Last week was an embarrassment. There’s no beating around the bush on that one. The Eagles had a first round bye in their fingertips and got manhandled by their nemesis. Now the two conference foes match up for the second consecutive week at Cowboys Stadium. And the beauty of the situation is that it’s a new week.
Looking at Saturday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, I don’t even know where to begin. Based on the history of these two franchises, anything could happen. The Eagles could perform (if you want to say that) on the same level they did last weekend and flush their promising season down the drain or they could learn from their mistakes and prove that they can be the best team in the NFC East.
The Cowboys are riding on cloud nine right now. They have won their last three games, two of which against NFC playoff teams. They are fighting to win their first playoff game since 1996 and break the Cowboy curse in the last decade. Dallas swept the Eagles during the regular season, and a win against the Eagles would mark the 13th out of 20 times that a division team completed a sweep in the playoffs.
The Eagles demonstrated their vulnerability at Cowboy stadium last weekend. They were unable to adjust to the defensive schemes, they gave Tony Romo unlimited time in the pocket, and got outplayed in all facets of the game. But there is hope for the Philadelphia Eagles. They have the talent to overcome the road game against the Cowboys, but they are going to need a prime performance to come away with a win. Here is what the Eagles need to do:
1) In the words of Coach Yoast in Remember the Titans, “We will blitz all night!”
The Eagles were way too conservative against the Cowboys, which left them vulnerable to big plays. The defensive line did a terrible job pressuring Tony Romo and he was able to create 30 yard plays from 10 yard passes. More pressure on the quarterback could also help defend against the quarterback draw that they Cowboys love to pursue.
Considering that the Eagles defense relies solely on the big play, the defense is going to need to force Romo into throwing bad passes. On a number of occasions last weekend, the Eagles were a step away from creating turnovers but that lack of step resulted in some big plays. As cliché as it sounds, turnovers decide games and pressuring the quarterback is going to create more opportunities for the defense.
Dallas will remember the night they played the Eagles.
2) Run the football.
The Eagles only ran the ball a total of 10 times last Sunday. I understand that the Eagles are a pass-happy offense, but McNabb is going to flourish when the offense is balanced. The fact that Weaver and McCoy only combined for two touches last week is a travesty. I would like the Eagles to attempt more screen plays to either Brian Westbrook or LeSean McCoy, preferably McCoy considering that Westbrook has not been the same since his injury. The play-calling seemed very predictable by the offense and I think that a combination of creative run calls and screen plays can take some pressure off of the shoulders of McNabb.
3) Donovan McNabb needs to spread the ball around and be less predictable.
Last weekend, 24 of the 33 pass attempts were to DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek and Jeremy Maclin. As far as receptions, Celek had 7 and Jackson and Maclin both had three receptions. The Cowboys know that Jackson and Maclin are the two prime targets for McNabb and have the ability to create big plays. Brent Celek stepped up last week as the go-to guy and can create mismatches with his speed and versatility when matched up with linebackers. In order to overcome issues with predictability, McNabb needs to look more to Jason Avant. He has made big play after big play each week and deserves a chance to be a part of this offense.
4) Linebackers need to cover the middle of the field
So many times I have complained about the fact that the Eagles cannot guard the opposing tight end. Jason Witten is known as an Eagles killer and the ‘Birds cannot afford to let that reputation flourish on Saturday night. He finished with 76 yards and scored the first touchdown last weekend, but the types of plays that he makes create the problems for Philadelphia. In my opinion, they need to put a man on him the entire game and allow the rest of the linebacker core to cover the middle of the field.
5) Win the field position battle.
One of the biggest problems in the last few seasons in Philadelphia has been the lack of special teams play. Between Macho Harris and Jeremy Maclin, the returners always look like a deer in headlights after catching a kickoff. A big play from DeSean Jackson in the punt game certainly would not hurt as well.
These are some of the main things that stuck out in last weekend’s tragedy of a football game. There is no question that Andy Reid is going to prepare for this game, but the big question will be whether or not he can adjust to the curveballs that the Cowboys will throw. Clearly both teams are going to throw some surprises into their play calling, but it’s how they both respond that will decide this football game.
On an ending note, the Eagles are 7-0 under head coach Andy Reid in the first game of a playoff, four of which in the wildcard round. There is no reason they can’t go 8-0.