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Cowboys vs. Eagles: Throw Objectivity Out The Window

In normal circumstances, I am able to maintain a good amount of objectivity, even when it comes to something I feel as passionately about as NFL football, and the Cowboys in particular. In fact, my position as a writer for BTB has helped this, as it has allowed (nay, forced) me to keep a critical distance from the on-the-field proceedings, as I concentrate on such things as offensive formations and defensive substitution packages. That said, any and all objectivity goes out the window during Eagles Iggles Fecals week. Simply put: I hate dem green birds. Dave started this week off with what I'd consider the ultimate Philly week post--and for me, it stands as the last word. Philadelphia has become THE rival, and then some. Dave aptly stated that Washington is no longer good enough consistently enough to be considered anything more than a division speedbump; no matter how much I try I can't work up a good hate for New York, even after they knocked us from the playoffs in 2007 (Brandon Jacobs, however, is another matter). But Philly? Ohhhh...There is a special category of loathing reserved especially for that team and, most of all, for their fans. And I should know, I live in downtown Philadelphia.

A loss to Philadelphia stings for months, if not years; on the other hand, when I'm an old, osteoperotic mess, and have lost all my faculties, I know that victories over that accursed bunch will still bring a toothless smile to my wrinkled face. On Sunday night, I hope to file away one of those happy memories, so that I can draw upon it in my dotage. Unfortunately, as O.C.C. pointed out in an earlier post, this appears to be a longshot, at least according to the so-called "experts"--and 40 of the 51 football geniuses polled are predicting the visitors will emerge victorious. I simply cannot accept such predictions, however. In our weekly pigskin pick 'em, no one could accuse me of being a homer: I haven't hesitated to pick against the Cowboys when I think they'll end up on the short end of the scoring stick. But I am constitutionally incapable of picking against them when they lock horns with Philthy, so this week I'm 100% homer. What will our brave 'Boys need to do to go to 4-1 under Jason Garrett? A good start might be to take a page from the book of 2009.

As the prolific Dave wrote in yet another post, the Iggs undertook an extensive offseason overhaul largely in response to a pair of shellackings administered by the Cowboys late last year. In those games--those delicious, glorious games!--Dallas' defense absolutely smothered the Philly O. On the other side of the line, then-offensive coordinator Garrett came up with a pair of superb gameplans that effectively deciphered and outflanked Philthy D-coordinator Sean McDermott's pressure packages. Lastly, Dallas dominated both lines of scrimmage, running for 377 yards over the two contests, and getting constant pressure on then-QB Donovan McNabb with essentially a four-man rush. Its unrealistic to expect Sunday's game to unfold in exactly this fashion. Nevertheless, if Dallas is to win, they must follow at least some of that blueprint. So, after the jump, let's take a trip down memory lane and speculate upon our chances of enjoying a reprise.  

Late last year, the Philly defense was beat up (they lost an inordinate number of games to injury), and looked uncharacteristically slow and confused. Thanks to a slew of offseason changes, in large part precipitated by the beatdowns in Dallas, they now sport an almost entirely new defensive back seven. The 2010 iteration is a young, fast, talented, and capable of making big plays: the Eagles enjoy significant positive margins in turnovers and explosive plays. Philly has been pretty hard to run against this season, allowing roughly 75 rushing yards per game. That said, they rank 29th in the league in passing yardage allowed. In large part, this is because they have been playing with a lead in most of their games this year. Indeed, the Eagles' light, quick defense is built to play from ahead; in closer games, where the opposition can run the ball into the fourth quarter, they are at a disadvantage.

Because of this, the Cowboys top priority has to be to avoid the opening quarter malaise that plagued them against the Saints. Philthy doesn't give up big plays so, much like they did against the Colts, the Dallas O must focus on staying out of obvious passing situations by remaining patient and moving the ball in small chunks. Thankfully, they have shown in the last month that they have the ability to string together long drives, something they struggled with during last couple years of Wade Phillips' tenure--with a notable exception being 2009's final games. In those games, Garrett schooled McDermott; no matter what the first year defensive coordinator dialed up, the RHG has an answer. A ray of sunshine is that Philly's best defensive player, CB Asante Samuel, won't play. If I'm McDermott, I'm less likely do dial up exotic blitzes with Dimitri Patterson and Trevard Lindley as my corners. Because of this, I'd expect Garrett to find a way to move the ball--and, if the Cowboys can avoid turning it over, to score plenty of points.

On the other side of the ball, I'd expect the Cowboys defense to implement a gameplan similar the one we saw last year. Because the Philadelphia offense looked so inept in those games, its difficult to remember that, coming into them, they were considered one of the NFL's most potent big-play offenses--much like the 2010 iteration. So, a key will be to delimit the big plays in which they specialize, the type of explosives that obliterated the Redskins. Last year, largely because the Eagles couldn't mount much of a running threat, the Cowboys often employed a two-deep safety shell that prevented jitterbug receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin from getting behind the secondary. So, it will be important for the Dallas front seven not to let Shady McCoy go off; if he does, it will force the Dallas safeties to creep up to the line of scrimmage, which will give the Eagles wideouts room to run. And that can be a scary proposition.

If the Cowboys can make it difficult for the Eagles to run the ball, there will be a couple of key matchups to watch: last year, the defensive strategy left Orlando Scandrick one-on-one with whomever played the slot (often Jason Avant), and he held up beautifully. The fact that Scandrick's game has been on the come of late should give us confidence that this strategy can succeed again. That said, the Eagles rarely tested Scandrick up the seam; most of the patterns he was asked to defend were short to mid-range outs and crosses. Also curiously absent from the middle was TE Brent Celek, who presents perhaps the biggest mismatch on Sunday. The Cowboys 2010 tape shows that their pass defense has  been particularly vulnerable in the middle fo the field, so I'd expect Philly offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to try to exploit some potential mismatches between the numbers. If you are Cowboys' D-coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, who do you put on Celek? Keith Brooking? Sean Lee? Do you bring Gerald Sensabaugh up, thus leaving either Jackson or Maclin in single coverage? This part of the chess match should be interesting to watch...

Lastly, the Cowboys defense was so successful last year because their pass rush was so dominant. Defensive ends DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer simply toyed with their respective counterpart, OTs Jason Peters and Winston Justice. Ware and Spencer were so dominant that Philly began to deploy a two-back formation with one back on the outside of either tackle, to assist with #s 94 and 93. As has been oft documented, the 2010 versions of the Cowboy's OLBs have, for the most part, been pale facsimiles of the 2009 versions--especially of the duo we saw down the stretch. Vick cannot be allowed the time to find his receivers when they break open deep. If Dallas is to have any defensive success on Sunday, we'll need to see at least a few flashes of the last year's late-season lass rush.The good news here is that RT Winston Justice out and will be replaced by the ponderous King Dunlap. So, if there is a game for Spencer to go off, its this one.

In yet another of his numerous posts (does the guy ever sleep?), Dave nominated two offensive players whose performance would be key to victory on Sunday: Miles Austin and Tashard Choice. Indeed, we'll need to see big games from both of them, but I'd like to add to that list the names of Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff. If they Cowboys are to slow down the potent Philly O, they'll have to find some of their 2009 mojo, against both the run and pass.

They have to. I cannot bear the thought of those detestable green-shirted thugs coming into our house and leaving with anything other than a loss.

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