Saturday, January 9, 2010

Game Preview - Playoffs - @ Dallas

***

Last week the kid down the block beat the crap out of us. He bloodied our nose, stole our lunch (including my chocolate pudding), and sent us on our way. We could avoid the kid. We could hope someone else beats him up. Or we could go back to his house and kick his @ss ourselves. I say we do that.

Don't be scared of this game or the Cowboys. They have a good team. No one disputes that. Their defense is playing well, their QB is hotter right now, and they're doing all the little things. I don't care. I want a chance to go down there and kick some butt. This is the freaking playoffs we're talking about. Survive and advance. Style points don't exist.

Last week was 24-0. Dallas isn't going to play much better. We're not likely to play anywhere near that poorly. This game will be different. I can't guarantee we'll win, but I do guarantee that you'll see a completely different Eagles team tonight. We beat them in 2007 in Dallas after losing to Seattle. We beat them in 2008 in Philly after losing to Washington. We seem to get fired up for Dallas when coming off a loss. I will be shocked if our guys give anything less than a great effort tonight. That's only part of the battle. We must execute. That is the real key. Even in the playoffs football boils down to blocking, tackling, and carrying out basic assignments. I’m here to tell you the Eagles can win this game. Here’s how.

We’ll start on defense. I’ve talked quite a bit about the need to be more aggressive. I am not telling Sean McDermott to be reckless. He must be sound and limit the times he goes all out, but there is a need to be creative and aggressive. Dallas went 11-5 this year. Two of the losses were to the New York Giants. The other losses were to Denver, Green Bay, and San Diego. What do those three teams have in common? They all run the 3-4 defense.

The point I’m getting at is the importance of pre-snap confusion. Teams that run the 3-4 will normally send at least four rushers. The offense sees the defensive linemen, but doesn’t know which linebacker will rush. This confusion affects the quarterback in his pre-snap reads. It also affects the linemen as they try to figure out who to block. The Giants did a lot of stuff to confuse Dallas in their second game this year. The Giants had most guys standing upright and moving around so that the Cowboys would not know who was rushing and where exactly they were coming from. This tactic was very effective.

If I know this you can bet McDermott does as well. We did little of this last week. I will be highly surprised if we don’t do more of it this time around. The basis of good defense is winning one-on-one battles, but there is nothing wrong with some tactical advantages. The goal on Saturday night is to have Tony Romo thinking and not smiling. Hit him. Confuse him. Keep him off balance. Last week might as well have been a 7-on-7 drill at training camp. This week must be different.

We are a blitzing team. Do what you do. We must blitz. There is risk involved. I accept that. We might give up plays. I can live with mistakes as long as they come with us playing our brand of football. There is an old Latin phrase that fits this situation well. It translates to “fortune favors the bold”. Take some chances. Be aggressive. Don’t be careless or dumb, of course. Fortune does not favor the stupid.

We can’t attack on every play and that means that the defensive line must win some battles. Trent Cole needs to step up his game and be the leader up front. He was far too quiet on Sunday. Cole hasn’t had consecutive bad games all year. I think he will be a man on a mission. We’ll need him to be a force against the run as well as getting after the quarterback.

McDermott has a key decision to make at linebacker. I think he has to start out with Jeremiah Trotter in the middle. Trotter was the best linebacker last week and played the run very well. He also brought a lot of fire and energy to the defense. Sometimes that stuff can be overrated, but it was important on Sunday. We needed a spark. It was too little too late for that game, but I’m hoping that some of that emotion can carry over to this week.

The downside to starting Trotter is that he’s limited in coverage. That puts additional pressure on the outside linebackers as well as the safeties. I think that is a risk we must take. We need a physical presence in the middle of the defense. We cannot allow the Cowboys to run. At some point you have to pick your poison. You can't stop everything when you face a talented, balanced team. There is logic to focusing on either the run or pass. I think we need to focus on the run. Part of the problem last week was that Dallas was able to establish a ground game and get our pass rushers on their heels. The Dallas line played with confidence. Our guys were uncertain what play was coming and we lost the line of scrimmage. We were more aggressive in the second half and that showed up in run and pass defense.

I'm not advocating loading up the box with a bunch of defenders. I think the free safety needs to stay back. Quintin Mikell can sneak up on some plays to create an eight-man front. Most of the time we need the front seven to control the run. The best way to do that is with Trotter in the middle. SAM linebacker is another spot where McDermott has to make a choice. Moise Fokou gives us speed. Chris Gocong gives us experience and physicality. The guys split time in practice this week. I've gone back and forth with what to do, but I'm now thinking that Gocong should be the choice. He can take on blocks because of his size and strength. He's also a better blitzer. No matter which player gets the call, he has to do a better job of jamming Jason Witten so he doesn't get a clean release on pass plays. Throw off his timing. Make him work to get open.

