Saturday, January 2, 2010

Strategy and Matchups - Dallas


Sunday's game is going to be a pressure-packed, intense event. Heated rivals are battling for the division title and a bye week in the playoffs. Regular season games just don't get much bigger than this. Philadelphia at Dallas. Games like this are why we watch.

As I've written earlier in the week, I think both teams have a legit chance to win. We've won 6 in a row, Dallas 2. We have the #3 scoring offense, they have the #3 scoring defense. Both teams have star QBs and a slew of Pro Bowl players.

Enough with the basics. Let's talk specifics. Let's look back to the first meeting. They won 20-16. 10 of their points came off turnovers (short fields). 10 came off big pass plays. Our defense gave up some yards, but played pretty well. We sacked Romo 4 times. We held Dallas to only 1 of 3 in the Red Zone.

The problem in that game was our offense. The OL struggled. McNabb didn't have a great game. Jeremy Maclin had his worst game as a pro. Our longest pass play to a WR was only 23 yards. We only scored 16 points. Field position was also a huge factor. Our best starting point was our 36-yard line. 5 of our drives started inside our 20. You won't have much success playing small ball and having a long field to go.

Our offense is playing good football right now. We've got 7 straight games of 23 or more points. We're improved in the Red Zone. The OL is playing more consistently. So how will the offense fare this time against Dallas? That's the big question.

I certainly expect a better performance. The OL is a major key. We didn't give McNabb a good pocket often enough in the first meeting. There was a lot going on. Peters got hurt and missed most of the 2nd Qtr. Nick Cole and Stacy Andrews split time at RG prior to Peters' injury. When Jason went down Todd moved outside. Cole took over LG and Stacy was the RG. That group had major problems with DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff.

The big story now is the absence of C Jamaal Jackson. This will cause another shift. There is a big difference, though. This time we're able to practice all week and let guys get comfortable. Losing JJ is big, but Nick can handle that spot. Nick has mostly played OG for us in the regular season. He got quite a bit of time at C in previous preseasons. This year we gave the reps to Dallas Reynolds and Mike McGlynn. That should explain Nick's rusty play from Sunday. This week he's gotten plenty of time to work on snapping, making reads, and making line calls. I'm confident that Nick will play a solid game, or better. He is quick and has pretty good feet. He also is short and squatty, meaning it will be tough for a NT to drive him back.

Max takes over at RG. I'm not his biggest fan, but Max can be an adequate starter. He has played in games against Dallas in each of the two previous seasons so he has some knowledge of their defense. Max won't have to regularly face a DT because of the 3-4. He will have to do a good job of finding blitzers.

The new configuration at OL can work just fine. Jason Peters is the key player. If he is able to control DeMarcus Ware we'll be okay. If anything happens to Jason and we have to play a backup or shift the line we're in for a long day. Max and Nick should be fine.

The reason the OL is so crucial is that we need time to run our vertical routes. In the last game we didn't have a good downfield passing game. Maclin was wide open for a TD on one play, but McNabb got hit by Ware and the play had no chance. With a clean pocket that would have been a TD.

I don't think Dallas can cover DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin if McNabb is given time. DJax has become a top flight WR. Maclin struggled in the first Dallas game, but he's playing at a high level right now. I don't think of him as a rookie anymore. He's made some clutch catches and big plays. He's simply our starting X-receiver.

I know some people want to see a heavy ground attack. We've got the better of them in the ground game in the last 3 meetings. We're 2-1. Running the ball is fine, but we must get some points from the passing game (big plays). Running the ball and kicking FGs isn't the way to beat Dallas. We need TDs.

McNabb was ice cold in the 2nd half last week, going 5 of 16. I'm very curious to see how he responds to that. We all know Donovan can be streaky. At the same time, McNabb generally comes up big in games like this late in the season. His long scramble last week was a good example of what he can do even when he isn't hot as a passer. Donovan knows how to win.

Dallas plays great 1st Qtr defense. ILB Keith Brooking gets them all kinds of fired up with a pre-game thing he does and the Cowboys come out on fire. We lead the NFL in 1st Qtr points and 1st half points. The early part of this game will tell us a lot about what's going to happen. In the first meeting we only had 6 points in the 1st half. If that happens again we're going to be in a real battle.

Now let’s talk about the Eagles defense. They have a big challenge in dealing with Romo, the Cowboys running backs, and the receivers. We did a pretty good job in the first game, but must eliminate some mistakes. The lowlight of the first game was the third down pass when Sheldon Brown jumped the route and then Sean Jones took a bad angle. Miles Austin was wide open for the catch and then had a pretty easy path to the end zone. That play cost us the game.

