Dallas Cowboys: Asante Samuel

Eagles are a study in 'miscalculation'

November, 6, 2012
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Amid all of the perfectly justified rip jobs and sky-is-falling coverage of the Philadelphia Eagles' latest loss, this short item by Jeff McLane caught my eye. He's got someone with the Eagles telling him Andy Reid's bye-week firing of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo was a "miscalculation." This comes as neither news nor a surprise to anyone who's been tracking the Eagles over the past two seasons, during which it appears "miscalculation" has been the hallmark of the front office's game plan.

Yeah, when you watch the Eagles play, it's easy to get caught up in the on-field, in-game issues. Why don't they run the ball more? Why can't Michael Vick make pre-snap reads? Have they quit on Andy Reid? Stuff like that. But I think if you look back over the past two years, it's easy to see that the flaws with this team are flaws of construction, and that the miscalculations are myriad and extensive. A partial list, in no particular order:

    [+] EnlargeMichael Vick
    AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelSigning QB Michael Vick to a $100 million contract appears to be a costly move for the Eagles.
  • Deciding on Vick as a $100 million franchise quarterback based on the spectacular aspect of the way he played in 2010, ignoring the likelihood that his issues reading the field, making audibles and adjusting on the fly were too ingrained to overcome in his 30s. And no, it's not that they should have kept Kevin Kolb or that they didn't get great value for him in the trade. It's just that tying so much of their 2011-12 success to Vick is going to set them back as they head into 2013 and beyond. And the bust potential that Vick came with at the time of the contract was high enough to make it a questionable decision at best.
  • Signing Nnamdi Asomugha on the presumption that he'd play like a top shutdown cornerback, then playing him in zone coverage for his first year because they didn't have the guts to move Asante Samuel. This resulted in their having to trade Samuel for nearly nothing a year later, and Asomugha has struggled at times this year in one-on-one coverage against speedy wideouts.
  • Drafting Danny Watkins in the first round after hiring Howard Mudd to run the offensive line. Mudd found Jason Kelce in the sixth round, identified him as the type of guy who could play his scheme and quickly molded him into a top NFL center. Surely, he could have found a guard in the fifth or seventh that fit his profile and done the same with him, and the Eagles could have used that first-rounder on something more immediately helpful. And no, the Eagles could not have imagined the extent to which injuries would ravage their offensive line this season, but it does seem as though they could have found backup players better suited to adapt quickly to Mudd's blocking schemes. Perhaps if they hadn't been so focused on bringing in high-profile, ultimately useless skill-position backups like Vince Young and Ronnie Brown last year, this could have been more of a point of emphasis.
  • Designing a defense predicated on the down linemen selling out for sacks, then failing in 2011 to support the defensive line with anything resembling adequate linebacker play.
  • In 2012, after bolstering the linebacker corps, failing to adjust anything about the defensive line scheme even though the whole league knew they'd be selling out for sacks on every play. The extent to which opposing offensive coordinators have appeared to be ahead of Castillo, Todd Bowles, Jim Washburn or whoever's been in charge of setting up the Eagles' defense on a given week this year is staggering.
  • Making Castillo the defensive coordinator in the first place, then of course firing him during the bye week just because they felt like they had to do something.

Look, I understand this is an exercise in second-guessing. I fell for it, as did a lot of the people who have been writing about this Eagles team for the past two years. Philadelphia's roster-construction efforts the past two springs and summers looked good as they were going on, and I for one failed to spot the number of flaws that have ultimately manifested themselves. The very good lesson, for those of us who write the NFL, is as usual about waiting for the games to be played before making broad conclusions about how they will go.

As we look back on it now, though, not much the Eagles have done in assembling their roster over the past couple of years has worked. There's the occasional DeMeco Ryans or Fletcher Cox, sure. The DeSean Jackson contract is a good one for them, and I don't think it was necessarily wrong for them to spend resources this past offseason locking up cornerstone pieces like Trent Cole, LeSean McCoy and Todd Herremans for the long-term. But in terms of building a Super Bowl contender in the short term, Reid and the rest of the people who run the Eagles have failed spectacularly. The product they've put on the field simply isn't as good as they believed it to be, and they are likely to pay for their run of miscalculations with their jobs.

The Other Side: Darryl Ledbetter

November, 1, 2012
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This week's version of The Other Side takes us to Atlanta where we speak with Darryl Ledbetter, who covers the Falcons for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Here's DLed's views on the Falcons.

Q: The Falcons are outstanding at home, why? Is it the crowd, or just the Falcons have focused on being good there?

A:
Under head coach Mike Smith, the Falcons made it a point of emphasis to dominate at the Dome. They have been successful in part because of quarterback Matt Ryan’s ability to pull out games late. The crowd has played a role in the ascent and has been known to force a procedure penalty or two.

Q: Matt Ryan doesn't have a playoff victory, 0-3, no matter what he does this season is he getting judged on that alone?

A:
Not really, I think can see that he’s improving in the regular season as the offense has shifted to more of a pass-oriented attack under new coordinator Dirk Koetter. He is flourishing as his numbers suggests. His continued improvement should serve him well in any future playoff games.

Q: The Falcons are undefeated, is this a big deal down there?

A:
Yes, along with the fact that Georgia has a path to the BCS title game. Football -- Professional and Collegiate – is still king in the Peach State.

Q: How are the Falcons corners, Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel playing?

A:
Both are thriving in coordinator Mike Nolan’s scheme. Robinson is attacking more and playing more man to man, which fits his skill set better. Teams have stayed away from Samuel. His skills don’t seem to have diminished at all and he’s even coming up in run support.

Q: This appears to be Tony Gonzalez's last season. How has he played?

A:
He has been phenomenal. Because of the wide outs, most teams have tried to single cover Gonzalez and he’s made them pay. With four more catches, he will have 50 catches for the season, marking the 15th straight season he’s caught at least 50 passes. As a rookie in 1997, he caught 33 passes. He caught 59 in 1998 and he had a career-high 102 catches in 2004.

