Nevertheless, the notion that the Eagles now are sitting on the outside looking in simply isn't accurate. After dropping a 14-10 decision to the Atlanta Falcons, the Eagles have reeled off three straight wins, and look like they have begun to reclaim a bit of their Super Bowl swagger. The Owens/McNabb rift seems to have died down, at least for now, and McNabb is garnering national acclaim for his ability to play at a Pro Bowl level despite suffering from a sports hernia. The Eagles are 10-2 against Dallas during Andy Reid's tenure as head coach, including 3-1 since Bill Parcells took over in Dallas.
Spotlight: Kenyon Coleman
Spotlight: Kenyon Coleman
Defensive end Greg Ellis was asked this week if he remembers the play
last year when McNabb scrambled … and scrambled … and scrambled
(eluding Ellis, among others) before heaving a backbreaking bomb to
Freddie Mitchell in last year's Eagle win at Texas Stadium. "I see that
play every day in my mind," Ellis said. To be fair, Ellis did what he
was supposed to on that play: after McNabb started to his left and then
scrambled back to his right, Ellis (then playing on left defensive end)
got enough penetration and stayed wide enough that he prevented McNabb
from turning the corner, where he had miles of open field in front of
him. However, the highlight that most remember from that play was
McNabb whirling around again, just out of Ellis' reach, and sprinting
back to his left before launching the Hail Mary to Mitchell.
Ellis has switched to the right side -- McNabb's left -- this year, and Coleman has assumed Ellis' old spot at left defensive end. The 6-foot-5, 295-pound Coleman is 15 pounds heavier than Ellis, and will line up across from 6-foot-7, 330-pound right tackle Jon Runyan. McNabb, like all right-handed quarterbacks, is more effective throwing on the run when he rolls to his right, behind Runyan. The Cowboys' strongest defensive end, Coleman must use his power to get past Runyan and force McNabb back into the pocket, or at least to roll to his left -- where, ideally, Ellis will be waiting with open arms. If nothing else, Coleman must resist the urge to chase McNabb too far inside, because McNabb is easily quick enough to loop around to the outside. If he gets outside the Dallas defense's containment, he'll have all day to run or throw. Ellis said this week that when McNabb scrambles, the offensive line does a great job of continuing its blocks, treating McNabb almost like a running back. If Coleman can get enough outside pressure, he can be instrumental in keeping McNabb in the pocket, thereby forcing the Philly quarterback to try to beat the Dallas defense in a more conventional manner.
The Cowboys have done a fairly good job through four games of keeping quarterback Drew Bledsoe upright and allowing him time to throw. That must continue Sunday against the Eagles, who employ one of the most aggressive defenses in the league. Philadelphia defensive coordinator is known to blitz early and often, and from multiple angles and through creatively disguised schemes. Defensive end Jevon Kearse remains the headliner, despite less-than-Freak-ish statistics (6 tackles, 1 sack through four games). There is reason for concern that Kearse -- who boasts a rare combination of size, long arms and absurd quickness -- might have a breakout day Sunday, given the fact that he'll spend much of the day lined up across from Dallas right tackle Rob Petitti. Dallas must offer help to their promising rookie tackle by keeping tight ends Jason Witten and Dan Cambell in to help block, and the Dallas running backs also must help in the blocking game. But Kearse certainly is not the only pass rushing threat Philadelphia has. Parcells expressed concern this week about outside linebackers Keith Adams and Dhani Jones, neither of whom has a sack yet this year. But both are extremely fast, and if they get past their blockers, they should have little trouble running down Bledsoe. Defensive tackles Darwin Walker and Mike Patterson have 2.5 and 2 sacks, respectively. Johnson loves to send safeties on blitzes; free safety has 2.5 sacks and strong safety Michael Lewis has one.
Contain Your Excitement
For all of the respect given to running back Brian Westbrook and demanded by Owens, the most dangerous player on the Philly offense remains McNabb. Gone are the days when he was a wild scrambler whose inexperience and youth convinced him to tuck the ball and take off at the slightest sign of pressure -- he now hangs in the pocket and throws with much-improved accuracy. But he still is dangerous when he scrambles around, allowing his receivers ample time to get open downfield. And even with his injury, he's one of the fastest and most elusive quarterbacks in the league, and Dallas needs to try to keep him in the pocket and make him complete short and intermediate passes.
The Cowboys need to apply pressure, but they also need to make sure he isn't able to roam free. The secondary needs to have a big day against the Eagles' underrated receiving corps.
Defend this House!
To borrow the catchphrase from defensive end Eric Ogbogu's UnderArmor commercials, Dallas must keep the Eagles out of the end zone. Although that sounds as brilliant as some of Brent Musberger's pearls of wisdom, there is some actual logic here. All-world kicker David Akers is on the shelf with a hamstring injury, and while replacement Todd France isn't bad, the dropoff is like renting a subcompact while your Ferrari is in the shop -- it will get you to work and the grocery store, but you don't exactly want to hit the Autobahn in that thing. Even if the Eagles pile up yards Sunday, if the Cowboys can limit them to field goals, Dallas can compete.
If McNabb spends the day congratulating his receivers as they come back from the end zone, the Cowboys likely will find themselves on the south side of the .500 mark after Sunday's game.