The Philadelphia Eagles’ secondary will have their toughest test of the 2011 season against the Dallas Cowboys’ receivers in their Week 8 contest. This will be one of many key match-ups of the game and how they fare will likely coincide with either a win or a loss.
Miles Austin at 6′ 2″, 215 lbs, and Dez Bryant at 6′ 2″, 218 lbs, are easily the biggest and most physical wide receiver duo that the Eagles will face this year. And let’s not forget about Eagle-killing tight end Jason Witten who is a sizable player at 6′ 6″, 265 lbs.
Those three players are why the Cowboys are ranked No. 4 in passing yards in the NFL.
Eagles CB Nnamdi Asomugha, at 6′ 2″, 210 lbs, is the Eagles’ biggest player in the secondary. He’ll likely be covering Miles Austin for most of the game. Asomugha likes to be physical at the line so this will be a good matchup.
Asante Samuel, on the other hand, is not a physical cornerback. He’s only 5′ 10″, 185 lbs and will be covering Dez Bryant for the most part. This is not a good matchup for the Eagles.
Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo will hopefully have 6′ 1″, 210 lbs safety Nate Allen give Samuel some help over the top (consistently).
Samuel’s only hope is to get a few opportunities to do what he does best, which is jump routes. If he finds himself having to get physical with Bryant, it will be a long day for the All Pro.
Jason Witten is the Cowboys’ leading receiver so far this year. That poses a big problem as we all know how poorly the Eagles’ defense covers tight ends.
Castillo would be wise to designate a player such as CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to cover him in passing situations. I do not want to see an Eagles linebacker in one-on-one coverage against him.
In six games this season, the trio of Austin, Bryant and Witten have a combined 78 catches for 1,111 yards and 11 TDs. That averages out to 13 catches for 185 yards and almost two TDs per game.
They also account for 22 of the Cowboys’ 30 passing plays of 20 or more yards.
The Eagles’ No. 10 ranked pass defense has allowed a per-game average of 217.3 yards passing and almost two TDs. They’ve also given up 19 pass plays of 20 or more yards (which ranks them in the middle of the pack in terms of giving up big plays).
If there is one thing Dallas’ receivers do well, it’s getting yards after the catch (YAC). In 2010, Miles Austin was the No. 2 ranked WR in YAC with 437. Jason Witten was the No. 3 ranked TE in YAC with 363.
Dez Bryant was a rookie last year and dealt with a learning curve as well as injuries. However, he is still improving as a receiver and is keeping pace with Austin in this category so far this season.
Tackling will never be as important as it will be this Sunday. The Eagles absolutely must limit the yards after the catch. They must swarm to the ball and gang tackle these big receivers.
Take a look at the below play by Jason Witten in a 2007 game against the Eagles:
This is exactly what we cannot afford to see happen. Juan Castillo better be emphasizing tackling technique this week. Make the sure tackle rather than going for the big hit.
We’ve already seen what happens if you fail to wrap-up on a tackle. Remember Victor Cruz? He was the Giants’ previously unknown wide receiver who brushed off a kill-shot attempt by Kurt Coleman and took it 74 yards for a score.
If Cruz can do it against the Eagles’ secondary, the Cowboys’ receivers will just swat them away like an annoying gnat.
Therefore, I can’t stress this point enough: tackle, tackle, TACKLE!
The last two times the Eagles have faced Dallas with Tony Romo at quarterback were the two wish-I-could-forget games at the end of the 2009 season. Romo and the Cowboys crushed the Eagles by a combined score of 58-14.
In those two contests, the Eagles’ pass defense gave up a combined 555 yards and four TDs. Of course, that was two seasons ago but I bring it up now only because that was the last time the Eagles faced Romo.
Dallas’ passing game is much better with Romo at the helm, even if he is prone to mistakes.
The best chance the Eagles have this week will be to pressure Romo and force errant throws that lead to interceptions. The secondary has to be good enough to give the pass rush adequate time to make something happen.
If there is a game where the Eagles’ three vaunted cornerbacks must prove their worth, this is it.