The NFC East: Living in the nickel

August, 9, 2012
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One big reason cornerback Terrell Thomas is important to the New York Giants is that the Giants really like to use defensive backs. The Giants learned earlier this week that Thomas' latest knee injury would not require surgery and that he should be able to play for them this year. This is good news, because with Aaron Ross having left via free agency and second-year cornerback Prince Amukamara still developing, the Giants need Thomas. Not just as the starter opposite Corey Webster, but in the nickel and dime defensive packages they used more than any other team in the league last year.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Giants used five or more defensive backs on 734 defensive snaps last year -- more than any other team in the league. That number accounted for 68.5 percent of their 1,072 defensive snaps. Only the Green Bay Packers went with five or more defensive backs on a higher percentage of their plays -- 69.0 percent, or 724 of 1,049.

I know this because our NFC North blogger, Kevin Seifert, recently did a post about how often the NFC North's teams were in nickel or dime packages last year, and he passed along the chart he got from ESPN Stats & Info showing how often each team in the league went with extra defensive backs. That's how things work on the ESPN.com NFL blog network. We're a team. A brotherhood. Eight pistons firing as one. It's really quite beautiful to watch sometimes.

Anyway, I looked at the chart and noticed that the NFC East's teams basically lived in nickel and dime defenses. Well, three of them at least. The Giants ranked second in the league in percentage of plays with five or more defensive backs. The Dallas Cowboys were fifth, at 59.5 percent. The Philadelphia Eagles ranked eighth, at 56.8 percent. And the Washington Redskins were the exception, ranking 24th at 43.9 percent.

The Redskins had injury issues at safety, didn't like the job Kevin Barnes was doing as their inside corner and have very good linebackers that they don't like to take off the field. But the other three teams in our division ... they love them some nickel.

Back to the Giants for a second. Just because they used extra defensive backs this much last year doesn't automatically mean they'll do it again. They're deeper and stronger at linebacker this year, and they didn't re-sign veteran safety Deon Grant. That means, if they go to those three-safety looks they've run the past couple of years, the third safety would have to be someone like Tyler Sash or Will Hill. With Thomas currently on the shelf, there's a chance they could ask safety Antrel Rolle to play the nickel corner position, but that's not ideal. Michael Coe is likely the next corner off the bench if Amukamara is pressed into a starting role, and while he's looked good in camp, he lacks experience. The Giants liked linebacker Jacquian Williams in coverage late last year and in the postseason, and it's possible they could design more packages this year that use just four defensive backs, since their 2012 strengths may lie elsewhere.

The Cowboys' ideal plan is to start Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne at cornerback with Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins backing them up. Scandrick is good in the nickel spot, and overall this plan would give them enough depth to go to the nickel as often as they like. The issue right now, of course, is that Jenkins and Claiborne are hurt, and even if they expect those guys back for the start of the season, they're probably not getting to practice those nickel looks as much as they'd like to. Or at least, not with the personnel they'd prefer to use.

As for the Eagles, they're similar to the Giants in that they're stronger at linebacker this year and subtracted one of last year's starting corners when they traded Asante Samuel. With Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as the starters, the nickel spot right now is likely to fall either to veteran Joselio Hanson or (more likely) rookie Brandon Boykin. Curtis Marsh has been getting a lot of work in camp and is the first option off the bench should one of the outside guys get hurt. And undrafted rookie Cliff Harris has a chance to make the team and add depth. Given the responsibility the Eagles' linebackers have for run support and gap control in the Wide 9, it's likely the Eagles will lean on their defensive backs as much as they did last year, and play as much nickel.

A lot of this depends on opponents, too. The Giants, Eagles and Cowboys all like to throw the ball a lot, so when they play each other they structure their defenses to stop the pass. And having teams like the Packers, Saints, Falcons, Steelers and Lions on the schedule, as NFC East teams do this year, can make teams go to the nickel more. But if we're basing it on last year alone, our teams like to use extra defensive backs as much as anyone in the entire league.

Like Osi, Mike Jenkins is basically stuck

May, 24, 2012
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Mike JenkinsEd Mulholland/US PresswireMike Jenkins isn't happy with his contract or his new role as No. 3 cornerback on the team.
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday the team isn't going to trade disgruntled cornerback Mike Jenkins. We didn't post on it here because we already knew this. Everybody already knew it. Even Jenkins, though he's let it be known he's unhappy with his contract and his new role as the team's No. 3 cornerback and would like to be traded, probably knew it too. He'd have to be blind not to.

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Jenkins isn't making so much money that the Cowboys would want to dump him like the Eagles did with Asante Samuel. He's too good for them to trade for a late-round draft pick and not quite good enough to convince a team to offer an early-round pick. The result is that the team, as it tends to in NFL contract situations, holds all of the cards and is required to make no move at all in response to Jenkins' decision to skip offseason workouts. If he wants to stay home, he stays home. If he wants to skip mandatory workouts next month or part of training camp, they can fine him. If he wanted to sit out a whole season, they'd just run Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick out there and take their chances. They're better with Jenkins in that mix and would like to have him, but they're not desperate enough to even consider granting him his wish.

Jenkins finds himself in NFL contract limbo, and if he's looking for a sympathetic shoulder on which to cry he doesn't even have to look outside his own division. The New York Giants' Osi Umenyiora is basically in the same situation -- he's unhappy with his contract, he isn't thrilled to be the No. 3 defensive end on his team, and he would rather play elsewhere. But he isn't getting traded either, because (stop me if this sounds familiar) he's affordable, he's too good to trade for peanuts, and he isn't going to bring back a first-round or second-round pick in a deal. The Giants are better off keeping an unhappy Umenyiora around than trading him for pennies on the dollar. It's the decision they made when he raised the same fuss a year ago, and they got 12.5 sacks out of him in 13 games (counting postseason) for their patience.

If either Jenkins or Umenyiora really wanted to push this, there are two somewhat extreme ways they could go. The first is that they could sit out the meaningful stuff, like training camp and regular-season games. If they prove that they're willing to do that, then circumstances could, theoretically, improve their leverage. Say Jenkins is sitting at home in late August and Claiborne gets hurt, or Umenyiora is sitting at home Week 2 and Justin Tuck gets hurt. In cases like those, the need for the player may become great enough to warrant a new deal. But that's a big risk to take because injuries are unpredictable, and in the meantime the player has allowed the team the chance to get used to life without him.

