Scout's Notebook: Safety Battles With TEs, Tanner & More


Some Final Thoughts Before the Cowboys Travel To Philadelphia:

Big Difference

Michael Vick ruled himself out of this week's matchup on Thursday afternoon, and the Cowboys breathed a sigh of relief. That said, Vick was listed as "questionable" on Philadelphia's Friday practice report – not "out."

It's probably just gamesmanship on Chip Kelly's part, and not a statement of intent to play him. But it raises a good discussion about the weapons at Kelly's disposal.

If Michael Vick were going to line up and play, this would be a completely different dynamic in having to face him instead of Nick Foles. From what I was able to learn from studying these Eagles games this season, the way this offense was intended to be run with the threat of a running quarterback and single halfback, is much greater with Vick as the quarterback than Foles.

When Vick puts the ball in the belly of LeSean McCoy or Bryce Brown, there is a threat that he will pull it out and keep it for himself if he sees that read. With Foles, the threat of the explosive run is not there. Sure Foles will take off with the ball, but the amount of ground that he covers is nowhere as substantial as what you would see from Vick.

With Vick in the game, you have to defend both he and the running back, whereas with Foles, Monte Kiffin would love to see him carry the ball all day. Kiffin and his defense can focus on the back and force Foles to make those runs.

Where Vick also gives you problems is in the passing game. As he has spent his years in Philadelphia, he has developed into a much better passer. There is accuracy to his game whether he is throwing the ball underneath or down the field. Foles has similar ability to make all the throws as well, but this is where Vick hurts you the most -- once again with his legs. You can get him in 3rd and long situations, play man coverage across the board and try to cover the receivers. When Vick takes the snap and reads, you are playing him this way, as soon as you turn your back to him, he will break that rush and head down the field. Against the Giants, he ripped off a 40 yard run before anyone was able to touch him.

Nick Foles cannot and will not run for first downs like Vick can, so the idea of making him sit in the pocket and make him throw the ball is the right way to go. The threat of Michael Vick running the ball in this offense makes it so difficult to defend. As good as Nick Foles was against the Buccaneers last week, he just isn't the overall all threat that Michael Vick is. Jason Hatcher was not lying to you when he said he would like to play Nick Foles instead of Michael Vick and I promise you, he was saying what Jason Garrett and this defensive staff were thinking, as well.

Safeties On Alert

Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox have yet to catch a break this season with the tight ends they have had to deal with. This matchup with Brent Celek and Zach Ertz will be no different. Celek might have lost a step or two from what we have seen in seasons gone by, but he still has the ability to get down the field or work underneath to make a clutch catch or two when this Eagles offense has needs it the most.

I have always had a great deal of respect for his hands and his ability to make those contested catches.

Zach Ertz shows the same abilities and traits of Celek, but where he is different is that he is a much better athlete. When watching him on tape, he is similar to a large wide receiver that can line up on the line as a "Y" and release up the field.

He is difficult to match, because you do see the quickness and foot speed to separate from coverage. His best trait is his ability to adjust to the ball in flight no matter where it is thrown. I have seen him make some incredible catches by using body control.

There is no doubt in my mind that Monte Kiffin will not allow either of these tight ends to get off the line and up the field without playing very tight on them. Free access in routes will not work against these guys, so look for Church and Wilcox to line up across the line, very tight and play from that position.

Rookie Tackle

This will be the fourth rookie to start at right tackle in seven games against the Cowboys this season. Justin Pugh, Eric Fisher and DJ Fluker have all seen action this season. The Eagles will line up with the very talented Lane Johnson, who has also seen some action at guard.

While Johnson was at Oklahoma, he played in an offensive scheme similar to the one that he is playing right now. Johnson has done a nice job of settling into his role on the right side and providing the Eagles some stability, which they did not have last season, along the line.

Where Lane Johnson is at his best is with his feet and foot work, but there are still some issues that he had with those defenders that play with power against him, tend to still give him trouble. If DeMarcus Ware is able to play in this game, this is where he would give Johnson the most problems because of his ability to convert speed into power. George Selvie plays with more quickness than power and he can still cause some issues, but keep an eye on Caesar Rayford, who will also rush from that side. From what I observed this summer with Rayford, he can use his length to his advantage. There were several times against Joe Thomas of the Brown, where he was able to extend on him and drive him back into the quarterback for pressure.

Regardless who is rushing off that left side, they need to not allow Lane Johnson to feel comfortable at all in this game. How well George Selvie and Caesar Rayford are able to break him down will give them the best chance to slow down this Eagles offense.

Forgotten [embedded_ad] Man

There has been plenty of talk this week about Joseph Randle and the fact that he is going to make his first NFL start on Sunday against the Eagles. From all my sources, the word on Randle is that he has had a good week both physically and mentally, so he should be ready to roll.

Randle was in the same situation that Phillip Tanner was this week, getting one or two reps at practice. Despite the lack of those first team reps, there is no doubt in my mind that Tanner will be ready to play if something were to happen to Randle in this game.

Phillip Tanner has been solid on a special teams unit that has been one of the best in the NFL, but there is more to his game than just that. He might not have the burst or the explosiveness of Randle, but what he does have is the ability to run the ball with toughness, and he has an understanding of his assignments in the passing game and who to pick up when a pass play is called. Tanner has lived these battles before and that is important when you are a player and your head is spinning like a top. Missed assignments or blocks in these games quite honestly, is the difference between winning and losing.

Joseph Randle should and will play the majority of this game, and he will give these coaches his best effort, but if things get difficult for him at any point of time in this game, Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan will not hesitate to quickly get Tanner in there to give the rookie a play or two to gather things back together. Phillip Tanner is a nice player to have in these situations and if he has to step in there, this club can still run its offense and be productive  

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