IRVING, Texas -- A look at the top two matchups I've got my eye on for Round 2 of Cowboys-Eagles. One of them is exactly the last time, but there's a pretty big change in the Cowboys' defensive lineup that should make an impact in this game.
Cowboys DE Greg Hardy against Eagles OT Jason Peters:
The last time these two teams faced each other, Greg Hardy was on the suspended list. Hardy has been outstanding since returning and has given this Dallas pass rush an elite player off the edge. Peters is a massive offensive tackle and he plays with impressive power.
If Peters has a problem, it has been with his health. He is struggling with a back issue and will likely not be fully able to practice or will be limited in what he can do. If not fully healthy, Peters could be compromised in this matchup and that would play right into Hardy's hands. Where Hardy does have to be careful in facing Peters is when he is able to get his hands on the defender. Peters has tremendous upper body power and strength, and he can easily control his man in those situations. Where Hardy has an advantage is in his ability to come from all different angles and levels when he rushes. Peters will not see the same pass rush from Hardy, and that will make it difficult for him to block.
As much as I respect Peters, there are snaps where he is rendered completely off balance due to the fact that he misses with his hands. Hardy will need to attack the edge but also be willing to come inside and put Peters in situations where he is over extended and off balance. The bottom line is that Hardy needs to leave Peters reaching for him all day, and he has an outstanding chance for success.
Cowboys S Byron Jones against Eagles TE Zach Ertz:
Byron Jones has taken over the role as the starting safety in this Dallas defense. Within the scheme these coaches still ask Jones to either play out of the slot or carry the opponent's athletic tight end. Jason Garrett couldn't have say enough complimentary things about his rookie and how he has played this first half of the season.
What is clear when you study the Eagles' tape is that they want to try and get the ball underneath to their receivers and tight ends. Sam Bradford has not had much success throwing the ball down the field, because without DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin – this offense doesn't have that type of player. What Bradford likes to do is sit in the middle of the pocket and deliver the ball to crossers off combination routes and rubs. A big player in this style of scheme is Zach Ertz, the tight end. Ertz doesn't usually play as a traditional tight end but more as a big receiver, so to defend him requires a player that has cover skills but the physical size to match up.
The Cowboys have that player in Byron Jones. When Jones faced Ertz earlier in the season, he was outstanding in limiting Ertz's chances. He was able to not only run with him but physically cover him, allowing just the smallest windows for Bradford to deliver the ball. As a matter of fact, one of the turnovers the Cowboys had that day was the coverage of Jones on Ertz running a crossing route when he was in perfect position to knock the ball in the air for J.J. Wilcox to grab.
Rod Marinelli and the defensive staff have to feel comfortable that putting Byron Jones on Zach Ertz has a great chance to be a win for them. It will allow them to focus on the other spots for the Eagles.