[+] EnlargeOsi Umenyiora
AP Photo/Evan VucciOsi Umenyiora did not attend the team's first organized team activity of the season on Wednesday.
The second option in this case is to make a nuisance of yourself -- to show up, but put your contract situation into the spotlight in an annoying and disruptive way. The all-time visual symbol of this may well be Terrell Owens doing pushups in his driveway. Jenkins or Umenyiora could choose to simply continue being a pain, in the hope that the annoyance might prod the team into trading him for less than they think he's worth. But this carries risk, as well -- the basic one being the risk of giving the outside world (and potential future employers) reason to believe you're a jerk.

The Giants don't fear this from Umenyiora, because they trust their coaching staff and their veteran locker room to effectively ignore potential disruptions. And the Cowboys know Jenkins, and I think they're betting on the idea that he's not the pushups-in-the-driveway sort.

What these guys are doing now -- skipping voluntary workouts and letting it be known through third-party sources that they're upset -- is the simplest way to make their particular point. It costs them nothing right now to stand up for themselves, and they should.

If you're unhappy at work and you feel your bosses aren't treating you fairly, it's important to find a proper and effective way to let them know. That goes for you, me, NFL players and everyone else. But in the end, in the cases of Jenkins and Umenyiora, there's not going to be anything either one can do.

This is the nature of their profession, and the working conditions under which NFL players operate. It's not fair, because teams can end contracts on a whim and the risk of injury is incredibly high, but a history of players crossing picket lines and caving in on labor negotiations has constructed a system in which the teams hold all the cards and the player rarely finds himself in the position of strength. Unfortunately for NFL players, this isn't Major League Baseball.

Jenkins and Umenyiora are both eligible to be free agents next year, and I don't think either has to fear the franchise-player designation. The franchise numbers for cornerbacks and defensive ends are over $10 million, and it's unlikely that either the Cowboys or Giants would want to commit so much to their No. 3 player at those positions.

It's too far into the future to predict for certain, but the odds are they won't be in limbo again this time next year. Right now, all these guys can do is decide how much fine money (if any) they're willing to spend to make their point, and once they reach that number, show up, practice, hope they don't get hurt and play well enough to convince some other team to give them big contracts in 2013.

It may not be great. May not be fair. But for Jenkins, Umenyiora and so many others like them in the NFL, they unfortunately don't have much choice.

NFC East: Remaining needs for each team

May, 14, 2012
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Thanks for the feedback on the last post. I have been reading through the comments there, and I appreciate the suggestions. Most of them, anyway.

Meantime, Football Outsides has been doing a division-by-division look at the remaining needs for each team, and today they take on the NFC East. It's Insider content (which always makes me chuckle, that the Outsiders are Insider), so you need to pay to read it, but here's a little taste.

Dallas Cowboys: "Interior offensive line." Basically, the FO guys aren't excited about the Cowboys' talent level at guard and center, and seem unimpressed by Jason Garrett's plan to let Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Bill Nagy and Phil Costa compete for the three starting spots in the interior of the line. No mention of David Arkin, oddly, who would seem to be in the mix. And I do have a nitpick with their claim that Nagy was "banished to the bench" for ineffectiveness last season, when it was actually a broken ankle that ended his season. But in general, the idea that the Cowboys need more strength and power at the interior line positions than they probably have on the roster is probably accurate.

New York Giants: "Osi Umenyiora's replacement." This seems to posit that the Giants would trade Umenyiora or that he'd hold out and they wouldn't have any pass-rushers at defensive end behind their two excellent starters. I don't think they're going to trade him, and I don't think he's going to hold out of any regular-season games once push comes to shove. But this does point up the idea that the Giants need to be thinking about who replaces Umenyiora next season, assuming he leaves via free agency.

Philadelphia Eagles: "Secondary depth." The metrics all rate Asante Samuel very highly as a cornerback, so it's little surprise that FO treats his departure as one that creates a hole. I think they're right on this score, but the metrics don't take into account Samuel's salary, or the fact that his playing style doesn't fit what they want to do with the cornerbacks this year, so it's hard to get on them for that dump-trade they made with him. Assuming full health and a big steps forward for Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett, the Eagles should have a good starting secondary. But I would agree that there is little behind the starters if someone gets hurt. Interested to see whether Brandon Boykin can make an impression early and challenge for that nickel corner spot, and I can't rule out the possibility that they add a veteran to the safety mix. There are still quite a few out there.

Washington Redskins: "Cornerbacks." Yeah, DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson project as the starters, but they're not exactly Deion Sanders and Night Train Lane back there, and as FO points out, the Redskins' efforts to upgrade their secondary don't rank among their greatest successes of this offseason. Washington's defense is emerging as a good one, but the weak spot is still in the back, and they would do well to keep on the lookout for ways to make it better. That's part of why they're bringing so many safeties to camp, but they'll need better performance from Hall and Wilson in 2012 if the defense is to take the next step.

Eagles will not have Samuel for Cowboys game

December, 23, 2011
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IRVING, Texas -- The Philadelphia Eagles released their injury report Friday morning, and starting cornerback Asante Samuel was ruled out with a hamstring injury.

Samuel, who has three interceptions on the season and an NFL-best 39 since 2006, will be replaced by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

In his career, Samuel has just one interception against the Cowboys, but not having an elite corner on the field is a big blow for the Eagles defense.

Here's what Andy Reid said to reporters Thursday regarding Rodgers-Cromartie's play from a slot corner to an outside cornerback: "Listen, that’s where he’s played over the years. We worked him as an inside player and I thought he was getting better every week with that, but his natural spot, where he feels the most comfortable is on the outside. He’s looked good; he’s done a nice job. He doesn’t have a problem doing it."

All-NFC East Team: Week 15 update

December, 15, 2011
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I hereby present this week's edition of the NFC East All-Division Team, which includes nine Cowboys, six Giants, six Eagles and six Redskins. Yes, I am aware that the Giants won the game. But that brings me to the disclaimer that no one will read:

This All-Division team reflects performance for the entire year to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a list of awards for Week 14 performance. That's why Felix Jones isn't on it.