I don't know that the secondary needs a lot of schematic or personnel changes. We had defenders very close to breaking up several passes last week. We need the guys to make plays this time around. Let's win some individual battles and stop Dallas drives.

That same theme should largely be true for the offense. We had players open on several occasions only to see some breakdown. The design worked well, but not the execution. The Cowboys will adjust to what they saw so we'll need a few wrinkles. The real key is for Donovan McNabb to come out and play well.

McNabb has made plenty of big plays in his Eagles career. He's won us some big games and played well in the postseason. That's the guy we need to see. He played well last year as we made a run through the playoffs. McNabb doesn't need to be Superman and carry the team on his back. That was the case back in 2000 and 2001. Now McNabb has a strong supporting cast. He simply needs to use his weapons effectively.

The young skill players had mixed showings last week. For every good play there was also a mistake. We can't have that in the playoffs. The receivers must run correct routes and catch the ball when it comes to them. Dropped passes are backbreakers. The line has done its job. The quarterback has done his job. The receiver has gotten open. The last part of the equation is the catch. You hate to see guys drop passes, especially downfield or on third downs. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are dynamic talents. We need to get them the ball on both shallow and deep routes. One player I would like to see more involved is Jason Avant. He’s only got six catches in the last four games combined.

We do need to run the ball more. Last week's score affected the playcalling, but we have to run more no matter what. The offense needs the balance and the running backs need the touches. Brian Westbrook was the primary runner on Sunday. I'm thinking we feed the ball more to LeSean McCoy this time around to take advantage of his speed. We know there will be plenty of two and three yard gains. McCoy gives us the chance to break a 15 to 20 yard run. Even if we don't gain a lot of yards we need to keep the Cowboys off balance. We don't want their front seven being able to tee off and attack McNabb.

I thought the offensive line did some good things in pass protection last week, at least in the first half. Now we need to get better run blocking and good pass blocking for the whole game. Linemen had some costly penalties. Dallas is a tough team to move the ball on. We can't afford to have dumb penalties that stack the odds against us even more. Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles have now gotten more than seven quarters of time in their spots. This group has no excuses. They can and should play well.

Andy Reid has won 10 playoff games in his career. He knows how to prepare a team for the postseason. He understands how to deal with the pressure of the situation. You want the players fired up, but also focused. This is an especially odd playoff game. We’ve faced Dallas twice already and just played them last week. I don’t think there will be a lot of new wrinkles for each team. We simply must execute better.


KEYS TO THE GAME

Big play touchdowns – We have had potential touchdown passes go awry in each Dallas game. This week we need to connect. They have a good defense. It is hard to sustain a long drive and score a touchdown on them. We must make big plays pay off in points.

Get off blocks – Defensive linemen and linebackers need to shed blocks. On pass plays they need to get free so we can pressure Romo. On run plays they need to get to the ball and tackle. Dallas did an excellent job of sustaining blocks last week. Our guys have to win individual battles. Jeremiah Trotter did a terrific job of this on Sunday. We need more of the same from him.

Ground game – We only had a handful of carries last time out. This problem is on the coaches and the players. Marty Mornhinweg must dial up more run plays. The offensive line needs to do a better job of opening holes. Finally, the runners must make something happen. Coaches don’t draw up a run play for every defender to get blocked. They know at some point the running back will need make a defender miss or run through an arm tackle.

Field position – In the two losses to Dallas most of the drives have started at our 20-yard line or worse. Quintin Demps and DeSean Jackson need to help us in the return game. As little as five extra yards can make a difference. David Akers errant field goal last week would probably have been good if he was just a bit closer. A long return could have tremendous impact. Jackson did that last year in the Wildcard win over Minnesota.

Get there – There is an old saying that “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades”. How many times last week was a defender about to make a play, but he just missed? We were oh so close. Asante Samuel barely missed two passes. One was a touchdown. The other turned into a 40-yard gain. Quintin Mikell just missed breaking up a throw to Jason Witten. There were multiple run plays where a tackler just missed getting the Dallas runner down for a minimal gain. This time out we need to finish plays. Knock down the ball. Make the tackle. Hit the quarterback. Being close isn’t good enough.

Stars must shine – Jackson has been quiet in the Dallas losses. Same for Maclin. Same for McNabb. Same for all the running backs. In the postseason you need your stars to play up to their talent. Does Arizona go to the Super Bowl last year without Larry Fitzgerald having a record setting performance in the playoffs? No way. We need good games from the skill guys as well as Trent Cole and Samuel. The best players are supposed to make big plays in these types of situations.

