Scout’s Notebook: Linebacker Play, Facing Murray Again Among Final Thoughts

IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys and Eagles have already met once this season, with the Cowboys winning 20-10 in Philadelphia on Sept. 20. But no two matchups are exactly the same, and here are my final impressions on what I’ll be expecting when these division rivals kick off again Sunday night at AT&T Stadium.

  • Not much has been made about the knee brace that Matt Cassel has been wearing this week in practice after suffering a hit from Seattle’s Michael Bennett. For a quarterback like Cassel that likes to slide around the pocket and occasionally make something happen with his legs, this could compromise him and how he plays this game. The Eagles’ defensive front is going to test this Dallas offensive line and if Cassel is limited in his mobility to avoid the rush, it might be the difference in getting a ball off or taking a sack.
  • Eagles left tackle Jason Peters has been downgraded to out of Sunday's game with a back injury, and Lane Johnson is expected to start in his place. Johnson is making the move from right tackle, but at Oklahoma he played on the left side so this is nothing new to him. I could see a situation where they give him help to that side by putting tight end Brent Celek along the line and making these Dallas defensive ends have to take a longer route to Sam Bradford.
  • I do not see a situation where newly acquired Trey Williams is part of the active 46 on game day. The group will consist of Darren McFadden, Christine Michael and Rod Smith. Something to keep an eye on this week is of more of an opportunity for Smith. His size and physical makeup is very intriguing to the coaches and they would like to see more of him and likely at the expense of some of Michael’s snaps.
  • Jason Garrett was very complimentary when asked about what he had seen from safety Jeff Heath in these dime packages that they have used him in. With Barry Church dealing an ankle injury and missing time during practice this week, Heath has had to play more especially when Byron Jones plays in coverage. Another adjustment that these coaches can make for Heath is putting Corey White in the back end as well. White gives them a player that has better movement skill and range.
  • Last time these two clubs met, Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens had outstanding games. In studying the Eagles, they like to pull their offensive linemen, especially Jason Kelce and Allen Barbre, to get them on the edge. Where Lee and Hitchens had success was running through those gaps and beating blocks on both the front and back sides. There were several snaps where these blockers had no chance to even react, they were reading and reacting that quickly. I don’t see any reason to believe that the Eagles will adjust their scheme and I expect these Dallas linebackers to have once again have some similar success.
  • Look for Scott Linehan to continue to try and get the ball in Lucky Whitehead’s hands through some creative wrinkles. There are some really nice things they have done off this Jet Sweep package that can lead to some other opportunities to put him in space. Expect Linehan to move him into different spots in the formation in order to put pressure on this Eagles defense to have to account for him. Teams have had some success against the Eagles with misdirection plays because of how aggressive their defense is.
  • I am interested to see how the Eagles use safety Malcolm Jenkins in this game. In the last meeting, he carried Cole Beasley out of the slot and that was a difficult matchup for Beasley. Matt Cassel has had trouble getting the ball to Beasley and the Eagles might feel that putting Jenkins on him might be a waste of a weapon. Another possibility is to have Jenkins carry Jason Witten who has been more of a reliable target for Cassel since he took over at quarterback. Where I believe they will use Jenkins is in some type of package where he is doubling Dez Bryant, most likely underneath. Jenkins is physical enough to match Bryant’s power off the line and make him have to fight for space.
  • We really haven’t seen Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory work together this season like we did in training camp where they really clicked. That combination has been difficult with Hardy suspended the first four games of the season and Gregory also missing four games with a high ankle sprain. In talking to scouts about Gregory they have said that the ankle no doubt slowed him down, but this week of practice was one of his best. I would not be one bit surprised to see these defensive coaches once again pair these two up on the same side against an Eagles offensive line that has had to make several changes along it.
  • It appears that the Eagles have tried to help DeMarco Murray in their running game by moving him two yards back and giving him the opportunity to come downhill first instead of having to play sideways. It’s a simple adjustment but it has made a world of difference in getting him going.
  • Barry Church missed two days of practice this week with an ankle injury and was limited on Friday but I fully expect that he will be ready to go on Sunday starting opposite Byron Jones.     
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