I'll explain some of the more difficult decisions at the end. First, the roster:

Quarterback: Eli Manning, Giants (Last week: Manning)

Running back: LeSean McCoy, Eagles (McCoy)

Wide receiver: Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, Giants (Nicks, Cruz)

[+] EnlargeTony Fiammetta
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireTony Fiammetta took the starting fullback spot away from Darrell Young.
Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Tony Fiammetta, Cowboys (Darrel Young)

Left tackle: Jason Peters, Eagles (Peters)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Kyle Kosier, Cowboys (Kosier)

Right tackle: Tyron Smith, Cowboys (Smith)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Trent Cole, Eagles (Pierre-Paul, Cole)

Defensive tackle: Jay Ratliff, Cowboys; Cullen Jenkins, Eagles (Ratliff, Jenkins)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys; Brian Orakpo, Redskins (Ware, Ryan Kerrigan)

Inside linebacker: London Fletcher, Redskins; Sean Lee, Cowboys (Fletcher, Lee)

Cornerback: Asante Samuel, Eagles; Josh Wilson, Redskins (Samuel, Corey Webster)

Safety: Kenny Phillips, Giants; Gerald Sensabaugh, Cowboys (Phillips, Sensabaugh)

Kicker: Dan Bailey, Cowboys (Bailey)

Punter: Steve Weatherford, Giants (Weatherford)

Kick returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins (Banks)

Punt returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins (Banks)

I continue to view the quarterback race between Manning and the Cowboys' Tony Romo as something very close to a tie. But I'm not going to do ties on the All-Division Team. I'm going to make a pick every week, even if that's very difficult. To do that, I will use tiebreakers. This week's is simple. Manning's team is 1-0 against Romo's. Yes, that means if the Cowboys had held the lead, the spot could have gone back to Romo. We'll never know.

Cornerback! The most confounding of the weekly choices. I'm keeping Samuel in his spot because he had a good game and because Pro Football Focus ranks him as the No. 6 cornerback in the league this year. Yeah, the whole league. So go yell at them. And I took Webster out because (a) Wilson's been knocking on this door anyway and (b) I couldn't in good conscience put in a cornerback who played in that Cowboys-Giants game Sunday night. And yeah, I put in a safety who did, but this is an all-year exercise, and that safety's body of work justifies it. Truth be told, I don't think there's a single cornerback in the division who can legitimately be angry about not making this team, because I don't think anyone in the division has played the position very well this year.

Flopped Orakpo and Kerrigan again in that OLB spot. Orakpo's playing like he wants to stay there (not that Kerrigan isn't). Redskins fans are going to love watching these guys for the next however many years.

And I changed fullbacks, because as great and undervalued a player as Young is, it's impossible to ignore how much better the Cowboys' running game is with Fiammetta in there. I just think what he's done in the time he's been on the field this year is above-and-beyond kind of stuff, and it's not a slight against Young, who I think is a fine player.

So let me know. What'd I get wrong?

Detailing Dez Bryant: Week 8

November, 2, 2011
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We fast-forwarded through the first half, since Dez Bryant didn't get a ball thrown his direction until midway through the third quarter of the blowout loss to the Eagles. His other four targets all came in the final seven minutes of the game.

The weekly Bryant throw-by-throw recap:

INCOMPLETE: On second-and-10 from the Dallas 20, Bryant lines up wide right off the line of scrimmage with Miles Austin in the slot and runs a quick screen, taking two steps upfield and coming back toward the ball. Tony Romo’s throw, which was deflected by Eagles defensive end Juqua Parker, is at Bryant’s feet. Austin blocked cornerback Asante Samuel out of the play, so Bryant would have had room to run.

11-YARD GAIN: On second-and-10 from the Philadelphia 16, Bryant lines up wide left and runs a slant with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie giving him a 10-yard cushion. Bryant runs through a tackle attempt by Rodgers-Cromartie and breaks a tackle by safety Kurt Coleman to pick up the first down.

INCOMPLETE: On third-and-goal from the Philadelphia 2, Bryant lines up wide left with Nnamdi Asomugha in press coverage and runs a fade. Asomugha maintains contact with Bryant throughout the play, preventing Bryant from getting his right hand up to try to catch Romo’s back-shoulder throw and prompting an animated discussion with the official standing a few yards away.

8-YARD GAIN: On second-and-10 from the Dallas 32, Bryant lines up wide left and runs a short in cut, catching the pass from Romo near the numbers on the field. He breaks back outside and stiff-arms cornerback Joselio Hanson to the ground and splits linebacker Jamar Chaney and safety Jaiquawn Jarrett to get a few extra yards.

9-YARD GAIN: On second-and-10 from the Dallas 48, Bryant lines up wide right and runs a short in cut, settling into a soft spot in the zone in the middle of the field. He makes Coleman miss after the catch and is tackled from behind by defensive end Jason Babin.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Eagles review

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
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One of the first things Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo talked about Sunday after his Cowboys fell to the Philadelphia Eagles 34-7 at Lincoln Financial Field was the need to sit down and study the film to see what happened.

Scout's Eye
Usually you have an idea what took place, but there is so much more that you miss when watching the game live. It has always been my experience that you can always find one or two things about the game that you didn’t see the first time around that you can grab off the film.

Going into this game, there was no doubt in my mind that the Eagles were going to be ready to play because their season was on the line. A loss to the Cowboys at home would make them 0-2 in the division, with both losses coming at home, and 2-5 overall.

The Eagles have too much talent to be in the shape they were in, but like Bill Parcells has said, "You are what you are."

Defensive front falters

Through the first six games of the season, Rob Ryan’s front seven had been outstanding when it came to defending the run. Against the Eagles, it was this same front seven that struggled to get off blocks to make plays in the running game or put consistent pressure on Michael Vick when he went back to pass.

[+] EnlargeJason Hatcher & Sean Lissemore
AP Photo/Matt SlocumIt was a tough day at the office for Jason Hatcher (left), Sean Lissemore (95) and the Cowboys' other defensive ends.
The poor play of the defensive ends surprised me most. Kenyon Coleman, Marcus Spears, Sean Lissemore and Jason Hatcher did nothing right against an Eagles offensive line that pushed them around from the opening whistle.