Land some shots – I don’t think we have any chance to win unless we pressure Tony Romo and get some good hits on him. If he sits in the pocket smiling and comfortable we are going to have a miserable weekend. Sean McDermott should come up with an aggressive gameplan. That gives us our best chance to succeed. It is then up to the players to hit Romo, early and often. Let’s make his day miserable, hit after hit.

*****

The first half is crucial in this game. We've trailed halftime of both losses to Dallas. We scored 6 points in those 4 quarters. We must get a TD in the first half tonight. Having the lead would be huge. The pressure is on Dallas tonight. They're back to being America's Team. They won the division and things are peachy. But they still need to win in the postseason. The longer we have the lead or the game stays close the more their playoffs problems will be an issue. All it takes is a missed FG or key dropped pass or missed tackle and those guys will start thinking about the drought.

Let's start fast, be physical, and watch the 'Boys implode under the pressure.
_

36 comments:

Adam S. said...

I'm glad I'm working till 4 otherwise I'd go crazy sitting at home all day waiting for gametime.

Looking forward to this one, have a much better feeling this time around. I REALLY hope Reid's first 15 scripted plays for the start of the game contain at least 5 or 6 runs, a screen, and a reverse or ghost reverse on some of the runs to set it up for later in the game. We need to keep Ware and Spencer from pinning their ears back.

Cliff said...

I've heard it from Dallas fans all week, but a Cowboys loss tonight means yet another year without a playoff win. To follow your opening parable, we got our ass kicked last time, but tonight we could be walking out with Megan Fox while they're at home with mom.

Good luck, Wade Phillips, you're probably coaching for your job tonight.

Myron said...

How much of a difference would it make if Dawkins was still on our team?

If you look at the beatdown in week 17 of last season, one of the main reasons it unfolded that way was the intensity and fury with which Dawk played: the strip sacks/forced fumbles, the monster hits on various Cowboys, etc.

Somebody like #20 setting a tone for the game by laying a monster hit on Miles Austin, for example, could be the difference maker in a game like this. And not only that, but Dawk's presence made Q a better player. It's really too bad we don't have him anymore.

Pitmanite said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pitmanite said...

Myron, you're making me look like Mr. Positivity and that's hard to do! Judging from your last few posts we may have to take away your shoelaces and put you on 24 hr watch.

I'd love to have Dawk right now, but he's been gone for 12 months, so you're just torturing yourself. I've definitely written my share of angry, ranting posts and I'm upset with how we played last week, but you never know what can happen tonight. How fun is it that we've got a huge Saturday night playoff game to look forward to?! There are a lot of fans sitting at home with their team out of the playoffs.

Let's just hope for the best and enjoy the ride. If they don't win we'll all meet back here tomorrow to rant and rave like a pack of wild dogs!

Cliff said...

I agree. There's no point in racking our brains about the game. It's all in tonight, regardless of how the season went.

Prem Prakash said...

Man o' man, this is what football is all about. Playoffs, the hated Evil Empire, pride and guts. On D, there's a saying I like, "A hero dies but one death, a coward dies a thousand." I hope Sean dials up a heroes game plan. Live and die by who we are. It's lame to make games like this into a thinking man's chess match. Impose our will on them, or at least go down swinging. On O, I want to see Celek continue to be involved in a big way. Also, give Westy the ball, but do it on screens, shovel pass, or send him around end. Save the off-tackle runs for the other guys. Everyone knows the kids at wr must come through. ST, having Demps will hopefully make field position better. Finally, I've been bugging my buddies for weeks with this, but I still think we're due for a flea-flicker, and I believe it could work.

I'll probably be on Eagles Blitz every 5 minutes between now and game time. Who else can understand Eagles madness?

Cliff said...

Trying to approach the game from a fresh angle, here's McDermott's horoscope:

You're more easily upset than usual, and you need to check your tendency to lash out at those who irritate you -- or else you're sure to be screaming and yelling all day long! Things pick up very soon.

Uh-oh.

Cliff said...

And here's Donovan's:

You're better off working alone and making sure that you're going through it all in the right way -- outside input is likely to derail your train of thought. You can rejoin the group really soon.

I read that as: RUN, RUN, RUN!

Prem Prakash said...

Take my mind off the game for a minute. Tommy, what kind of car did you score?

Tommy Lawlor said...

Hello boys and girls. Just got back from the movies. I knew sitting around all day long would drive me nuts.

I saw Avatar. Enjoyable movie, but nothing great. I was much more impressed with a German film I recently saw on IFC called "The Lives of Others". Watch that if you get a chance and subtitles don't bother you. Really, really good film.

There were a couple of good 3-D moments in Avatar. I am just not a huge fan of FX movies any more. Maybe I'm becoming an old fart. It is amazing to see what filmmakers can do these days, but I still prefer a great script and good acting to CGI type stuff.

