Dallas - Philly preview & prediction

The Eagles ran just six offensive plays in the first quarter of last weekend's shutout loss.

KICKOFF: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 1/09/10
SURFACE: Grass
TV: NBC (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Andrea Kremer)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Eagles ran just six offensive plays in the first quarter of last weekend's shutout loss. Playing from behind, Philadelphia was forced to become too one-dimensional and Dallas' pass rush took over as five of the Eagles' 12 third downs were 10 yards or longer. Philadelphia ran the ball a season-low 10 times, and must get RBs Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver involved from the outset to help control the clock more. Cowboys RBs Marion Barber and Felix Jones average 6.3 yards per carry last Sunday as the offensive line dominated. That has led to QB Tony Romo completing 66.1 percent of his passes for an average of 9.09 yards per attempt in the first two meetings. Philadelphia has to find a way to contain the ground game on first and second downs and then avoid the blown coverages the secondary has experienced too often this season.

FAST FACTS: The Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since 1996. ... The Eagles have 25 interceptions this season, but have also allowed 27 touchdown passes. ... Of the previous 19 teams that have swept a division rival during the regular season, 12 have gone on to complete the three-game sweep in a postseason rematch.

PERSONNEL NEWS: Eagles - WR DeSean Jackson isn't even listed on the team's injury report this week, despite aggravating a groin injury in last week's loss to the Cowboys. He has practiced this week and will play Saturday. The Eagles have said he also is expected to return punts.

--QB Mike Vick is expected to be the No. 2 quarterback Saturday night against the Cowboys, which means he'll be used in a yet-to-be-determined number of Wildcat formations. Vick has been the team's emergency quarterback the last two games while recovering from a thigh bruise.

--LB Chris Gocong, who was benched three games ago, may replace Moise Fokou at strong-side linebacker Saturday. At the very least, they both will get snaps. Gocong hasn't played a down on defense since his benching.

--MLB Jeremiah Trotter probably will get more snaps Saturday. He did a better job against the run in the Eagles' base package than the team's other middle linebacker, Akeem Jordan.

--WR Jeremy Maclin, who is nursing thumb and foot injuries, has been a full practice participant all week and will start Saturday in the Eagles' wildcard game against the Cowboys.

Cowboys -RB Tashard Choice practiced on Thursday for first time since suffering a slight concussion against the Eagles last Sunday. He was held back for precautionary reasons. He will play against the Eagles on Saturday and carry his load as the third-down back and the wildcat back.

--RT Marc Colombo will play and start against the Eagles on Saturday after missing the last seven games of the season with a sprained ankle and fractured fibula. Because there are questions about Colombo's conditioning, he will not carry the full load. He will be spelled during the game by Doug Free, who played admirably at right tackle during his absence.

--LB DeMarcus Ware was held out of practice because of a sore back. The Cowboys checked the back out and deemed there was nothing structurally wrong with it. Ware will play against the Eagles on Saturday.

--RB Marion Barber was limited in practice on Thursday because of a knee injury. But it was mostly a precautionary move. Barber will play against the Eagles. He rushed for 91 yards against the Eagles last week.

INSIDE THE CAMPS: Eagles- The Eagles know they need to do a better job of jamming Cowboys tight end Jason Witten at the line of scrimmage Saturday night than they did in last week's 24-0 loss.

Witten, who was given a clean release most of the game, had six catches for 76 yards and one touchdown against the Eagles.

"We wanted to jam him more than we did and that didn't get done," Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "That's something we've looked at this week. You're talking about a Pro Bowl tight end and really we have to jam him at the line as much as we can and take him out of his routes and the timing of his routes with the quarterback. We're going to have a better plan going into this week to get that done."

That plan could include a switch as strong-side linebacker. Chris Gocong, who had been the starter, was benched three games ago in favor of rookie Moise Fokou. But Fokou wasn't very effective last week in jamming Witten at the line and also struggled against the run.

The Cowboys rushed for 179 yards last week, the most allowed by the Eagles this season. "Every game you've got to stop the run so that you can play the pass," middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. "If not, they're just going to keep running on you."

Cowboys- Tony Romo entered the season at the crossroads. His legacy was at stake.

Was he going to be forever labeled as a quarterback who put up great stats but couldn't win the big one?

Or was he going to continue the Cowboys' legacy of Super Bowl quarterbacks like Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach?

Romo has already rewritten much of the Cowboys' record books at quarterback. But he's 0-2 in the playoffs with two embarrassing losses. Now comes Saturday's wildcard playoff game against Eagles.

Will the third time be the charm?

Will he finally prove to the world he is a big-game and a big-time quarterback?

"I'm a completely different player and this is a completely different team," Romo said. "Those past games have absolutely no bearing on anything going forward."

Romo proved he was a different quarterback over the last month. He led the Cowboys to three straight wins to end the season, completing 71 of 106 passes for 909 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. One of those interceptions came on a tipped pass.

Owner Jerry Jones said Romo has benefitted from his life in a bubble as the Cowboys quarterback. His every move has been scrutinized on and off the field. He has faced intense scrutiny and criticism.

Jones said the world is seeing a Romo who has learned from his experiences and has come out a better man and better quarterback.

"I think that in a great deal of areas, he's just not the same guy," Jones said. "He's had a small lifetime of experiences both on and off the field, media exposure, critique, and I can tell you first-hand that ultimately that will toughen you up or it will knock a little of naivete out of you. So that has an impact."

But it's all talk if Romo doesn't follow up with a playoff win against the Eagles.

A loss and the rap of not being able to win the big one will return.

A win and he could open the door to a Super Bowl run.

"I have to prove everything to myself," Romo said. "It doesn't matter what other people think. Before I started (his first career game) against Carolina, I felt like I could play at this level, but I didn't know.

"It's all part of each stage of your career. I think we can play well as a team in January, but we've got to go out and do it. Same as December. We had to go out and do it," Romo said. "And that's sort of what it comes down to. Doing it."

PREDICTION: Cowboys 24-23

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