Too many times, Coleman or Spears needed to be strong at the point of attack and were washed down inside with ease. In my game notes, I must have written down four times where Spears was driven out of position by a down block from Jason Peters or Todd Herremans and then the ball would go outside of him. This was something that I didn’t see coming from either of these tackles against Spears. Coleman is known for the strength and power that he plays with at the point, but he struggled getting off blocks in the running game, allowing Vick to bounce the ball outside of him as well.

Hatcher had played well before a calf injury sidelined him, but he was no factor at all in his return after a three-game absence. There were too many times, like with Spears and Coleman, that he was washed down inside.

Hatcher had given Ryan some inside pass rush in the nickel in the first two games of the season. Against guards Danny Watkins and Evan Mathis, he didn’t get a sniff when he was asked to rush the passer. Time after time, he played high and was stuck on blocks.

Inside linebackers exposed

The Eagles really exposed the Cowboys defense by taking advantage of inside linebackers Bradie James and Keith Brooking in coverage once Sean Lee went out of the game.

[+] EnlargeBradie James
AP Photo/Matt SlocumBradie James tries to make a play on Eagles tight end Brett Celek.
James is one of those players who really only has a chance in coverage if the ball is in front of him. If anything is behind him or over his head, he is not going to make the play.

For example, the Eagles had a first-and-goal at the Cowboys 9. The Eagles go with two tight ends, two wide receivers and one back. Tight end Clay Harbor is in the wing to the right and tight end Brent Celek is outside Harbor in a flex. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson is just outside Celek on the right side. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is wide left.

At the snap, Vick looks left at Maclin as safety Gerald Sensabaugh sprints from the middle of the field to the outside to help Mike Jenkins on Maclin, leaving no safety help in the middle of the field. Celek releases up the field against James, who tries to jam him in coverage. Terence Newman, Abram Elam and Anthony Spencer are trying to sort out the coverage on Jackson and Harbor.

After the contact, Celek manages to gain about 4 yards of separation on James in the middle of the field. Vick, who is sitting in the middle of the pocket as Ryan rushes five but gets no pressure, lets the ball fly toward the goal post before Celek even breaks inside. James has his back to Vick and never sees the ball, which hits Celek in the hands for the touchdown.

Ware, Ratliff, Sensabaugh make positive impacts

I mentioned before when you studied these games, good or bad, there is always something you notice that your eye didn’t catch the first time. We all were able to see what DeMarcus Ware was able to do in this game with the four sacks. Jay Ratliff was another player that played winning football despite what was going on around him.

[+] EnlargeJay Ratliff
Eric Hartline/US PresswireMichael Vick is an explosive runner, but he must stay healthy for the Eagles to be a title contender.
I thought that Ratliff was relentless in his effort to get off blocks where others struggled. For the third straight week, Ratliff has been outstanding against both the run and pass. The best inside pressure against the Eagles came in the form of Ratliff, and it’s a shame that he didn’t get any help from anyone else other than Ware.

One other player that I would like to point out was safety Gerald Sensabaugh. His night started on a strong safety blitz from the front side, getting home and causing Vick to have to move up in the pocket and into the rush. Sensabaugh was impressive when he was asked to tackle.

Overall as a team, this might have been the worst game for the Cowboys when it came to tackling. There were too many plays where the defense had the opportunity to bring a ball carrier down, but a missed tackle in the hole or in space led to a bigger gain. Sensabaugh didn’t miss his chances and I thought he was one of the bright spots in a secondary that had its struggles.

Big deficit nullifies Cowboys run game

Going into this matchup against the Eagles, I really believed that the Cowboys would have the ability to move the ball on the ground with DeMarco Murray and Phillip Tanner. I didn’t like the size of the Eagles front seven and I was encouraged by what I had seen against St. Louis despite the fact the Rams were one of the worst in the league at defending the run.

There are points in the game where you can tell there is a good chance a team will become one-dimensional. In this case, the Eagles were able to make the Cowboys that way as they built a 21-0 lead. As the Cowboys struggled with possessions, the lead Philadelphia had built allowed it to do defensively it does best -- rush the passer.

The Eagles don’t want to stand in there toe-to-toe and slug it out with teams. They want to get Jason Babin and Trent Cole wide to let them blow up the field and get after the quarterback. Once the Cowboys fell behind, the threat of the run was over and they played right into the Eagles’ hands.

Offensive line gets twisted

The Cowboys had the most trouble against this Eagles defense when it would twist the front. This was minor compared to what the Cowboys have had to deal with in years past from the Eagles with longtime defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. When you faced a Johnson defense, the blitz could come from any place in the secondary or at any level with the linebackers. This version of the Eagles defense is not that way.

[+] EnlargeRoo
AP Photo/Michael PerezThe Eagles sacked Tony Romo four times.
There was plenty of four-man pressure, but it wasn’t anything the Cowboys hadn’t seen before or prepared to face. The Eagles used the twist stunts with defensive tackles and ends to get two of their four sacks.

On the second sack of Romo, Tyron Smith adjusted late to try to pick up defensive tackle Trevor Laws, who came all the way from the inside to grab Romo as the quarterback tried to move to the right in the pocket.

I have said this a great deal about Smith, but it’s worth repeating. Smith has his most trouble when defenders rush him hard to the inside. Babin took him hard up the field but was able to spin hard to the inside, as Smith had all his weight on the outside of his foot, thus becoming a one-legged football player, making it hard to adjust.

Keeping with the offensive line, just a thought here, but don’t be surprised if Derrick Dockery replaces Montrae Holland at left guard. It is very clear that Holland cannot handle movement or he doesn’t move well enough. I am not going to say that Dockery is going to make you think of Larry Allen, but he is better than Holland, who missed a cut block on a screen, got beat for a sack and struggled on a spin move that gave up a pressure.

Eagles keep Austin, Bryant covered

After the game, Romo was asked why he was unable to get the ball to Miles Austin and Dez Bryant more as the game progressed. Romo’s answer was simple and correct: coverage.