Cliff said...

He found a really hot deal on a '77 Pento. The Car Fax was clean, though.

Tommy Lawlor said...

RE: Car

I bought a used Corolla. I hate car buying. I wanted to get something that would definitely last 7 or 8 years. It doesn't get much more reliable that Toyota.

Cliff said...

I figured Avatar would probably be a good mental vacation from the stuff I usually see. It turned out to be worth it, I think.

I just couldn't see another psychologically-draining movie. Seeing The Road really took a lot out of me. I remember reading the Cormac McCarthy book and being depressed for like a week afterward. The movie really cemented the images in my head and I wasn't able to see a movie since, until the eye candy of Avatar, anyway.

Cliff said...

Weird. Joe Gibbs and Joe Theismann are in the booth for the 4:15 game. At least I think it's Theismann, voice sounds similar.

Tommy Lawlor said...

I didn't see "The Road" yet. Looked great.

I did watch "Revolutionary Road" last night. That was a tough film. It was excellent, but you can really see the horrors of relationships. People are complicated. Dealing with each other is infinitely more complicated.

Tommy Lawlor said...

That is Joe Gibbs and Joey T.

The horror. The horror.

Cliff said...

I knew The Road would be worth the watch when I read about Cormac McCarthy's initial response upon screening the movie:

After the screening, McCarthy only said "I have to go the restroom." Twenty minutes later, he reappeared and said "It's really good." The director asked, "Really?" And McCarthy replied, "I didn't drive all the way up here to blow smoke up your ass."

That's about as close to 2 thumbs up as you're going to get from McCarthy.

Cliff said...

Watching the CIN-NYJ game has me thinking about a comment Myron made earlier about "if only we had Dawkins still."

If you want to think like that, the same can be said about Dhani Jones. He's really keeping the Jets' wildcat in check. Perhaps if we just suffered through his inadequacies all season long, we'd have his run-stuffing ability against Dallas tonight. That sounds a lot like the argument to have kept Dawkins, but I know that no sane Eagles fan would defend Air Guitar in the same way.

Baloophi said...

Jets just scored on the same running play the Cowboys ran with Felix.

Cliff said...

Palmer is playing poorly. A lot of people place him above Donovan in the QB hierarchy, but I can never see why.

Tommy Lawlor said...

Dhani has found a home at MLB. I always said that was his best position.

Carson is having a poor game so far. I'm not sure why his throws are off so badly.

Prem Prakash said...

I heard the winner of the Super Bowl MVP gets a used Corolla because they are bigtime babe magnets.

shari said...

"The Lives of Others" was my favorite film of 2006.

Yes, we can win this game. No mistakes and win the turnover battle but enough of my cliches. I just don't want to lose to Ugly Dallas 3 times in one season! They look like the better team based on the 2 games we've played this season but I can't help but wonder how those games would've gone with Bradley, Big Kid,
Jamaal, Ingram, etc....

rick said...

oops! that was my wife's browser.

Tommy Lawlor said...

That sure didn't look like PI on Revis to me.

Tommy Lawlor said...

The Bengals are playing one sloppy game. They are very lucky to still be just one TD down.

Tommy Lawlor said...

Looks like the Bengals are on the way out. They have no passing game whatsoever.

Cliff said...

Why wasn't Cedric Benson voted the Comeback Player of the Year?

Tom Brady looked average all season, while one can argue Benson was a catalyst for Cincy. This really is a QB's league.

Tommy Lawlor said...

Inactives have been listed. The only real note of interest is that Quintin Demps is out again. That sucks. We need to have some help with field position. I wonder if Westy gets a look.

Tommy Lawlor said...

Joe Theismann ... genius:

With Cincy down 10 points and less than 5 minutes left in a playoff game he asks Joe Gibbs "is this 4 down territory?".

Awesome.

Cliff said...

Theismann also sounded like a goober in the 1st quarter...

Palmer completed a big 3rd down pass to WR Caldwell (I think) to keep the drive going and Theismann lauded Palmer's abilitiy to move out of the pocker. He used words that I'd never use to describe Carson Palmer's "athleticism."

Anyway, he CLEARLY missed the incredible block an OG had on a blitzing DB who would've surely stripped the ball from Palmer's blindside had the OG not had awesome awareness.

It was a great piece of blocking for a guard, but it went without praise.

Again, this is such a QB's league.

Tommy Lawlor said...

Home team is losing. Let's hope that continues in the 2nd game.

Cliff said...

Yeah, Tommy, but another way to look at it is that the winning team from last week's match-up won again...

Tom Ballman said...

darn... demps inactive

Tommy Lawlor said...

Just put up a new post (short). We already have a lot of comments in here.