newman has a team-high three forced fumbles this season.

Newman took the team-first approach in addressing the subject of him covering Jackson.

"I don’t know. You’ll have to ask the coaches. I’ll do whatever they tell me to do," Newman said when asked about the possibility. The cornerback also said he has no preference when the coaches notify him of the plan. "It doesn’t matter. You just go out and play. If that’s something they want me to do, I’ll definitely do it."

Matt Mosely on Jackson.

One longtime NFC pro personnel scout told me recently that it's Jackson's ability to stutter-step and then be at full speed within about four strides that separates him from most receivers in the league. Asked recently if he'd coached a weapon as potent as Jackson, Eagles coach Andy Reid referenced Terrell Owens and Brian Westbrook. But he quickly returned to Jackson.

The Cowboys have yet to be fooled by the Wildcat this year. With Michael Vick coming in at times for the Eagles, the Dallas defense must still be aware of how well Philly uses the formation.

According to stats compiled by Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News, the Eagles have rushed for 163 yards on 40 carries out of the Wildcat. They have rushed for 639 yards on 127 carries out of their standard sets. Vick has rushed for 26 yards on 10 carries out of the Wildcat.

Brian Westbrook will play on Sunday night.

Coach Andy Reid made the announcement on Wednesday afternoon that barring any setbacks in practice, his starting running back is good to go for Dallas.

JJT and Geoff Mosher go over both teams' keys for success, and predict a 24-17 Eagles victory.

BGN previews the game here.

Wouldn't it be great if Patrick Crayton could seal another victory via punt return?

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no professional player has ever returned a punt for a touchdown in three consecutive games.

The ST coverage units have been consistently tackling returners all season. Nick Eatman notes how competitive the special teamers' numbers are.

Checking out the special teams tackles, there’s a competition brewing for the team lead with three guys tied with 12 tackles. Alan Ball, Patrick Watkins and Sam Hurd each have a dozen stops while covering kicks, and watch out for rookie Victor Butler, who is right there with 11. Deon Anderson and Steve Octavien each have seven each.

Coach Phillips is having fun working with this group of Cowboys. With each week, the team grows more into its "blue-collar" mentality.

"They are hard workers, and we have a lot of guys that play a role," Phillips said. "Whatever it is, they accept it, and they try to do really well at their role. So I think that's a good sign for our team."

Phillips has coached plenty of stars, including hall of famers John Elway, Bruce Smith and Jim Kelly. While he enjoyed them all, he's clearly having plenty of fun guiding a team that lacks a bona fide superstar.

"It's fun to have guys that are not big ego guys and are very team-oriented," Phillips said. "... This is a good group to coach. They do what you ask, and that's what you want as a coach. If you emphasize something or if you are quote on them about something, they try to do better. That's what you ask."

Team play is emphasized at every turn. In Sunday's 38-17 win over Seattle, Romo completed passes to 10 different targets, and five different players scored touchdowns. Afterward, nobody complained about not getting the ball enough.

Doug Free's play last week was encouraging for the coaches. Is this something we can expect more of?

At some point, the Cowboys have to find out what they have in the 25-year-old Free. They've tried to replace Adams, 34, the last few years but draft picks Pat McQuistan and James Marten, who's no longer with the team, haven't panned out. Meanwhile, Free has emerged as the backup to Adams.

"I think it's important for us. That's why we played him some," coach Wade Phillips said of Free. "I just think if a guy ... if he practices good enough and is good enough to play, then he deserves to get in the game sometimes. It helps his attitude and the confidence in the team in that guy when they see him do some good things."

Evidently, Miles Austin did get a tad banged up in the Seattle game, but nothing worrisome.

Receiver Miles Austin emerged with a sore groin, but that is not expected to limit his participation in practice.

It's doubtful we will see Austin's name on the injury report this week.

Either way, it doesn't look like Austin will be bothered by the groin this week. It didn't sound like an issue at all on Wednesday.

"It's alright, yeah," the receiver said.

The Dallas defeat of Seattle led to some big changes up in the Pacific Northwest.

Head coach Jim Mora Jr. reportedly ripped into his team following the team's 38-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys this past Sunday and chose words that intimated changes could be on the horizon for 2-5 Seattle. Cornerback Travis Fisher, who had five tackles in four games this season, was released Monday -- joined by (Edgerrin) James and safety C.J. Wallace a day later. Wallace made three stops in five games prior to his release Tuesday.

While broadcasting a Chargers game in 2002, Troy Aikman received a call from Andy Reid. Apparently, Reid wanted Aikman to come out of retirement to fill in for Donovan McNabb, who had just broken his ankle.

"Andy was giving me all the reasons why this would be good, why this would work," said Aikman, who was 35 at the time and had retired from the Cowboys after winning three Super Bowls in large part because of concussion problems.

The Philadelphia situation was all happening too fast for Aikman, who explained to Reid he was in the middle of a broadcast and promised to call after the game. Aikman had plenty of time to chat too, because he and his wife were driving from San Diego to their home in Santa Barbara for a mini-vacation. When Aikman dialed back Reid, the quarterback said he wanted to sleep on the decision but promised to call the coach the next day. By the time he reached Santa Barbara, Aikman had a pretty good idea which way he was leaning.

"So I went to bed that night and said, 'I can wake up tomorrow and spend a nice couple of days in Santa Barbara. Or, I can be in frigid Philadelphia getting my brains kicked in,' " he said. The next day, he called Reid and politely declined the offer.

Dancing With the Stars says, "you are the weakest link, goodbye" to Michael Irvin.

Irvin says that he recently offered advice to both Roy Williams and Miles Austin. Austin seemed the more receptive.

Ostensibly, Irvin stressed the importance of knowing the snap count and getting off the line; according to Irvin, Austin's receptiveness, and Williams disregard, was evident last Sunday against Seattle. On one play, Irvin said, Austin was four yards ahead of Williams after 12 yards, indicating that the former got off the line quicker and, presumably, did so at least in part due to the Hall of Famer's advice.

Put this in your backpocket for some offseason Cowboys-related reality TV.

When Free Reign -- the metal rock band featuring Dallas Cowboys Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis and Cory Procter -- joins WWEer Chris Jericho's Fozzy in a spring tour to promote Free Reign's new CD, "Tragedy," you can follow from your couch. Production house Go Go Luckey! ("Laguna Beach") will film for a reality series it'll soon shop to various networks.

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