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Flip Side: What's The Best Way To Handle Ertz?


Finally, back to the regular schedule.

It feels like we've been playing Thursday games for a while, but we can finally settle into the normal routine for the final few weeks of this season.

It's been about a month since the Cowboys last faced the Eagles, so there's been plenty of time for change. Here's a look at three playmakers I think this Cowboys team needs to focus on heading into this Week 14 rematch.

Nemesis: TE Zach Ertz

How Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard decide to defend Zach Ertz will be the key to this game for the Cowboys' defense. The previous time these two clubs met, Ertz had a remarkable night receiving with 14 catches and two touchdowns.

In that outing, Marinelli and Richard showed him a combination of man and zone coverage. Ertz was targeted 16 times that night. On nine of those snaps, the Cowboys were in zone and the other seven they were in man, with a mix of Jeff Heath and various linebackers. The biggest play for the Cowboys that night came when Heath kept him from the sticks on fourth down after Ertz made a spectacular reception on a high ball from Carson Wentz.

Where Ertz has been hurting opponents is on first down, as well as when the Eagles are facing long yardage situations. Roughly 45 percent of his receptions this season have come on first down. Wentz is using him there, and it has primarily come off play action to keep defenses from sitting on their running game.

The other area I mentioned were those long yardage situations when the Eagles have needed seven or more yards. Ertz has been Wentz's guy in those situations, converting about 65 percent of those opportunities.

Here's something to keep an eye on: when the Cowboys have had success against Zach Ertz, it has been Byron Jones in coverage, back when he was playing safety. The question I have is, will this coaching put Anthony Brown or Jourdan Lewis on the outside, which would allow Jones to match up with Ertz in certain situations? I believe they have to treat Ertz like a wide receiver in order to best control him.

Weapon: QB Carson Wentz

Carson Wentz is developing into one of the best in the league when it comes to picking your defene apart. He has a tremendous feel for where he needs to go with the ball. He will generally stand right in the middle of the pocket and make throws, and you have to respect his toughness and willingness to take hits in order to allow his receivers that extra split second to clear on a route.

I have witnessed Wentz avoid countless sacks when it appeared that rushers had him dead to rights -- but he somehow manages to escape. He has taken some brutal hits in the pocket, but he still manages to hold on to the ball. It's amazing how he survives the blitz. Most quarterbacks would be turnover machines with the hits that he's taken. I feel like that he could play in any era with his toughness, smarts and arm talent.

Wentz is not often fooled. He made a mistake in the previous meeting against the Cowboys where he tried to look off coverage to the outside and then come back inside to Zach Ertz, but Leighton Vander Esch was sitting right there in the hole to pick him off. Despite that, he generally is going to make the proper read and decision.

Defensively, you have to beware of his willingness to carry the ball despite suffering a knee injury last season. He will take off and run when he feels that it's necessary. The read-option concepts are a big part of this offense and he carries them out well. He's an outstanding ball handler and faker. Can draw the defenders close, then deliver the ball over the top for big plays.

Under the Radar: DE Josh Sweat

Josh Sweat is the type of edge rusher that we're starting to see more and more coming out of college football today. He's one of those guys with long, rangy builds that really doesn't have the power to go toe-to-toe with offensive tackles but creates problems when it comes to capturing the edge.

Sweat wasn't the strongest player coming out of Florida State and there are snaps now in the pros where you still see that as a problem. He will get bounced some by blockers. His best trait is that he can get low to get around the edge. Sweat doesn't give the blocker much of a hitting surface, so it's hard to get your hands on him due to how low he can get.

He has really improved his reactions as a rusher, because he didn't always react quickly and that caused him problems. He does a better job of getting off the ball now. He also has some change of direction skills when he sees the ball.

Sweat should be a much easier matchup for either Tyron Smith or Cam Fleming than having to handle Brandon Graham or Michael Bennett. Those guys play with more power and pass rush moves, but as a change of pace guy he presents a different challenge due to the fact that he's going to do everything in his power to keep the blocker's hands off him.

Smith and Fleming are going to have to prepare for a slippery player and at times that's harder to deal with than a guy that just wants to run through them all day.