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Understudy Sunday: the Cowboys Outslug the Eagles 20-16

And the reserves shall lead them.

The Eagles tried to take Dallas' big play makers out of the game last night and succeeded, for the most part.  Jason WItten didn't make any big carries.  Miles Austin was near invisible for 55 minutes.  The running game produced in spurts.

While the Cowboys big names fought their big name Eagles counterparts to stalemates, the understudies, the situational guys, the rotation rookies, shouldered the load.  An understudy honor role:

-- Kevin Ogletree had a Deion Sanders-like offensive package.  He had maybe three plays on his card, and he made them count.  He ran a reverse for a sizable gain on Dallas' first scoring drive and converted two third and longs on flanker screens where he slithered and spun past Eagles defenders. 

-- Tashard Choice had his own special package, running the Cowboys' wildcat to great effect.  He followed an unbalanced scrum for an easy three yard touchdown to open the game's scoring.

-- Stephen Bowen blew up an Eagles' trap run at him on a critical 3rd-and-3 late in the first half.  Bowen kept his contain, knocked the pulling guard backwards, then stuffed LeSean McCoy for no gain.  The stop, the first of many by the Cowboys in 2nd, 3rd and 4th-and-short situations, forced the Eagles to accept a field goal, keeping Dallas in the lead at 7-6.

-- Former lead Patrick Crayton made the most of his snaps, running a 64 yard seam route just after the Eagles field goal, pushing the Cowboys halftime lead to 10-6.

-- Rookie Victor Butler continues to make more big plays per down than perhaps any player on the roster.  He hasn't seen many plays from scrimmage but he makes them count.  He settled the Panthers game with two sacks of Jake Delhomme on that game's final drive.  Last night, he kept the Eagles from answering Dallas' late TD and tying the game at 20 a piece.

With the Eagles facing a 3rd and 10 at the Dallas 38, Andy Reid called a two man route, with Jeremy Maclin running a post from the right flanker spot and DeSean Jackson running a crossing route from the split end spot against Mike Jenkins.   Dallas was playing man, with free safety Ken Hamlin rotation over to help Terence Newman and Maclin.  Strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh was in the short middle as a spy on Donovan McNabb.

McNabb floated away from the Dallas rush and had two apparent options.  He could tuck the ball and run for the first down and perhaps a score.  Sensabaugh had an angle but he was not going stop McNabb before he gained the necessary ten yards to keep the drive alive.

McNabb appeared to be rolling wide to wait for Jackson, who was breaking free from Jenkins and might have scored had he received the ball. 

It was moot, because Butler made a diving tackle of McNabb before the QB could pass or scramble.  Andy Reid took a third David Akers field goal with just under five minutes left and Philadelphia never saw the football again.

-- Roy Williams (yeah, he's an understudy too, judging from the abuse he's taken lately) showed he could provide the thunder to Miles Austin's lightning bolts.  Williams worked over all the Eagles corners, catching a 20 yard slant in front of Asante Samuel, an 11 year stop fade over Sheldon Brown and a neat 22 yard smoke route past Ellis Hobbs that helped Dallas tie the game at 13-13 early in the 4th.  The timing is coming and if we can expect 70-80 yards of dirty work in the short zones and in the middle of the field, Roy Willie will more than do his part.

-- Anthony Spencer continues to do the things that help the Cowboys win, even if he's not putting much ink on the stat sheet.  His second quarter inside charge knocked Winston Justice off of Jay Ratliff, allowing the NT to loop wide and sack Donovan McNabb.  He had two key stops on the Cowboys' mid-field stand, when the Eagles failed to convert a 2nd and 1 with the score tied early in the 4th.

These big plays by the lesser known Cowboys kept the game tied so the big names, the Romos, the Austins, the Wares and Barbers, could close it out late.  Everybody did their part tonight and these wins, the hard, 60 minute grinds over quality opponents, are far more satisfying than the blowouts like last week's.

Notes:

-- Can Tony Romo claim this as a big game?  It seems he couldn't claim the Falcons win as a big one last week.

-- Mike Jenkins wears number 21, but his play reminds me of Mel Renfro.  He's quick to recover and feels the ball belongs to him once it leaves the quarerback's hand.  His bait and pick of McNabb late in the third ignited the Cowboys comeback. 

-- Miles Austin's 49 yard game winner may have looked familiar, because it is.  Austin ran a slant and go up the left sideline against Sheldon Brown with Dallas facing a 3rd and 13.  Brown jumped at Tony Romo's pump fake and Austin got behind Brown.  The pump froze Quintin Mikel, who was underneath and the Eagles free safety, who was slow to rotate over.  Austin cut back to the center of the field and outraced Brown for the game winning score.

Jason Garrett called this exact same play for Terrell Owens in the first quarter of last year's 41-37 win over the Eagles and T.O. burned Brown and Sean Considine for a long score. 

-- The Cowboys used an unbalance line as a changeup against Atlanta two weeks ago and made it the basis of their wildcat set tonight. The Cowboys would flip RT Mark Colombo to the left side, outside Flozell AdamsLeonard Davis was the only lineman to the right of center Andre Gurode, though he was flanked by a tight end.  Davis pulled at the snap, and Tashard Choice would follow him and the other four Cowboys linemen to his left.  He scored easily behind this stampede from the Eagles' three.

The Anatomy of a Stand

Eagles, 1st and 10 at their own 46.  McNabb throws a comeback left to DeSean Jackson, who is tackled by Mike Jenkins at the Dallas 45.

2nd and 1.: The Eagles run a stretch play right for McCoy.  Marcus Spears drives Winston Justice backwards and Demarcus Ware stands up Brent Celek at the point of attack, causing McCoy to dither, waiting for a hole.  This allows Anthony Spencer to crash down from the backside and drop McCoy for no gain.

3nd and 1:  The Eagles line up in an I with two tight ends flanking Jason Peters left.  At the snap, Bobby Carpenter crashes the gap inside Peters and spins the OT laterally.  Igor Olshansky mashes one of the tight ends backwards.  McCoy tries to bull between his TE escourts but is stopped by Spencer, Gerald Sensabaugh and Bradie James a foot short of the yard marker.

4th and a foot: The Eagles attempt a McNabb sneak right.  Jay Ratliff wedges between the center and right guard.  Spears submarines under Justice and drives him backwards.  Keith Brooking flies over the pile and hammers his fists down on McNabb's back.  McNabb claims he slid over Justice's back past the first down marker but the officials rule him down where he was when Brooking pins him to his own lineman.  The measurement leaves the Eagles a foot short.

Dallas cashed out the momentum.  Austin scored four plays later and the Cowboys were gone.

Andy Reid compounded the failure by challenging the call.  He was overruled, costing the Eagles their final time out with 10:49 left in the game.  He could not stop the clock on Dallas' final drive when Marion Barber was running over and over again.

Enjoy this one, folks. It's a quality win.