The Eagles were outstanding in the secondary other than the long touchdown pass to Laurent Robinson. Asante Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha and Joselio Hanson did their jobs. Bryant only beat Asomugha once, and that was on an in route, but it happened to be the same time that Smith gave up the first sack to Babin.

[+] EnlargeAsomugha
AP Photo/Matt SlocumNnamdi Asomugha was in the right place at the right time, picking off a pass when Martellus Bennett bobbled it away.
The Eagles also played with their safeties over the top to help as well. Even the routes that Jason Witten ran were contested. Romo really didn’t have much choice where to go with the ball on the outside, again because of pressure and coverage.

I would like to focus on a pass play that turned the game in the wrong direction for the Cowboys: the interception intended for Martellus Bennett.

With the score 14-0 Eagles, the Cowboys have a second-and-8 on their 41. Jason Garrett goes with two tight ends, two wide receivers and one back. Austin is wide right, Bryant is wide left near the sideline and motions toward the formation. Asomugha is in press coverage on Bryant, but he is getting help from the safety inside. Bryant runs up the field as Asomugha passes him to the safety. Bennett, lined up on the line to the left, heads to the flat then up the field on the wheel route.

Linebacker Moise Fokou is in coverage on Bennett. Asomugha sees that safety Kurt Coleman has Bryant covered and turns to his left to help Fokou in coverage on Bennett. Fokou has his back to Romo, who makes a perfect touch pass. Bennett loses the ball and it hits him in the face. The ball goes into the air, which allows Asomugha the opportunity to make the adjust interception.

The Eagles’ offense is able to take the ball and cash it in for points, making the game 21-0 and putting the Cowboys in a real offensive bind.

Draft Watch: NFC East

April, 21, 2011
4/21/11
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Dream scenario/Plan B.

Dallas Cowboys

Dream scenario: If the Cowboys play things the conventional way and sit tight at No. 9, they’ll probably be looking at either defensive end J.J. Watt or offensive tackle Tyron Smith. Either one would provide good value or fill a big need, and the Cowboys would improve. But Dallas owner Jerry Jones doesn’t always do things the conventional way. Although trading up to the top five might be difficult, Jones’ imagination could heat up if LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson makes it past the first five picks. The entire Dallas secondary had a horrible year last season, and Peterson would provide an instant upgrade. Jones might not be able to sit still if he’s within striking distance of Peterson.

Plan B: If there’s no chance at Peterson and the Cowboys aren’t excited enough about Watt or Smith, they could reach slightly and take Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara. He’s the second-best cornerback in this draft, and most mocks have him going somewhere in the teens. If the Cowboys like the player enough, it wouldn’t be much of a reach to just take him. If another team is looking to move up for another player, the Cowboys could drop down a few spots and still have a shot at Amukamara.

Washington Redskins

Dream scenario: The Redskins, who need a quarterback perhaps more than any other team on the planet, would love nothing more than for something bizarre to suddenly cause Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert to start falling. It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Carolina’s leaning toward Newton but hasn’t made a final decision. Even if the Panthers go with Newton, Buffalo could go with linebacker Von Miller at No. 3, and the word out of Arizona is the Cardinals probably are looking more for a pass-rusher than a quarterback. That would put the Redskins within striking distance on Gabbert, and general manager Bruce Allen and owner Daniel Snyder could try to move up to grab him. Or they could just take a chance that he’ll be available at No. 10.

Plan B: If Newton and Gabbert are gone, there’s no quarterback worthy of the No. 10 pick. Defensive tackle also is a major need, but the Redskins could fill that in free agency. Snyder enjoys making a splash, and if he can’t do it with a quarterback, he might do the next-best thing and take a guy who would catch passes from whoever ends up throwing them. With Santana Moss as a free agent and not much else in the receiving corps, Alabama’s Julio Jones could be a very nice consolation prize.

New York Giants

Dream scenario: The desperate need is at outside linebacker, but the only player who is really a sure thing is Miller, and he almost certainly will be a top-five pick. So the dream ends there and reality sets in, and the other reality is the Giants have big needs on the offensive line, where everyone but guard Chris Snee is starting to get old. Florida center/guard Mike Pouncey could really solidify the interior of the line, where the need is greatest. Tackles Gabe Carimi and Anthony Castonzo also could be possibilities as the Giants could consider moving tackle David Diehl to guard.

Plan B: This may sound a bit off the wall because the Giants have decent running backs in Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. But what if Alabama’s Mark Ingram happens to be available? The Giants might have to consider him. He might be better than Bradshaw and Jacobs. Also, along the same lines, don’t rule out the possibility of a defensive tackle like Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson if he’s available. The Giants appear to be in good shape in the middle of the defensive line, but general manager Jerry Reese places a high value on having lots of depth, especially in the middle of the defensive line.

Philadelphia Eagles

Dream scenario: In a perfect world, the Eagles would package their first pick (No. 23 overall) with quarterback Kevin Kolb and trade their way into the top five, where they would aim for cornerback Peterson. The Eagles have a desperate need for a cornerback to play opposite Asante Samuel, and Peterson is the only sure thing in this draft. But this is not a perfect world. Unless the lockout somehow ends between now and the start of the draft, they’re not allowed to trade Kolb. If they stay put, the Eagles have to hope Amukamara somehow falls to them, or they might have to take a chance on Colorado’s Jimmy Smith, who comes with some background questions.

Plan B: The right side of the offensive line needs to be upgraded. Most teams stay clear of guards in the first round. But tackles Castonzo, Nate Solder and Carimi all could be available when the Eagles pick. Any one of them could step right into the lineup and start.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Eagles preview

January, 1, 2011
1/01/11
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Scout's Eye
The league hoped this would be a matchup of two teams once again fighting for a division title, much like last season. It has turned into a preseason game in cold conditions.

The Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys will be starting backup quarterbacks this week but for different reasons. The Eagles have nothing to play for after a crazy week of playing a Tuesday night game against the Minnesota Vikings and getting Michael Vick banged up with a quad contusion. They will have to turn around and play a wild card game next week, so Andy Reid is taking the smart approach by resting his Pro Bowl quarterback.

