Scout's Eye: Success For Both Defenses Hinges On CB-WR Matchups

IRVING, Texas – When you look at this matchup between the Cowboys and Eagles, it's hard not to notice the secondary of each team.

Both of these teams play defense relatively well. The Cowboys are right in the middle of the pack in total defense, but they've been susceptible to the pass. Philadelphia is actually second in the NFL in sacks, and 16th against the run – but their secondary is allowing 266 passing yards per game.

When you factor that into a scouting report, it puts a lot of emphasis on who can control the passing game better. That's why both of my big matchups this week focus on a cornerback and a receiver.

Cowboys WR Dez Bryant against Eagles CB Bradley Fletcher

I would not say the strength of this Eagles defense lies in their cornerback play. The tape shows that there are plays to be made if Tony Romo is given the opportunity to throw the ball.

Neither Bradley Fletcher nor Cary Williams have been that impressive, and there are plenty of situations where defensive coordinator Billy Davis puts them in one-on-one coverage and asks them to carry receivers all over the field. This is hard for them to execute.

A matchup I really like going into this game is Dez Bryant on Fletcher. My reasoning is that when you watch Fletcher cover and the route goes inside, he is generally slow to react and there is a cushion between himself and the receiver. He is just not quick enough when that receiver makes the break. One of the many strengths of Bryant's game is his ability to sell the route hard up the field, then plant that outside foot and drive across the field. In a man coverage situation, this is a nightmare for a cornerback.

Another problem that Fletcher would face with Bryant is dealing with him in run after catch. There are plenty of snaps where you see him going low on a tackle and he ends up completely missing. I expect that Scott Linehan will find plenty of opportunities to get Bryant across from Fletcher and make him have to play a physical game -- which he wants no part of. The Eagles are one of the best groups in the league when it comes to sacks per attempt, but one of the worst when it comes to defending the pass and that will tell you all you need to know about their secondary.


Cowboys CB Orlando Scandrick against Eagles WR Jordan Matthews

When defensive coaches are putting their gameplans together when preparing for the Eagles, one of the first things you notice is how interchangeable their receivers are in regard to how they line up in formations.

What you also notice is how they like to run combination routes off each other, and that really takes an understanding of what the defense is playing and where you need to be in the route. It is not often that a rookie can come into a scheme like the one Chip Kelly runs and have a complete grasp of what his responsibility is, but Jordan Matthews has done just that.

Where I believe Matthews has excelled in this offense is that he is executing routes that he ran while at Vanderbilt -- plus he is used to lining up at several different spots and that doesn't affect him at all. In talking with coaches at the Senior Bowl, the two words that were often used to describe him were "tough" and "smart."

Matthews has also taken advantage of working with Mark Sanchez, who has targeted him 29 times for 21 receptions. On the year, Matthews has accounted for six touchdowns with four of those coming from Sanchez.
Rod Marinelli does not like to match his corners up for an entire game, but when Matthews comes out of the slot and to the outside, there is no doubt that his best cover man will be right there with him.

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