Marc Colombo, Key Enforcer

The Dallas Cowboys probably shouldn't feel like they need a boost when they host the Philadelphia Eagles.

After all, the 'Boys whipped Philly last week in the regular-season finale, giving them back-to-back shutouts for the first time in team history.

But the Eagles have made no secret of the fact that they intend to play better in their postseason rematch with the Cowboys, who swept both regular-season games from the Green Birds. They have to say that, of course, lest anyone thinks they plan to lay down and make reservations for tee times on a tropical golf course someplace. If they don't play better — substantially better — there's no way they beat Dallas.

But the talk out of Philadelphia this week has been about how the Eagles were "pushed around" and "physically beaten" Sunday in Arlington, and how they can't let that happen again this week. Philly players have talked about their intention of playing "bigger" and "more intense" and "more physical" in Round 3 with Dallas.

Part of that aggression surely will come on defense, where the Eagles barely sniffed Dallas quarterback Tony Romo all day and watched the Cowboys move the ball effectively on the ground and through the air. More than one Eagle has been quoted this week saying, effectively, that the Philly defense is going to get after it even harder this week.

Enter Marc Colombo.

The Cowboys' starting right tackle has been out since breaking his leg in November against the Green Bay Packers. In his stead, Doug Free has done an admirable job filling in, and has given Cowboys coaches, teammates and fans a reason to breathe a little more easily about the glaring lack of depth on the offensive line.

But Colombo is a different player than Free. In addition to being younger, Free is a better athlete and hungry to prove himself.

Columbo, at 6-8, 318, is a little stiff, coming off his second major injury (he ripped up a knee while a member of the Chicago Bears) and is generally a little bit limited athletically.

But he's also a smart, tough, sometimes mean blocker. He's not as strong as Leonard Davis, not as quick as Andre Gurode and not as athletic as Flozell Adams or Kyle Kosier. But if a defensive player needs a not-so-subtle reminder that Romo is not to be touched, Colombo is the man. All the less-than-pleasant tricks that offensive linemen reportedly break out during the heat of battle … Colombo knows them.

None of this is to suggest that he's a dirty player — he's not, and in the locker room, he's as pleasant as any of his teammates. But just as every hockey team needs an enforcer, so to do NFL offensive lines. They need guys who will dare defenders to go after their quarterback, and when that does happen, punish those defenders physically. Colombo might be better than anyone on the Dallas offensive line at simply making the man he is blocking quit.

Wade Phillips said this week that while Colombo will play, and perhaps even start, Free will continue to get some playing time … and that's the right call, as Free has presented himself as a viable option.

But Colombo gives the Dallas offensive line an extra element of nastiness and grit that teams simply need at this time of year. If Dallas wins Saturday, Colombo won't get any headlines, but rest assured, he'll play a part in the outcome — a part that will allow Romo more time to throw, open more rushing lanes and the Cowboys a better chance of competing the three-game sweep.

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