Woodson Explains How to Beat Philly

IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys at Eagles. Monday Night Football. A down-the-line division title possibly at stake. And while the mouthy Terrell Owens figures to attempt to hog the bulletin board, is it OK if we carve a bit of room for some pregame chatter from old friend Darren Woodson?

The great Cowboys safety is retired now, and as he notes, as a commentator for ESPN, "I'm supposed to be neutral. But when Dallas beat Philly in that first meeting this year, it felt so good. I was in Bristol, Conn., with ESPN, and up there, there are a lot of Eagles fans. I was in the middle of them, smiling ear-to-ear.

"It was nice to see the Cowboys dominate them again. And they did dominate! They took 'em to the woodshed and spanked 'em!''

Furthermore, Woody believes he knows how the Cowboys can produce a repeat performance on Monday in Philadelphia.

"One thing about Philly,'' Woodson tells me, as I brace myself, "Philly -- if you punch them in the mouth early -- they'll fold. This comes straight from Parcells. Parcells likens them to the bully in the schoolyard who, if you just push them back, will fold. They are a front-running team. Get after them in the first quarter, stay after them in the second quarter, and a game can be totally over by the third quarter.''

And who better than Bill Parcells to detail the mental innerworkings of the bully!?

In terms of scoring, there are almost bizarre stats that back up what Woodson is saying about the Eagles, for four straight years an NFC Championship Game finalist. Philadelphia has been consistently outplayed in first quarters of games. They fell behind Atlanta by 14, they fell behind Kansas City by 10, they fell behind Dallas by 17, they fell behind Denver by 14. Along with the failures, that's requiring a lot of late-game heroics just to stay afloat and nearby 5-3 Dallas.

"It's not just Philly, it's the nature of the league now,'' says Woodson, a pivotal player on Dallas' 90's Super Bowl teams now in his first full year of retirement. "It's accepted that you can get blown out by 48 points one week and come back the next week and win by 48. It makes every team into front-runners. You get down, and maybe because of the salary cap you are young and inexperienced, so you can't get back up. You wait until next week to do it.''

Woody is referring to what in this space I've labeled "Slot Machine Football''; it's become impossible to accurately forecast the outcomes of games.

"I like it better because it's crazy every weekend, and there are no dominant teams,'' Woodson says. "New England and Philly have been close. But every team can beat every other team -- and every team DOES beat every other team! It's something to see, because every game can be competitive, and you never know what's going to happen.''

So Woodson doesn't miss the NFL days of one powerhouse team? Like, say, his old Cowboys?

"Oh, believe me, when I played, I enjoyed being one of those teams,'' Woodson laughs. "And now, the quality of teams is obviously not that good. No way these New England teams could have competed with the Cowboys of the early-90's, or fit into our Cowboys-Niners rivalry, or played with the Steelers of the 70's. And maybe not the Bills teams of 90's. The talent level was so high for us that I believe our second team probably would beat 90 percent of the teams in the league now. Leon Lett and Chad Hennings as backup defensive linemen? C'mon! The best teams in the league can't even dream of that.''

Philadelphia, of course, has long qualified as a "best-team-in-the-league'' candidate. And even with the blemishes -- including Owens' parasitic presence -- Woodson believes that reputation is still deserved.

"I can't say that Philly is done,'' he says. "One game, like their loss in Dallas, doesn't define a team. The Eagles will bounce back. It's a great organization. They have leadership. They know how to win. The Eagles will find a way to fight back to the top.''

Probably. But Darren Woodson still believes the Cowboys can win that fight against the Eagles. ... "if you punch them in the mouth early.''

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