IRVING, Texas – By this point on Friday, the heavy lifting has been taken care of – from the Cowboys' perspective as well as my own.
Before we head out on the first road trip of the season, it's time for me to break down my final notebook for the preparations for Philadelphia. I spend a lot of time talking about what to expect from the Eagles on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, but I wanted to dedicate some space to what you can expect from Dallas.
This is what I'll be looking for during this Week 2 matchup:
- The Cowboys will likely be in their nickel package the majority of the game in an effort to match this Eagles scheme. In their base defense, Kyle Wilber is their Sam linebacker. When they play nickel, though, Wilber comes off the field. With the injury to Randy Gregory, this defense will be looking for someone to provide a little pass rush and Wilber could possibly fill that role as a nickel rusher. Wilber throughout his career has always shown the ability to make a play or two in a game when asked to play. His position flex should help this defense if they indeed go that route.
- I will be interested to see if the Eagles continue to play Malcolm Jenkins out of the slot or move him in a position to handle Jason Witten? If Jenkins stays with Beasley, look for him to try and mug him right off the snap. The one area that gives Beasley trouble is when he has to fight press coverage, and with Jenkins' size, this is something he can do. If the Eagles decide to play Jenkins away from Beasley, I don't believe that the Eagles have a defensive back that can handle him one-on-one.
- Last week during practices, I was told that Joseph Randle was taking more snaps in practice than Darren McFadden. This week there was more of a balance between the two. With that being the case, look for McFadden to play more of a role in the game plan -- especially because, when attacking this Eagles defense, holes tend to open up, then close quick. McFadden gives this offense a little bit of an extra jump getting to and going through the holes.
- I am sure that these Cowboys defensive coaches have picked up on this, but from watching Eagles center Jason Kelce, every time he is about to snap the ball, he turns his head to the left, then snaps. Defensive linemen are taught to always watch the ball, but with Kelce doing this, maybe on that critical down this Dallas front could get that little bit of an extra jump.
- The Dallas coaching staff has to feel confident that, even without Dez Bryant in the lineup, their receivers can win some one-on-one match ups with these Eagles corners. For those opportunities to happen, pass protection is a must. The offensive line was outstanding against the Giants last week, but this Eagles defense presents a different challenge with Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham. In the past when facing teams that were 3-4 schemes, the Cowboys have used more tight ends in the game to help in protection. If given enough time – there are some plays to be made.
- Going on what I saw last week against the Giants, this will be a big game for rookie Byron Jones. With what the Cowboys have at corner in Tyler Patmon and Corey White, Jones will be asked to play more safety in nickel and dime packages. This week the challenge for Jones will be dealing with these Eagles tight ends. Brent Celek has become more of a blocker, but he can still get up the field on you. Zach Ertz will line up as that traditional inline "Y" and run routes from there as well as flexed. Jones is going to be put in several situations where he is going to be asked to deal with these tight ends in space. He's not likely to win every battle, but how he plays on Sunday is key for slowing down this Eagles offense.
- During his Friday radio show on 105.3 The Fan, Jerry Jones did not rule out the possibility of Ronald Leary playing in this game. But if Leary in fact does sit out, Mackenzy Bernadeau will make the start with La'el Collins as his primary backup. There is no question that there is a drop off from Leary to Bernadeau, but that's not to say Bernadeau will not be able to do the job -- he just has a few more limitations. Where Bernadeau has an advantage over Collins is in his experience, and that always gives coaches a sense of comfort. Collins has talent, but in a matchup like this one, you can't have your offensive linemen making mistakes assignment-wise -- especially inside, with Romo involved.
- I believe we just saw the tip of the iceberg last week with what Scott Linehan is going to do with Lance Dunbar and his skillset. I expect to see Dunbar lining up at several spots in the formation to take advantage of his loose play ability.
- One thing I noticed with the Eagles offense is they like to work the ball in the middle of the field. You see all kind of route combinations, with most of them ending up with a receiver over the ball for an easy throw. Last week against the Giants, J.J. Wilcox set the tone early with the hit on Odell Beckham Jr. Look for both Wilcox and Barry Church to play a major role in not allowing these Eagles receivers and tight ends to feel comfortable about going inside and making those receptions.
- Look for Cole Beasley and Lance Dunbar to continue with the punt and kickoff return duties against the Eagles. Even with the expanded role of both players with Dez Bryant being out – the comfort level is still greater than putting rookie Lucky Whitehead in those spots.