FRISCO, Texas – You’ll know this team better than most.
The Eagles aren’t just a division rival, they’re the Cowboys’ biggest rival for the NFC East crown these past five years. If there’s a team this Dallas coaching staff is most familiar with, it’s probably these guys from Philadelphia.
Here’s a look at two of Philly’s biggest playmakers, as well as a new name you need to know.
Nemesis: DT Fletcher Cox
Fletcher Cox has never been an easy player for this Cowboys offensive line to deal with. He will line up over Zack Martin and Connor Williams as the under tackle, but you will also see him on Travis Frederick in nickel situations.
This was already a difficult player to move in the running game due to his mass, but Cox looks even bigger weight-wise than his previous seasons. Even still, he moves with agility of a smaller man. He is one of the few tackles in the league that’s always playing square, whether that’s taking on a single block or double-team block. He’s just a difficult guy to turn.
The first thing you notice about Fletcher Cox is the upper/lower body power. It’s impressive. You can see him just hold blockers in place as he locates the ball. He can be a difficult guy to fool. The Cowboys tried to run a screen on him last season and he was right in Zack Martin’s hip pocket to make the tackle on Michael Gallup. Where the Cowboys have had a little success with him is by trapping him. Ezekiel Elliott popped a nice run on a Xavier Su’a-Filo block.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will move Cox around in order to get the best matchup. The best way to handle him is to try and shield him from the play instead of attempting to go toe-to-toe. Look for Travis Frederick to have an eye to whichever side Cox lines up on.
I was surprised at the number of times he played over Martin when these two clubs met last December. I would expect to see him with more rushes against Williams in this game.
Weapon: TE Zach Ertz
The current numbers for Zach Ertz might not be what they once were, but he still deserves your respect and attention. He is still one of the best in the league at the tight end position when it comes to executing routes and finishing receptions.
My concern is that the Cowboys’ defense has struggled when it comes to dealing with tight ends. Last week Ryan Griffin had his best game of the season, averaging over nine yards a reception. The week before that, Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis averaged 10 yards per catch. There is no question that Zach Ertz is a better player than Griffin, Graham and Lewis.
For Kris Richard this could be a nightmare to deal with -- especially if you don’t have the right personnel to account for him. In the past, Byron Jones has carried him in matchups, but with Jones now at corner that responsibility has moved to Jeff Heath.
Last season in Philadelphia, Ertz had 14 receptions -- but it was Jeff Heath that prevented him converting on a crucial fourth down tackle at the sticks. Ertz doesn’t have the size of Griffin, Graham and Lewis, which could benefit Heath. Dealing with Ertz is like covering a big receiver and that takes more athletic ability than it does size or power.
Ertz is a good contested ball catcher, so Heath is going to have to be able to play through him in order to defend him.
Under the Radar:* RB Miles Sanders
Miles Sanders is currently a backup to Jordan Howard, but in my opinion he’s a much more dangerous player with the ball in his hands. He had an outstanding game against the Packers but hasn’t done much else because Doug Pederson hasn’t given him the opportunity.
There is a different running style between the two. Howard is more straight ahead, while Sanders has more wiggle and elusive ability. He can make the first defender miss and then be on the second level in a hurry. He puts pressure on the defense to get bodies to him quickly. You have to get to him before he has a chance to get going. He’s a powerful guy in the lower body and can easily run through arm tackles.
Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith will need to be ready for him to stretch the defense, then make a violent cut once he feels they’ve over committed on the play. Vander Esch and Smith need to mirror him and react when he does. When he has been stopped, that’s how defenders have been able to play him.
These defenders also have to be ready for him catching the ball out of the backfield. Doug Pederson likes to sneak him up the field if he feels he can get a matchup that favors him. Last week he set it up where he knew the Vikings were going to play man coverage and Sanders released on linebacker Eric Kendricks, who had no chance to carry him. Carson Wentz waited until Sanders cleared him and delivered a perfect pass for a touchdown.