Learning From Past Mistakes

IRVING, Tex. - There are a lot of coaches and players who, after suffering a lopsided loss, will talk about "throwing away the film."

The logic, of course, is that so many things went so badly that there is nothing to gain by watching the film. Worse yet, rehashing such a game might induce some to repeat the mistakes that led to the less-than-desirable result.

It would be easy to assume that the first meeting between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles — which Philadelphia won, 34-7, Oct. 30 — would fall in to that category.

Not true, according to Dallas defensive end Jason Hatcher.

"We watched it the day after that game, and it wasn't a lot of fun, because we made a lot of mistakes," Hatcher said. "But it's not like we don't watch it now.

"When you play a team twice (in a season), you always watch the first game before you play (the opposing team) the second time. It doesn't matter what happened the first time, whether you won or lost. You have to look at the first game, to study what worked and what didn't work, and to see what they like to do, scheme-wise."

Scouting the Eagles' schemes is different from scouting other team's schemes, if only because the teams play against each other (at least) twice a year, and because this is Andy Reid's 13th season as the Eagles' head coach.

The Eagles are a team that doesn't seem to match their statistics. They will arrive in Arlington for Saturday's game with a team that started the season with huge expectations (thanks in part to backup quarterback Vince Young sizing up the team's offseason acquisitions by calling his new team the "Dream Team") and then limped out of the starting blocks with losses in four of the first five games of the season. Critics called for players to be cut; some even said it was time for Reid to go.

Yet there is ample reason to acknowledge the Eagles are a solid team. Philly has won its last two games — including a 45-19 grounding of the New York Jets last Sunday — and surprisingly still has a chance to win the NFC East, with a little help from the Cowboys and New York Giants. In addition:

• Philadelphia and the Houston Texans are the only two teams in the NFL ranked in the top 10 in offensive yards gained and defensive yards allowed.

• Philadelphia defensive end Jason Babin, Dallas linebacker DeMarcus Ware and Kansas City linebacker Tamba Hali are the only three players in the NFL with 12 or more sacks in each of the last two seasons.

• With a league-leading 18 quarterback sacks this season, Babin — often viewed as "the other defensive end" on a line that also includes Trent Cole — is just three shy of the team record of 21 set in 1987 by the legendary Reggie White.

• On an offense known for über-athletic quarterback Michael Vick and mercurial wide receiver, running back LeSean McCoy is quietly ranked second in the NFL in rushing yards and has a team-record 20 touchdowns this season (17 rushing, three receiving).

Hatcher said the key Saturday will not be what the Eagles do. Instead, he said, it is the Cowboys who have to execute their game plan better — far better — than they did the last time the teams met.

"If Michael Vick is healthy, he's a tremendous quarterback," Hatcher said. "Look at the talent they have — they're a loaded team. But we didn't play very well (Oct. 30). Personally, I was just coming back from being injured, so I expect to have a much better performance, but we all can play better than we did that night, and we will."

In the first meeting of the season between the two teams, McCoy had arguably the best game of his career, setting new personal standards with 30 carries and 185 rushing yards, and adding a pair of rushing touchdowns. Hatcher understandably declined to go into detail of how the Dallas defensive game plan will differ this time around, but said it would be more a matter of tweaking the current defensive system, rather than a major overhaul.

"It's not going to be a totally different game plan, but that's because Coach (Dallas defensive coordinator Rob) Ryan makes up the game plan based on what he expects the other offense to do," Hatcher said. "We know they're going to put the ball in LeSean McCoy's hands. We know they're going to ask Vick to make plays with his legs and his arm. We know they're going to get the ball to all of their playmakers.

"The difference this time is we have to defend those guys better than we did last time. We didn't do a good job of it last time. We have to be up for that challenge, and we feel like we have a great game plan for them."

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