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Final Thoughts: Scheming Up A Winning Effort


FRISCO, Texas – So much of this matchup has been about injuries, and that's going to bear watching as we move forward.

We know about the Cowboys' concerns, but this is also a banged up Eagles roster coming into AT&T Stadium on Sunday night. Whoever handles their losses better is going to have a huge leg up in this division matchup.

I'm going to take a look at that in this week's notebook, but there are several other elements to consider. Here's what I'm watching for Week 7.

  • Friday's practice was a test day for several of the players who were dealing with injuries. Tyron Smith and La'el Collins took snaps during team period, as did Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb. Byron Jones was part of that group, as well. All appeared to make it through without issue and will be ready to face the Eagles Sunday night. This is not only a credit to the players for working their way back, but to the training staff who helped them pull this off.
  • I know there is plenty of doubt out there about whether this coaching staff will get Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard on the field together -- but I believe this is the week it changes. With injuries to Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb, this staff has had to come up with more creative ways to move the ball. That means that during Wednesday and Thursday's practices, without Cooper and Cobb on the field, they took the opportunity to see how that would look as part of the game plan.
  • The secondary needs to be aware of the number of pick and rub routes that Doug Pederson likes to run -- especially on short yardage and down in the red zone. The Eagles have some large, athletic bodies with Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert and Alshon Jeffery. They know how to get in the way of defenders in order to create space for others. This defense also needs to keep an eye on Miles Sanders and how they like to use him out of the backfield. If the Eagles think they're going to get man coverage or lots of blitzing, then watch for Sanders to be involved in the passing game.
  • With Anthony Brown out of this contest, that puts Jourdan Lewis in the mix in nickel packages. We all appreciate how competitive Lewis is, so a game like this it just means a little more. You need guys like him that will fight every snap not to give an inch. What Kris Richard needs to determine is, on big downs who is Carson Wentz's likely target? History will tell you it's Zach Ertz, and he would be my guy. This is where Lewis and his competitive streak come into play. I think Kris Richard would be smart to mix his coverages on Ertz by using both Jeff Heath and Jourdan Lewis when necessary. Make Ertz and Wentz have to wonder from situation to situation in order to prevent him from being that factor.
  • Robert Quinn has been on a roll since coming back from suspension. This week he faces a rookie with Jason Peters out of the lineup. Andre Dillard will be making his first NFL start on the road. Dillard was inserted into the lineup last week against the Vikings and had his share of struggles when it came to dealing with power. I don't see Doug Pederson leaving him out there by himself to deal with Quinn. The Eagles have a good set of athletic tight ends they can line up to his side. Quinn has faced his share of double teams throughout the year and has responded well. Dillard is a promising player and will likely be better prepared after a week of practice. But dealing with Quinn will not be an easy task for him.
  • No defense in the league has had to face the screen pass more than the Cowboys. Doug Pederson cut his teeth working with two great screen coaches in Mike Holmgren and Andy Reid. The screen package is a big part of what the Eagles do scheme-wise. The Eagles will run wide receiver screens like you see in college. They run screens with their running backs to both sides of the formation. But their best screen is when they use their tight ends as blockers for two or three counts, then have them release out in the flat. These screens are set up so well due to the timing they use to run them. The down and distance don't determine when they execute these, so it's hard to get a real gauge when they're coming. That makes it even more tough to defend.
  • As aggressive as this Eagles defense is, look for Kellen Moore to try to take advantage of that with his play calling. Jim Schwartz wants to get pressure with four rushers, and they tend to give you wide gaps – thus, quick-hitting plays tend to work well against them. Last season they were able to hit them on some big runs with traps as this defensive line got up the field. I would also expect Moore make them defend the entire field. Misdirection and trick plays work well on teams that tend to over pursue like the Eagles do.
  • I will be interested to see how many times we see Fletcher Cox line up over Connor Williams in this game. Cox is yet to record a sack all season and they might see this as a good opportunity for one. Last week against the Vikings, it was Brandon Graham who moved inside from end to tackle and grabbed one. I could see Travis Frederick keeping a close eye on who lines up across Williams and doing his best to keep him from getting exposed. There's always that one or two plays where something goes wrong for Williams, which is going to happen over the course of 65 or 70 plays. But if Frederick can be there to help a little more, that would be a big benefit to the offense.