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Philadelphia Eagles vs Dallas Cowboys

In NFL on January 6, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Saturday night’s game between these bitter NFC East rivals will see the hometown Cowboys eager to complete their 3rd win of the season over the Eagles, while Philly will be desperate to redeem themselves after they stunk the place out last Saturday and forfeited the 2nd seed.

So what happened in last week’s game?

What Dallas did right:

The Cowboys shut down Philly’s offense, pressuring Donovan McNabb into mistakes and sacking him 4 times. They squeezed him on every possession, and forced him into a couple of fumbles. They clearly got into his head.

Even with Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin wide open down the field, the Eagles QB fired long, or behind his receivers. The Cowboys defensive line will have to recreate this pressure to keep the big no.5 on the back foot, and the terrible trio of Spencer, Spears and Ware will be key.

The lethal DeSean Jackson was kept quiet last week, can the Cowboys do it again?

The secondary also played very well. Not quite lights out, but the dimmer switch was right down. In Newman and Jenkins, they have a very effective pair of corners, and they held Jackson and Maclin to just 3 receptions each for less than 100 yards combined. They will have to keep their concentration and intensity ratcheted up at the weekend, as they will be more aware than anyone of the knockout power this Eagles offense possesses.

On offense, the Cowboys O-line completely manhandled their opposite numbers, blasting gaping holes for Felix Jones and Marion Barber to gleefully gambol through on their way to nearly 7 yards per carry. That is an insane number, and though it dropped slightly as they eased off the gas, it showed just how dominant their offense was.

Dallas QB Tony Romo has put up huge numbers against the Eagles this season

They also protected Tony Romo immaculately, allowing him to pick apart the Eagles’ mediocre secondary to the tune of over 300 yards. If they can protect Romo that well at the weekend and establish any kind of running game, they should score plenty more points.

What the Eagles did wrong:

While Donovan McNabb was put under pressure for most of the game, he still wanted far too long to deliver the ball to his receivers. He also threw badly on a number of occasions, overshooting Jackson in the flat for a certain 7 pointer, and throwing behind Maclin a few times, notably when he was wide open with an acre in front of him.

Add his red zone fumble into the mix, and it’s clear that McNabb must improve greatly to give his team a chance in the wild card game. He is capable of doing it, but he must trust his new centre Nick Cole and hit his receivers with more accuracy.

Donovan McNabb must up his game if Philadelphia are to stand a chance

His receivers must also up their game. Maclin could have done more with a couple of passes that came his way, errant though they may have been. He looked slightly overawed by the occasion, and the rookie has to show his mettle under pressure or questions will be raised. Likewise, DeSean Jackson looked only half fit, and never seemed like he was running his routes at full pace. He has to get open and give his quarterback an option, or the offense will struggle again.

In fact, with even the ultra-reliable Jason Avant dropping balls, the one real bright spot for the Eagles was tight end Brent Celek. He will need some support, or it’ll be another grey year in Philadelphia.

Brian Westbrook has to be utilised by Andy Reid

Coach Andy Reid runs a pass first offense, and while this can be great to watch, sometimes it just won’t work until the running game is established. They need to get LeSean McCoy and the fit again Brian Westbrook involved, and if the receivers are shut down then run some screens for these guys. Constantly pumping long balls won’t work against this Dallas team.

While the explosive offense will hardly be held scoreless again, there must be serious worries about the defensive unit.

An undersized D-line was manhandled last week, allowing the home side’s running back duo to pick up 1st downs at will. It seemed as though Jones and Barber were going to break through every time they touched the ball, and only a few last ditch ankle taps prevented things from becoming really ugly. Likewise, Trent Cole and the blitzers were kept under wraps with ease by their giant opponents, and they badly need to find a way to pressure Tony Romo and protect their secondary.

Marion Barber could be in for another big game behind his dominant blockers

That secondary, meanwhile, is dodgier than a Subway cheese steak. Assante Samuel makes some poor decisions, notably allowing Miles Austin to collect, turn and run free on a 3rd and long last week when he could easily have just broken up the play. He always seems to gamble on those interceptions. That’s great when it comes off, but he needs to pick his moments more carefully.

His fellow corner Sheldon Brown has had a good year, but he often struggles against good receivers. The loss of Brian Dawkins has also hurt them. Rookie Macho Harris is still raw, while Sean Jones and Quintin Mikell are both prone to awful errors and missed tackles. They’ll need to be more physical with Austin, Crayton and Williams, and they badly need to keep a body on Romo’s BFF Jason Witten, especially on 3rd down.

Miles Austin and the Dallas receivers match up well against Philly's secondary

Can the Eagles turn it around?

Of course. But I don’t think they will. It’s always very difficult to keep a good team down twice in a row, and Philly can’t play as badly this week as last. But there’s just too much to turn around. Dallas were utterly dominant on offense, along with shutting McNabb and the offense down completely, so vast improvement are needed all over the field on both sides of the ball.

What they really need is a Romo meltdown. While he is unproven in the play-offs, and this Dallas team has proven brittle in the past, I think they know what they’re coming up against here, and the devil they know just won’t spook them.

It will be closer than last week, and the Eagles will score (surely!), but Dallas should still have enough to advance to the Divisional game.

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