Macho Harris is now back to starting at free safety. He doesn’t make as many plays as Jones, but Harris doesn’t get beat down the field. He will stay back and keep things in front of him. That is the primary job of a safety, especially the free safety. I don’t care if he makes any plays as long as he doesn’t let a receiver behind him.

Linebacker Moise Fokou had a pair of costly penalties in the first game with Dallas. He took away 50 yards of field position with an illegal block on an interception return by Brown. He also wiped out a kickoff return touchdown with an illegal block. Fokou will start this game. He’s playing well right now, but can’t make those kinds of mistakes. He’s been better recently about controlling his aggressive play. Coaches want players to play fast, but also to stay under control. You hope rookies make mistakes early in the year so that they know what they’re doing by late in the season when games become critical.

One key matchup for our defense is dealing with Jason Witten. He’s had some big days against us. With Will Witherspoon and Fokou as the outside linebackers we have a pair of athletic guys who should be solid in coverage. When Akeem Jordan is the middle linebacker he can help in coverage. The one matchup we don’t want to see is Jeremiah Trotter on Witten. That’s a big advantage for Dallas. We could also mix in Harris on Witten. We did that against Tony Gonzalez in the Atlanta game and had some success.

Getting pressure on Romo is always crucial. I’m interested to see what Sean McDermott does in this game. We didn’t blitz Romo a ton in the first game. When we did blitz, we mixed in some delay blitzes off the edge. We didn’t attack the middle as much. Tony Romo has struggled in rematches with our defense. Check out his numbers:

2006 ... L, 23-7 ... 14-29-142, 1 TD, 2 INTs
2007 ... L, 10-6 ... 13-36-214, 3 INTs
2008 ... L, 44-6 ... 21-39-183, 1 INT

The QB rating of those games are 45.5, 22.2, and 55.8. We've only given up 19 points in those games. 2 of them came in Dallas so it isn't like the crowd or weather was a huge factor. We simply tightened up our defense and he didn't handle it well. Football games are played at one speed in August. They get faster/tighter by October. They go up another notch in December and January. Dallas has played well the last two weeks, but Sunday will be a whole different story. Our defense has been great at times, but we're still waiting for a complete game. Could that be Sunday? You know the players will be ready and McDermott will have some wrinkles to throw at Dallas.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we had a bunch of guys standing up and moving around prior to the snap on pass plays. The Giants did this against Dallas and had success. The blockers aren’t sure who is coming where and it can be confusing. The down side is that you can leave yourself vulnerable to running plays.

The aspect of this game that has me the most nervous is them running against our nickel defense. Teams have done this successfully for the last month or so. We must get off blocks and find the ball when they do run. We must tackle well.

Tackling Miles Austin and the other Dallas WRs is crucial. He, Roy Williams, and Patrick Crayton all have good RAC ability. Austin is the most dynamic. Asante must at least slow his guy down. The Safeties must take good angles and wrap-up. Make Dallas sustain long drives. Don't give them big plays.

We should have an advantage on STs. Akers just made the Pro Bowl. DeSean is the most electric return guy in the NFL (apologies to Josh Cribbs). Rocca is solid, although he can be inconsistent at times. Quintin Demps is slotted to return to his job at KOR. That's huge. We struggled last week with Macho as the KOR. Demps has the speed and experience to give us a big boost.

I was nervous about this game early in the week, but the more I’ve thought about it the more relaxed I get. We aren’t on a six-game winning streak because of luck or some fluke situations. We are getting contributions from all over the roster. We score a lot of points on offense. We have a tough, playmaking defense. We have weapons on special teams. Reid is one of the best head coaches in the NFL and the rest of the staff is outstanding as well. We don’t need luck to win this game. We are the better team and as long as we go execute and limit mistakes Sunday should be a good day.


Check out this blurb from Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News:

Reid has taken the Eagles to the playoffs seven times this decade and won five division titles. He's taken the Eagles to four NFC title games and one Super Bowl. But this may be his finest coaching performance – reaching double figures in victories despite a lineup that has been ravaged by injuries.

How ravaged? From 2000-08, 32 NFL teams combined to play 288 seasons. Only 19 of those teams endured seasons when they lost more games by starters because of injury than the 2009 Eagles. But only three of those 19 overcame the injuries to post winning records, including the 2003 New England Patriots and the 2007 Indianapolis Colts.

