Philadelphia (3-4) will have a chance to gain ground in the NFC East race this Sunday as the Eagles prepare to face off against Tony Romo and the division leading Dallas Cowboys at home. Here is a look at three players who must step up in order for the Eagles to have a shot at getting back to .500:
After stating that the division title still comes through Philadelphia despite having a losing record, McNabb will have a chance to back up his words on a huge stage. Coming off a solid performance against the Vikings, McNabb will have to continue to show progress in his ability to move around the pocket and make quick decisions against the Cowboys blitzing 3-4 defense. The Eagles quarterback has been sacked 27 times this year and will be going up against a Dallas unit that has 18 total sacks and the number five overall passing defense in the NFC.
While he has been taken down a lot this season, mostly in the painful 16-3 loss to the Giants in week 4, McNabb has done an excellent job of taking care of the football. He has only one interception in his last 236 pass attempts. As a team, the Eagles have only committed seven turnovers for the season.
McNabb will look to get one-on-one matchups with Brian Westbrook and the Cowboys safeties Roy Williams and Ken Hamlin. Both Safeties are better in run support and struggle when trying to cover receivers in open space. The return of tight end L.J. Smith, one of McNabb’s favorite targets in recent years, should also help open up the middle of the field to the pass.
Going against the third best passing offense in the league, the Eagles will look for Sheppard to repeat the success he had against Dallas in 2006. In two games against the Cowboys last year, Sheppard had a total of 11 tackles, 8 pass deflections and 3 interceptions. One of the interceptions he returned for a touchdown, when he jumped in front of an under thrown pass to Owens and raced 102 yards to the end zone. In his third game back since missing four games with a knee injury, the Eagles best corner will have to try to contain T.O. mainly, but could find himself matched up against the emerging Patrick Crayton or Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten.
Sheppard will be aided in the secondary by the return of Brian Dawkins, who is recovering from a neck injury he suffered in the Monday night game against the Redskins.
The Eagles have the ninth best defense overall in the NFL coming into week nine, and end Trent Cole has been big reason why. Entering the game, Cole leads the league in sacks with nine and is third on the team with 38 tackles. Philadelphia’s most disruptive pass rusher had two sacks last week against Minnesota and will need to get pressure on Romo to stop the Cowboys offense from getting into a rhythm. The Dallas offensive line has only let up 11 sacks this year, but Cole should see a favorable matchup against Flozell Adams throughout the game. With Adams standing at 6-foot-7, Cole will be hard to block and should be able to give the mammoth tackle a hard time with the low-pad style of football he plays.
Andrew Pluta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.