The Cowboys and the Eagles meet for the first time this year with a great deal on the line for both teams. As we sit at the halfway point of the NFL season, these two clubs are at a crossroads as far as which direction the second half might take them.
In studying both, it is amazing to me how similar they really are. Starting with the records, that really tells the story of the season. I know head coach Jason Garrett won’t say it, but I asked him Wednesday if he was coaching a desperate squad? His answer was that he didn’t think so. OK, that’s fair enough, but what do you call a team that is 3-5 and the loser of two straight games? I would say both the Cowboys and Eagles are desperate for a victory to try and build any type of momentum going forward.
Offensively, Philadelphia is still as explosive as any team I have seen this season. Where the Eagles have struggled, much like the Cowboys, is with turnovers and some breakdowns along the offensive line. The Eagles have lost four of their five starters in that group, but as we have learned over the years, nobody feels sorry for you. You plug new players in and do your best to make it all work.
Where the Eagles have really been banged up is at tackle. After losing Jason Peters on the left side, it’s been a revolving door there ever since. King Dunlap is the starter now, but before that it was Demetress Bell. The Eagles have gotten into trouble by believing that Bell could be a serviceable swing tackle, although he is far from it. And, it looks like Bell will be pressed into duty once again this Sunday due to an ankle injury that Todd Herremans suffered in the New Orleans game on Monday night. Neither Dunlap nor Bell really move all that well and struggle when they have to deal with explosive charges up the field. The harder defenders take them up the field, the more of a struggle it is for them to work their feet and keep in front of their man.
Right guard Dennis Kelly is a liability as well. The longer that Kelly has to hold his block, the more likely he will break down with his technique. Last season, left guard Evan Mathis didn’t allow a sack, and in the games I reviewed, he wasn’t as bad as the others around him.
Just as we’ve seen from Dallas this year, the Eagles line really struggles with movement. The more you make them adjust, the more pressure it puts on them to sustain their blocks. Look for Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to keep attacking this offensive line with movement until they prove they can block it, which might not happen at all.
The Michael Vick that I have studied this season isn’t even close to what we have seen from him in years past. When Vick first came into the league, he was not an accurate passer at all. While with Atlanta, he didn’t develop as a passer, but since he has been the quarterback in Philadelphia, he has made significant progress in that part of his game.
But this season has been a different story and maybe this has to do more with the constant shots that he has taken behind this offensive line. I have always believed that the best way to play Vick is to hit him every chance you get because it affects how he moves in the pocket and it makes him slow down. When Vick is at his best is when he can take the snap, and let the ball fly without making any reads. There is no doubt that he is still dangerous in the pocket, but his ability to escape when protection breaks down is legendary.
The most alarming area of Vick’s game this season has been the turnovers. To put it bluntly, he has been a turnover machine, and it really hasn’t mattered where he is on the field or in the red zone. His carelessness with the football is one of the main reasons why his team sits at 3-5.
With all that has gone on with the Eagles offense, there is a side of me that really believes that head coach Andy Reid is going to make this game against the Cowboys about LeSean McCoy and his talents. If Reid doesn’t want to expose Vick to any more potential problems turnover-wise, handing or throwing the ball to McCoy is never a bad thing, the results usually proving favorable. What Ryan and his defense have to be ready for is stretch plays, sprint draws and screens, with the possibility of any of these occurring at any point on the field.
McCoy is a nightmare to defend because of his ability to take simple plays and make them explosive. When you play McCoy you had better be ready to tackle well because he is not an easy runner to bring down. There was some questionable tackling by the Cowboys in the fourth quarter of the Falcons game, something that cannot happen again this week if they expect to win.
I didn’t know much about Bryce Brown’s game, but the rookie running back looked really nice in the loss to the Saints. He is a physical rusher that can get the ball to the edge but also finish with some power.
Looking at these Eagles receivers, I also like to include tight end Brent Celek in the group because of his ability to work down the field. It’s still an explosive bunch when you talk about DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Where the Cowboys struggled last week against the Falcons were on the routes that were across the middle of the field inside. Celek likes to work the middle, but you will see Jackson and Maclin do the same.
I would not call these guys great route-runners like the Giants, but they play at a much faster pace, meaning if you are chasing them, you are most likely way behind. I mentioned that Vick has had some troubles getting them the ball on the move, which is something that he has executed outstandingly in the past.
There is no doubt in my mind that if the Eagles do try and feature McCoy that they will still take some shots down the field, especially very early in the game to try and get things going in the right direction for this offense.