The 2003 Patriots overcame 87 games lost by starters because of injury to finish with a 14-2 record and win the Super Bowl. The 2007 Colts overcame 81 games lost by starters because of injury to finish 13-3 but lost their opening playoff game.

You can see the whole story if you like, but be warned...there is an obnoxiously loud commercial that plays when you click on the link.




Cliff said...

I agree with Rick "Don't Call Me Jon" Gosselin. Doesn't Reid look a little looser on the sideline this year? I feel like the situation with his kids that spanned the last two season must have really taken a toll and now that it's passed, he's really been focused.

Cliff said...

Oh, and how about what's going on with Denver? Josh McDaniels benched Marshall for tomorrow's season finale because he hasn't been "accountable" to his team. Marshall says he wouldn't be able to play anyway because of injury to his hamstring.

Meanwhile, the Broncos basically need to win to keep their Wildcard spot in the AFC.


Ben said...

"Max takes over at LG. "

You meant RG, but we'll let you slide on that one haha

Macho hasn't made any big plays, but the ability to make those plays is definitely there. In the first game he dropped a pick 6. I think he did in another appearance too. He's around the ball which is good, we just need to see him finish and complete the big plays. I really like him to be a reliable future safety. Hopefully the plays start coming to him too.

I too have become much more relaxed about this game as the week has progressed. I saw the pick off the Maclin "deflection" from the first game. I forgot about that. That's a game changer. I forgot about Peters getting hurt mid game too. He's more consistent for us now as well.

Having Vick (if healthy) as a now effective part of our game plan can slow the pass rush at times (short yardage and goal line improve too).

I feel confident in this game now. This is our first playoff game, really. Imagine the swagger we'll carry into the bye week with a good win in Dallas? We've been waiting for our team to play their A-game for 60 minutes and we've historically stepped up in playoff situations. I think the focus will be there.

Tommy Lawlor said...

I'm going to answer some questions from the last set of comments that I never got to.

RE: Eagles and inconsistent prospects

This is a good question. I need to go back and look at our draft lists and see if there is a clear trend. I'll check on that probably when the season is over and we focus on the draft.

RE: Dunlap / Spikes

Carlos had a couple of sacks, but was more of a force from DT than DE. We don't need to spend too much time on him because I think getting him would be a real longshot for us. Big, athletic DL don't tend to fall out of the Top 10. I would certainly consider moving up if he slid into the 15-18 range.

Brandon Spikes could go as high as around 20 or as low as 45-50. I would not spend our first round pick on him. I can't see him lasting to our 2nd round spot.

LB for next year:

SAM - Fokou
MLB - Stew
WLB - Spoon

Backups: Jordan, Mays, White

We need at least one good backup to add to the mix. That could change if we keep Gocong or Gaither. I just can't see us spending an early pick at LB, though.

Tommy Lawlor said...

RE: Tebow / Eagles

I doubt he comes here. Tebow will likely be a Top 50 pick. We won't spend a 1st rounder on him. Tim would be a role player for us. I doubt we'd spend a 2nd rounder on him, but at least that would be somewhat more reasonable.

I don't think Tim fits our passing game at all, but he would be of interest in the Mike Vick role. Tebow lacks the arm to throw to the sidelines and down the field the way we like to.


Someone asked why people can be anti-SEC.

The SEC is the best conference in college football. Some people dispute this with a stat here or there, but anyone who truly follows CFB with an open mind knows that is the best conference. They obviously have some down years. We're talking in general.

Unfortunately, SEC fans are some of the most annoying people on earth. They drive other fans crazy with their arrogance and uber-enthusiasm. This creates a backlash against the SEC.

Cliff said...

Also, I think football fans hate the SEC because of the love affair ESPN has with it. It's clearly the best conference, but can we talk about somebody else for a change? I rely on ESPN for my sports coverage, so if football is beling played outside of the SEC or Souther Cal, I have no idea.

And because my alma mater gets beat down by SEC schools on a regular basis, I hate them.

Cliff said...

Fokou is starting at SAM? Does this mean Jordan is the starter at MLB?

I can't remember who we had playing LB last week. For whatever reason, I feel like the Denver game was forever ago. Maybe because I've been waiting for this match-up all season long.

Tommy Lawlor said...

Jordan and Trot shared MLB duties.


Yeah, the media can lay it on thick with the SEC love.

Prem Prakash said...

When I break down the Eagles-Dallas lineups, I think our passing game will make the difference. Our first loss was a messy game, when we weren't running on all cylinders. Our O line is now sturdy and Mclain, in particular, is a whole different animal. If McNabb has time in the pocket, we're money.