The Eagles are a dynamic offensive team with Vick in the lineup, but without him you can really see the flaws of this offensive line. When these two teams met in the second week of December, it was impressive the amount of pressure that defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni was able to generate. Vick took some tremendous shots in that game, and it seemed to affect the way he threw the ball and his willingness to take off and run with the ball.

The Vikings took the same game plan and attacked the Eagles’ front and backs. With Vick out of the lineup, the Eagles lose that ability to have their quarterback save the line when they struggle to hold their blocks for any length of time.

What Vick does is he extends the play. Kevin Kolb has mobility but nowhere near as effective as Vick. The plan for the Cowboys should be simple: continue to attack this Eagles' offensive line, which will struggle.

For all the money that the Eagles spent on Jason Peters, the results can’t be what they hoped for. He is not a dominant player and has his moments where he struggles on the edge and with his ability to hold blocks.

On the other side, Winston Justice is athletic, but he plays way too soft and tends to catch blocks. Justice tries to steer or take his man where he wants to go instead of hammering him off the ball. For all the games where Anthony Spencer was a nonfactor, the Eagles game earlier was one of his best.

The Cowboys will be able to rush these tackles and have some success getting to Kolb because he doesn’t have the skill of Vick to avoid the rush.

Something else to watch in this game is the ability of the Cowboys to put pressure on these Eagles running backs to have to play in pass protection. As good as LeSean McCoy is running and catching the ball, he struggles as a pass blocker. In the Vikings game Tuesday, they put him to the test. The Eagles want to get the ball in his hands as much as possible, but there will be times where he is going to have to step up and help Kolb out in blitz pickup.

The Eagles are a big screen team and are not afraid to do it at any point on the field. The Cowboys have to be careful when they do blitz that McCoy doesn’t sneak into the flat or work into the middle of the field and take a pass.

It’s not that McCoy doesn’t give the effort in pass protection. He is much like a Felix Jones in that he tries, but the technique and the results don’t always work out.

On the outside these Eagles receivers are tough to deal with. DeSean Jackson was listed as questionable this week, so like Vick, he might sit. Jackson had a monster game the first time these teams met. As the Cowboys found out, any time the Eagles get him the ball on the move, he puts a great deal of pressure on the defense.

[+] EnlargeMichael Vick
Barbara Johnston/US PresswireThe Cowboys won't have to deal with Pro Bowler Michael Vick, who will get some rest to be healthy for a wild-card game next week.
Both Jackson and Jeremy Maclin have speed, but their most impressive trait is their quickness. The Eagles like to use Jackson on screens or misdirection sweeps. Maclin is the better route runner of the two and appears to have the better of the hands. Maclin gets in and out of breaks without any wasted movements.

At tight end, the Eagles have a nice player in Brent Celek, who is an upfield player and is always a factor in the red zone. Celek has more than dependable hands and is usually a mismatch for linebackers in coverage. The Eagles have also begun to use backup Clay Harbor in the red zone more as well. Harbor is like Celek in that he can get up the field and is decent enough as a get-in-the-way blocker to help in the running game.

The weapons are still there offensively for the Eagles, but the key man in the offense is not. Vick has played like an MVP in 2010 and has hidden the sins of this offensive line, so it will be interesting to see how well they function with Kolb in the lineup.

When studying the game tape after the first matchup, I came away with the thought that this wasn’t one of Jon Kitna’s better games. There were too many times where plays were well-protected and he saw ghosts, which led to rushed decisions. There were plays that were left on the field -- the pass to Roy Williams early in the game along the sideline, the forced pass to Miles Austin that ended up as a tipped-ball interception and the underthrow to Martellus Bennett on a blown coverage by the Eagles.

When you are playing a team like the Eagles, they put images in your head of blitzing and attacking, which causes a quarterback to make poor choices.

For the most part, the line did a nice job of handling what Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott threw at them. Trent Cole is the Eagles’ best pass rusher and once again will be matched up with Doug Free, who wasn’t at his best last week against the Cardinals.

Cole doesn’t get the credit that he deserves as a run player. Free will need to block him throughout the play. He is not one of those guys that you give one shot to and he goes away.

When you play in Philadelphia, you always have to deal with the crowd noise. This is always an advantage to a guy like Cole that gets off the snap with solid quickness.

In the secondary, the Eagles have a big time player in Asante Samuel. Samuel didn’t play in the first game and has been nicked up some the last few weeks, but he was in the lineup against the Vikings on Tuesday.

Whether it’s Stephen McGee or Kitna at quarterback for the Cowboys on Sunday, they will be well aware of Samuel, who loves to bait quarterbacks into thinking that their receivers are open, then drive on the football to make a play.

Samuel also has a history of not wanting anything to do in the tackling side of the game. There have been times where he flies forward on a play to miss badly. In the past, teams have tried to take advantage of this part of his game.

Safety Quintin Mikell is no Brian Dawkins, but McDermott likes to use him in that way. Against the Cowboys last time out, Mikell was a steady performer. He will play forward and around the line of scrimmage. He will also be used on the blitz, which is an area that the Eagles have been outstanding at over the years.

Kitna missed a slot blitz by Joselio Hanson for a sack, and if McGee is the starter on Sunday, he will see more of the same. The Eagles like to create confusion with their scheme. Jason Garrett will tailor a game plan that won’t expose McGee too much. The throws that he was able to make were quick ones. Slants or inside routes to receivers and Jason Witten working all over the field will help.

Where the Cowboys had some success was getting the ball to the backs on the outside in space. Garrett will ask his quarterback to make throws without much reading involved. The most important thing is that if McGee does in fact start, he received all the reps in practice this week and he does have the confidence of his teammates to get the job done.

Eagles leave CB, RT in Philly

December, 11, 2010
12/11/10
10:32
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The Eagles will leave two starters in Philadelphia this weekend.

The team announced that cornerback Asante Samuel and right tackle Winston Justice would not make the trip to Texas. They had been listed as questionable with knee injuries.

Joselio Hanson will replace Samuel, who leads the NFL with seven interceptions. Trevard Lindley will have to play in nickel situations.

