Week 8′s Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys is a pivotal match-up for both teams. The Eagles are trying to keep their playoff hopes alive and the Cowboys are looking to establish themselves as a serious contender in the NFC East.
For the Eagles, if they lose it will all but eliminate any hopes for a postseason. It would be a disaster for Andy Reid and the Eagles as they would face the wrath of the Philadelphia media and fans for the remainder of the season.
To say Andy Reid would be on the hot seat would be like saying Hurricane Katrina was a passing shower.
Therefore, the Eagles should be ready to come out swinging. They need to start the game on fire and end it like a blazing inferno. They better be ready to put forth their absolute best effort of the season.
Since their season hangs in the balance, they must come up with the perfect game plan to beat the dangerous Dallas Cowboys. Here are my seven most important keys to the game for the Eagles this Sunday if they want to emerge victorious…
I can’t stress this enough: the Eagles absolutely, positively must….MUST…tackle well. Cowboys receivers Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are all excellent at getting yards after the catch (YAC).
If Eagles defenders don’t swarm to the ball and wrap-up when they tackle, they will pay the price. Poor tackling has haunted the Eagles defense all season and has led to some big plays for opponents.
Tackling is all about attitude. Sometimes, players’ instincts make them want to put the “kill shot” on a receiver in order to strike fear into their opponent (or make a name for themselves).
However, sometimes they just miss badly, take the wrong angle, or don’t get good enough leverage and it results in an all-too-easy broken tackle/big play outcome.
The Eagles cannot afford to let Dallas’ receivers rack up yards after the catch. Make them earn everything they get.
2. Protect Michael Vick
Protecting Michael Vick is a key to winning in any game. However, this is particularly true against the Cowboys.
The Dallas defense has 17 sacks on the year so far, eight of which by the uber-talented DeMarcus Ware. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan plays an aggressive style of defense and loves to blitz.
It’s a safe bet that he will blitz Vick, and then blitz him some more. He will bring the pressure and try to force Vick into mistakes.
The Eagles offense likes to run pass plays that take a little time to develop. So when teams blitz, it forces Vick to improvise and become hurried. Sometimes it leads to a big play, and sometimes it leads to disaster.
Batted passes, fumbles and interceptions have haunted the Eagles offense so far this year and many of those are ultimately due to break downs in protection.
The offensive line and running backs need to be prepared to recognize and react to the various Dallas blitzes. They can’t allow unabated rushers coming at Vick and constantly hitting him and forcing him into “happy feet” mode.
3. Pressure Tony Romo
Just as the Eagles offensive line needs to protect Michael Vick, the defensive line needs to get after Tony Romo and apply some serious pressure.
Romo is prone to bad throws and turnovers once he starts feeling the heat. Consistent pressure affects most quarterbacks and forces them into mistakes, but some QBs are more easily rattled than others.
Romo is a guy that gets rattled rather easily. At times he can battle through it and overcome the pressure, but other times he fails miserably. If he is given adequate time in the pocket, Romo has the skill to pick defenses apart.
This is why applying constant pressure and at least getting several hits on him is important. They don’t necessarily have to be sacks, just hit him enough to where he starts thinking about it every time he drops back to pass.
The good news for the Eagles is that they get defensive end Trent Cole back for this game. It couldn’t have come at a better time too with this being a big game and against a QB who needs to be pressured.
Cole has missed the past two games with a calf injury and it seems the sacks have been missing along with him. Through the first four games with Cole, the Eagles tallied up 15 sacks. In the two games without him, they only managed three.
Of course, the Eagles’ defensive line hasn’t lined up in the wide-nine formation (which generates more sacks) as much in the past two games either. However, getting Cole back will be a huge boost to the line.
4. Stop the run
Stopping the run is usually the defense’s Achilles heel. Through the first five games, the Eagles’ defense allowed an average of 140 yards per game rushing. Needless to say, that is horrible and completely unacceptable.
The only two teams who allow more than that are the 0-7 Indianapolis Colts and the 0-6 St. Louis Rams. Not exactly good company if you ask me!
However, the Eagles are notorious for allowing teams to run wild on them early in the season but then tighten up as the year progresses. They held the Washington Redskins to a meager 42 yards rushing in Week 6, and 14 of those yards were by the quarterback.
Hopefully, that signifies the beginning of a trend to where they can at least limit the opponents’ rushing attack.
The Cowboys will be sure to test the Eagles’ run defense with rookie running back DeMarco Murray. Murray made his first start last week in place of the injured Felix Jones and had an impressive debut.
Murray rushed for 253 yards on 25 carries and scored on a 91-yard TD run. However, he did it against the worst rushing defense in the league (St. Louis).
Nonetheless, Murray has some talent. Juan Castillo and the defense better have taken notice and put together a game plan to stifle the rookie and show him that all defenses are not built the same in the NFL.
*Quick note: Beware the delayed handoff (draw)!
5. Cover Jason Witten
Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is Romo’s favorite target and leads Dallas in receiving with 36 catches for 449 yards and three TDs. In his last five games against the Eagles, Witten has totaled 28 catches for 261 yards and four TDs.
We all know of the Eagles’ struggles in covering tight ends. That’s mainly due to their less-than-stellar linebacker corps.
That’s why I hope they designate a cornerback, or at least a safety, to cover him this week. Likewise, it would be smart to play more man-to-man coverage this week because Romo and Witten will eat up zone coverage all night.
This is the type of game where we could finally see some benefit to having a player like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the team. He would be the perfect player to shadow Witten in passing situations.
It would be defensive suicide for Juan Castillo to try and cover Witten with one of his linebackers. Hopefully he’s smarter than that or doesn’t have any disillusions about the talent level he is working with.
6. Get DeSean Jackson involved early
The Eagles’ offense is at its best when DeSean Jackson is a factor in the game. LeSean McCoy is perhaps even more important to the offense’s success, but nobody can deny the explosiveness Jackson brings.
Consider this: In Jackson’s last game against the Cowboys, he caught four passes for 210 yards and one TD. The Eagles won that game.
In the two previous games against Dallas, including a playoff game, he caught just six passes for 61 yards and one meaningless score. Both times the Eagles lost miserably.
The Cowboys defense is ranked No. 1 against the rush so if there is any weakness, it will be in the passing game.
If the Eagles can get Jackson going early and get Dallas’ defense on their heels, it will open things up for LeSean McCoy and the running game. Plus, it would obviously help if the Eagles can get some quick strikes and put up some points early in the game.
The Eagles need to dictate the game to the Cowboys and not the other way around.
7. Stop turning the ball over
The Eagles’ offense has turned the ball over 17 times in six games. That’s an average of nearly three per game. Simply put, this has to stop!
Michael Vick has been a large part of that with eight interceptions and three fumbles lost.
What’s worse is that, in every game so far, the Eagles have turned the ball over in the red zone or while they’re in scoring range (just outside the red zone). This is one of the major reasons why they’re 2-4 instead of 5-1.
You just can’t blow that many scoring opportunities and expect to win games.
The good news is that turnovers are correctable. The offensive line needs to provide clearer passing lanes for Vick to throw in and he needs to make better decisions with the football. Vick also needs to learn how to protect the ball when he’s running.
Most times, whoever wins the turnover battle wins the game. Let’s hope the Eagles win both this week.