This is part two of my 11-part playoff preview series. For part one click here.
I’m just gonna throw this out there now: The Dallas Cowboys have not won a playoff game since 1996. That’s a long time ago. The Cowboys just haven’t been able to find a way to win in the post season. Even in games when it looked like they were going to win or games where for all intents and purposes they should have won, they still managed to lose. In that same period of time the Eagles have won ten playoff games and played in five different NFC Championship games, winning one in the process. However, I will do my best to not let this influence my outlook on this game, but I did feel the need to point it out.
Like the Bengals and Jets, these two teams played eachother less than a week ago. Unlike the Bengals and Jets however, these two teams have already played eachother twice this year. The Cowboys won both of those games by a combined score of 44 to 16, last week’s game being 24 to 0. Don’t expect the Eagles to get blanked this time though. This is a high powered offense led by Donovan McNabb and it’s always difficult to beat a team three times in the same season.
Brian Westbrook only had 17 rushing yards last week, he’ll look to improve that number this time around. I don’t expect him to get a whole lot of rushing attempts -probably about ten- due to the fact that this offense is now based around it’s air attack with DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek and Jason Avant catching passes from McNabb. I would expect McNabb to throw for over 250 yards and at least two touchdowns.
I think Tony Romo will have a similar stat line but is more likely to throw at least one pick. The two-headed monster of Marion Barber and Felix Jones will likely combine for over 100 yards and a score. You can also expect Jason Witten to continue on as Romo’s favorite target with Miles Austin being close behind, as well as Roy Williams and Jason Avant.
Look for the Eagles defense to bring a lot of blitzes. They lost their first meeting to the Cowboys by only four and had thrown a lot of blitzes at Romo. Last week they hardly blitzed at all and got whooped, so it would be logical for them to bring more than four pass rushers the majority of the time tonight. This Philly defense also prides itself on being able to play physical, smash-mouth football and getting off the field on third down. They’ll need to do both of those things to counter the running game that the Cowboys like to use.
If the Eagles blitz and play the run too heavily however, it could give the Dallas offense great opportunities to use some play-action passes effectively. The Cowboys utilize draws, play-action, and screen passes as well as any other team in the league. The Eagles defense is a very fast pass defense that likes to attack, which is high risk/high reward. If they don’t stay disciplined in this game they could over-pursue, jump routes, and bite on fakes which could really come back to bite them. If they play with the speed and intensity like they want to but stay controlled it will pay off well for them.
The most important part for Philly though is arguably the play of their offensive line in both pass protection and running plays. The Cowboys bring pressure off the edge with DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer as well as collapsing the middle with Jay Ratliff. The Eagles o-line must keep McNabb clean to keep their dangerous air attack alive. They will also need to get a good push on the running plays to help open lanes for Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver.
The lineman that has the biggest job is backup center Nick Cole because starter Jamaal Jackson is out for this game. Cole is normally the starting right guard, but with Jackson’s injury the Eagles are sliding him over to center. He will be facing man-beast, Jay Ratliff. That’s no easy task, especially when you’re not used to having to snap the ball. He’ll get some help from the other guards but that will leave holes in the line for the Cowboys blitz-happy linebackers to get through. The Cole vs Ratliff battle will be amazingly important.
Look for the Cowboys defense to bring stunts and blitzes with their linebackers while leaving their good corps of defensive backs in cover 2 and cover 3 schemes. This should eliminate the the Eagles big play ability and instead force them to work their way down the field systematically. This could be dangerous though because with open field receivers like DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin the Cowboys need to make sure those two don’t get the ball with space because they are both extremely dangerous once they get a step on their defenders.
On the other side, Tony Romo needs to get that annoying monkey off his back. He needs to stay calm and cool, make good reads and accurate throws. He knows that he’s going to see a ton of blitzes from the Eagles, and he has surely studied all the film on those blitzes that he can. He just needs to be sure to maintain his composure and to attack the middle of the Eagles defense by throwing the ball underneath the Jason Witten. These Philly linebackers have struggled to cover good receiving tight ends and that’s exactly what Jason Witten is.
The Cowboys really should win this game, the main thing they have to make sure they do is to just no lose the game. I just don’t know if they’ll be able to do that. There is a ton of pressure on them to win this game. Can they handle it? I just don’t know. I think this game hinges on the play of Tony Romo and he hasn’t proven that he’s capable of carrying that burden in my opinion.
Eagles win it 28 to 27.
Yes, I realize that I have predicted both this game and the Jets/Bengals game to be decided by just one point. What can I say? This is the playoffs.
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