The 2013 Philadelphia Eagles season comes down to a Week 17 showdown with the Dallas Cowboys in a winner-take-all matchup. I don’t care how long its been since Kyle Orton started a game, the Eagles must be prepared and play their best game of the season.
They simply cannot afford to relax against the Dallas offense. Even though he’s barely played for two seasons, Orton is still capable of stepping in, leading an efficient offense and putting points on the board.
The only tangible difference between Tony Romo and Orton is their mobility in the pocket. That could be a big difference maker or not make much of a difference at all depending on how much of a pass rush the Eagles defense can muster.
Dallas still has a decent offensive line and good skill players so if the Eagles’ defenders take Orton lightly, they could find themselves in a bad spot early in this game.
Dallas’ defense has been the subject of ridicule this year with some historically bad performances, but they are capable of making big plays as they’re ranked 12th in the NFL with 27 takeaways.
With that said, here are my keys to the game…
1. Eagles must match Dallas’ intensity. Big game, the home crowd, the third year in a row in this position and playing without Romo…Dallas will be fired up from the start. If the Eagles come out flat, things could snowball in a hurry.
2. Pressure Orton. If the Eagles accomplish anything on defense, it has to be this. I don’t care if they get burned a time or two on the blitz, they need to hit, sack and harass Orton all night. If they allow him to be comfortable in the pocket, he’ll pick the Eagles apart.
3. Stop the run. Since DeMarco Murray returned from his injury, the Dallas offense has been pretty good at running the ball…when they focus on it that is. In contrast, the Eagles have been pretty decent at stopping the run.
If Murray starts ripping off big chunks of yardage, that could spell doom for the defense.
4. Cover Jason Witten. Witten will serve as Orton’s security blanket and his chain-moving target. He’s been having a down year by his standards, but he is very capable finding soft spots in the defense to convert critical third down plays (an area where the defense has struggled).
5. Beware the short passing game. For much of the season, the Eagles’ defense has been vulnerable against short crossing routes over the middle. Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are capable of big yards after the catch and are big, physical receivers.
6. Beware the surprise down-field attack. I know…”beware everything!” In this case, my thinking is that since I, and probably everyone else, thinks Dallas will go with the short passing game, they may pull the old switcheroo and open up by aggressively attacking down the field.
In all honesty, we have no idea what to expect with Orton at the helm.
7. Call a balanced offensive game. We’ve seen the past two weeks that Chip Kelly’s game plan centered on attacking the weakest area of the opposing defense. Minnesota’s pass defense and Chicago’s run defense.
The Dallas defense, statistically, is equally as bad against the run as they are the pass. This means that Kelly could attack either area, but this actually allows him to mix and match and call almost whatever he feels like.
Either way, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson need to play big roles in this game. Riley Cooper, Brent Celek and Zach Ertz also need to be involved. The ball needs to be spread around so that the Dallas defense has no idea who to focus on.
8. Protect Nick Foles. DeMarcus Ware missed the first meeting between these teams and is now questionable for this one, but he’ll probably be there in full force on Sunday night. George Selvie had two sacks in the last meeting without Ware on the other side.
The Eagles’ offensive line must be on point and keep Foles comfortable.
9. Do not take the fact they’re playing a backup QB for granted. Remember Matt Cassel!
I recently talked about this Eagles team passing the “pressure test.” This is another key to this game. When the news about Romo came out along with the Eagles’ demolition of Chicago, the pressure to win shifted from Dallas to Philly.
All of a sudden, everyone is talking about the Eagles and picking them to win. The feeling around town sits somewhere between complete and utter confidence that the Eagles will win, and “cautiously optimistic.”
This could play right into the hands of the Dallas Cowboys because when expectations are lifted, even slightly, teams can play much better as the perceived underdog.
However, as I also pointed out in that pressure piece, the Eagles can shift the pressure back to Dallas because ultimately, nobody expected the Eagles to be in this position. Dallas, on the other hand, had higher expectations coming into this season.
Backup QB or not, if Dallas loses then that means their season as a whole was much more of a disappointment than the Eagles’ season should they emerge as the loser.
That’s not to say Eagles fans won’t be disappointed…tremendously…if they lose this game.