5 Key Matchups This Week

Warnest Contributor Andrew Pluta breaks down five key matchups between the Eagles and Cowboys in this Sunday's game. How will the Eagles defend Terrell Owens? Will Brian Westbrook be able to run against the Cowboys defense? All of this and more inside...

Brian Dawkins vs. Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton

The Eagles All-Pro safety has played well since returning to the field after suffering a stinger in week two, but like the rest of the defense, he has struggled in terms of forcing turnovers. The Eagles pass defense is in the upper half of the NFC, allowing 219.5 yards per game through the air, but they have picked off a league-low seven passes. Philadelphia has one of the worst turnover differentials in the NFL at minus-8 and Dawkins has not recorded an interception or forced a fumble all season.

Dawkins will need to be prepared to help in coverage against the Cowboys potent passing attack that features former-Eagle Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton. In such a pass-heavy offense, Owens and Crayton will be expected to get a few catches at least, but keeping them out of the end zone will be the hard part. On the year, Owens leads the NFL in receiving yards with 1,270 and is second in the league in touchdowns with 14, while Crayton has thrived as the number two receiver in the Cowboys offense, posting career highs in catches (39), yards (570), and touchdowns (7). Although Crayton did not have a reception in the first meeting with the Eagles, Owens had arguably his best game of the year, catching ten passes for 1 74 yards and a touchdown.

Brian Westbrook vs. DeMarcus Ware

While Westbrook has continued to put up MVP-like numbers all season, the Eagles have not been able to finish games and as a result, some of his best performances of the year have come in losses. Last week in a 16-13 loss to the Giants, Westbrook had his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season, running for 116 yards on 20 carries and also had five catches for 38 yards and a touchdown. Now in his sixth year in the league, Westbrook has gained the most yards from scrimmage in the NFL with 1,752 and is fourth in rushing yards with 1,110. His 12 total touchdowns are one away from his career high, set in 2003. In the first game against Dallas this season, Westbrook had 65 yards and a touchdown on the ground and also looked like the Eagles best wide receiver, catching 14 passes in the game.

Like Westbrook, the 6-foot-4, 257-pound Ware is also a multi-dimensional player who can do a lot for his team. A Pro-Bowler last season, Ware has been a monster at linebacker for the Cowboys defense this year recording 70 total tackles, 10 sacks, and forcing two fumbles. With exceptional speed to go along with his size, Ware is effective as a run-stopper, as a pass-rusher, or even in coverage. The third-year veteran out of Troy has been a big reason that Dallas has the fourth-best run defense in the NFL, allowing only 90.7 yards per game rushing.

Omar Gaither vs. Jason Witten


Eagles MLB Omar Gaither
Al Bello/Getty Images

Now in his second year in the league, Gaither has shown great potential in his first full season as the Eagles starting middle linebacker. He currently leads the team in tackles with 86 and also has a forced fumble and an interception to his credit. Gaither is second on the team in pass break-ups with seven, and the former Tennessee Volunteer is arguably Philadelphia's most athletic linebacker in coverage. Although he has recorded 28 tackles in the last three games, Gaither only had five in the Eagles first meeting with Dallas and was not much of a factor in the game.

Gaither will often find himself trying to stay with the Cowboys Jason Witten in coverage and as many others have seen, this is no easy task. Witten leads NFL tight ends in receptions with 80, and receiving yards with 955. A three-time Pro-Bowler, Witten showed last week how valuable he is as a check down receiving option for Tony Romo when he had 15 catches for 138 yards against Detroit. He also had the game-winning touchdown; his seventh score of the year, in the Cowboys exciting 28-27 win on a 16-yard pass up the seam. In the game against Philadelphia in week nine, Witten had three catches for 77 yards and scored a touchdown.

Kevin Curtis vs. Dallas Secondary

As the Eagle's number one receiver, Curtis has a chance to do something this season that only one other wide receiver has accomplished during the Andy Reid era. Entering this weeks game with 930 yards receiving on 59 catches, Curtis is on pace to be the first Eagle to finish with over 1,000 yards receiving since Terrell Owens in 2004. Although he shows explosiveness and great hands at times, Curtis tends to disappear sometimes and has only scored a touchdown in three different games. He has also finished four different games with fewer than 30 receiving yards.

The Cowboys secondary is led by corner Anthony Henry and safety Ken Hamlin, and this group has allowed 219.8 yards per game passing so far. Hamlin and Henry have five interceptions each and both are very physical tacklers, weighing over 200 pounds each. They each picked off a pass in the Eagles last meeting with the Cowboys and did a good job of shutting down Philadelphia's passing game. Opposing quarterbacks have a 73.2 quarterback rating against the Dallas secondary.

Trent Cole vs. Flozell Adams

Cole had a four-game streak without a sack a few weeks ago, but looked like a Pro-Bowler again last week against the Giants and will need to play just as well to get pressure in Romo's face. In the game, Cole registered six tackles and had two sacks and brought his season total to 11.5, the most for an Eagles player since Hugh Douglas had 12.5 in 2002. Philadelphia will need Cole and his relentless motor to keep Romo from getting comfortable but also to keep him contained in the pocket and stops him from scrambling for big gains.

The 6-foot-7, 340-pound Adams is one of the leagues better tackles and often has to go against some of the NFL's premier pass rushers. Dallas has only allowed 19 sacks this season, third fewest in the NFC, and the former Pro-Bowler Adams is a big reason why. In the last match up with Philadelphia, the Cowboys offensive line held the Eagles without a sack the whole game and Dallas was able to have its way on offense.


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