With the spotlight on and the big dogs on the field, Romo and Phillips are yet to prove they can get it done. If this game was in Philly I'd almost be more worried that the Birds would get caught sleeping. With so much on the line, the professionals rise to the occasion and the Eagles beat the Cowboys.

Myron said...

I think it would be interesting to call a ton of screen passes in anticipation of Dallas trying to take the deep ball away and blitz McNabb. Maybe Andy will try to feed it to Westbrook with the screen this game, as this has always killed the Cowboys in the past, and they'll be so busy trying to concentrate on stopping the big play that we gash them for huge gains.

Also, I have a feeling that stat about our defense playing better against Romo the second time around might be misleading - those were all Jim Johnson years. The man was a master at making adjustments. I hope McDermott can do the same, but I don't have the same level of confidence in his adjustment abilities yet as I do in the wily veteran JJ.

Cliff said...

I've questioned McD's ability to make adjustments during the course of this season, as well. Too often I felt like he was tinkering more than "adjusting." If that makes any sense.

With that said, I don't think this game needs too many adjustments. The defense just needs to be fundamentally sound: tackle Miles Austin, don't let Creighton get behind you, etc. Those things aren't really on McD, it's up to the players to stay focused.

I went back and looked at the gamebook for the 1st game. It's interesting to note that the same set of LB's started that game as will this game. Fokou was the starter at SAM, but Jordan and Spoon were switched. Finally some consistency at linebacker.

Prem Prakash said...

@Myron - Maybe Andy will try to feed it to Westbrook with the screen this game, as this has always killed the Cowboys in the past.

I agree. This could also be the week we see the flea-flicker.

I can't wait for Sunday!

Baloophi said...

You know who we haven't heard much from recently (save for the deflection catch last week)? Avant. Maybe he's less-effective against a 3-4, but all this discussion about screen passes has me wondering about the short middle of the field.

I think another key to the game will be McCoy/Westbrook picking up the blitz in the backfield. With Spencer suddenly playing well, I imagine we'll be doubling on Ware and chipping on the other side to help... Cole will have his hands full with Ratliff so if they send anybody through the A gaps we better be on top of it. If we get any kind of time, I don't see how they plan to keep Maclin, Jackson and Celek in check.

If the protection does break down, lets hope Donny's scramble last week has given him the confidence to do it again... just beware of those sideline cables...

Tommy Lawlor said...

Screens could be important. We had a long gain by McCoy in the first game on a screen. That was our best offensive play.

mally mal said...

Wondering if we were "overconfident" in the first Dallas game this year? Consider these few things: We just torched the Skins and Giants, we had yet to face a 3-4 defense yet, and i don't care what anybody says 44-6 was in our minds.

Consider these few things for this time around: this is our 3rd 3-4 defense we're facing in a row, we just won a tight game versus Denver, and we know they beat us earlier this year.

I've been looking for something to quell my anxiety, and this has been a balanced look at what we are up against. I'm hoping for another "improbable" win in Dallas like '06 (20-7) and '07 (10-6). I love defensive battles, but I see this being a high scoring game...

Tommy Lawlor said...

I think the shellacking we put on the Giants did hurt us in the Dallas game. Donovan was 17 of 23 vs NY. That game was too easy.

The 2nd half struggles last week should serve as good motivation for Dallas. No way we're over-confident.

Adam S. said...

Need some help...Who would you pick to win if you had $280 riding on it? Broncos vs Chiefs, Bears @ Lions or Titans @ Seahawks. Originally was going with Denver but no Marshall changes things.

Tommy Lawlor said...

Probably the Titans. Chris Johnson is hungry to get 2,000.

None of those games is inspiring.

Adam S. said...

Thanks Tommy, I had already called in the Titans as my pick but I have until the morning to change it so I figured I'd see what you thought.

I was thinking the same thing about Johnson and 2,000. That ultimately made up my mind.

Cliff said...

The day is upon us.

T_S_O_P said...

@ Cliff

And he day goes VERY well so far, with Leeds beating Scum 1 - 0 at Old Trafford. Their first victory there since 1981! My wife to be was only just 2 years old!!!

Believe me all,this is a good omen.

I need to sign off now and continue dancing.

Edward said...

Bloody Sky Sports are showing the game tonight so its blacked out on gamepass, serious bummer!

Maroussia said...

It will be great to watch Super Bowl Package,i have bought tickets from looking forward to it.