King Dunlap, who has allowed three sacks in limited playing time this season, will replace Justice.

Scout's Eye: Eagles-Cowboys preview

December, 9, 2010
12/09/10
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The Cowboys have faced several outstanding quarterbacks already this season, but they have yet to face one that has the talents of Michael Vick.

When I see Vick play, I have to laugh at the fact that any team in the NFL could have had Vick's numerous skills on their roster if they had only offered the Eagles enough in the form of a draft pick. Last offseason, the Eagles made the commitment of playing Kevin Kolb, but when Kolb was banged up against the Packers opening day, Vick was pressed into the starting lineup and Kolb quickly became a backup quarterback.

Scout's Eye
It is truly amazing that Vick was gone from the game for two seasons then spent one season as the "wildcat" quarterback. He now is nowhere near that quarterback that struggled to read defenses or to make accurate throws that he was in Atlanta.

The ability to escape the rush and make plays with his feet is still there, but he now can beat you throwing the football. Vick no longer has to play with just a simple high-low read on the boot. He can stand in the pocket and hit receivers on vertical routes or across the middle. He can throw screens and checkdowns with touch. He can fit balls into tight spots with the confidence of Drew Brees or Peyton Manning.

Vick has become the quarterback that scouts thought he would be, except no one believed that he had the ability to make all the throws and can be successful executing them. When you now watch Vick throw, there is some snap to it. He can deliver the ball on the line. The ball isn't all over the place, and receivers don't have to make adjustments to catch each throw like his teammates in Atlanta did.

These Eagles' receivers, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, are outstanding in space. Any time they get the ball on the move, it's difficult for defenders to deal with. Both Jackson and Maclin have speed, but their most impressive trait is their quickness.

The Eagles like to use Jackson on screens or misdirection sweeps. Maclin is the better route runner of the two and appears to have the better hands. Maclin gets in and out of breaks without any wasted movements.

You have heard me talk about Miles Austin and the way he runs routes without changing speeds; Maclin is the same type of player. He runs his routes all the same speed and makes it difficult for corners to get a read on him.

[+] EnlargeDeSean Jackson
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesEagles receiver DeSean Jackson is fast, but it's his quickness that really creates issues for defenses.
At tight end, the Eagles have a nice player in Brent Celek, who is an upfield player and is always a factor in the red zone. Celek has more than dependable hands and is usually a mismatch for linebackers in coverage.

Would not be the least bit surprised to see Paul Pasqualoni have Anthony Spencer try to hammer Celek all night off the line of scrimmage. Any time you give Celek free access in a route, he is going to be a problem.

Other than quarterback, the area that I feel like the Eagles have made the biggest jump is at running back. For many years, I was a Brian Westbrook fan for all the ways he could hurt you in a game, but with LeSean McCoy in that role now, the Eagles have an even more dynamic player.

McCoy is an explosive ball carrier that can make you miss in the open field or punish you with power. He is good in space, and his hands are steady. Vick likes to throw him the ball in the flat on simple plays, and he has the ability to turn them into large gains. Would not call him a killer as a pass blocker, but he will chip and then get in the route. Does a nice job of running the stretch play, finding the hole and then making the cut inside.

The Cowboys' defenders need to get to him before he can get started. He hits the hole in a hurry and can extend the run. The Eagles like to run a play-action game with boots and waggles off action involving McCoy.

The Eagles' offensive line benefits from players like Vick, McCoy, Celek and the two receivers. These players that I have mentioned all hide the sins of this line, whether it's Vick's ability to scramble and avoid the rush, McCoy busting through a defense that is not cleanly blocked or Jackson running with a screen.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesLeSean McCoy has skills in the open field similar to former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, but he can also punish you with power.
There are some flaws along this line when it comes to pass protection. The Eagles' line doesn't handle movement all that well and will set on different levels in pass protection. Teams have been able to create pressure because the longer this line has to hold a block, the more trouble it has finishing the block.

The Bears were able to get pressure with a four-man rush and movement up front. Pasqualoni will try to do the same, keeping his rushers wide and playing coverage behind the rush. If the Cowboys can hold up on the back end, the opportunity to get someone home on the rush will increase.

*Week 16 and the Wild Card game last season against the Cowboys are two games that Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott would like to forget.

In neither of those two contests was his defense ready to play or did he and the staff manage to come up with any type of answers to slow down this Jason Garrett-led Cowboys offense.

McDermott is in his second season since taking over for the late Jim Johnson, who was a master at creating all types of blitz packages and schemes to get your offense off the field. McDermott will give you different looks defensively, but he isn’t close to the exotic blitzer that Johnson was.

The defensive line likes to be active up front with movement, and the linebackers will play tight to the line of scrimmage. When the Eagles do blitz, it’s usually through the double "A" gap with linebackers Stewart Bradley and Ernie Sims.

From the secondary, McDermott will bring safety Quintin Mikell. who is playing the role of Brian Dawkins but is nowhere near as effective as Dawkins once was in this scheme.

The Eagles' best pass rusher is defensive end Trent Cole. Cowboys left tackle Doug Free once again draws the assignment of handling the opponent's best rusher. Unlike Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, Cole plays the run well, so Free will need to be at his best each snap and work to finish his blocks and not allow Cole to chase down the play.

In the secondary, the ball-hawking cornerback Asante Samuel returns to the lineup after missing the Chicago and Houston games with a knee injury. In Samuel’s place, nickel man Joselio Hanson has been the starter at left corner.

Samuel has a history as a gambling player. Samuel loves to bait quarterbacks into thinking their receivers are open, then driving on the football to make a play.

Samuel also has a history of not wanting anything to do with the tackling side of the game. There have been times where he flies forward on a play to miss badly.

I would expect this Cowboys offense to test him on the outside early to see the condition of his knee and also see how committed he is in playing in a physical game. Any ball that spills to his side of the field will be a soft force and will be something worth watching.

Cowboys have to pick spots vs. Samuel

January, 6, 2010
1/06/10
5:09
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IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys have to approach Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel with a certain degree of caution.

Samuel tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions this season and is one of the premier playoff thieves to have ever played the game. He’s tied for fifth in NFL history with seven career postseason interceptions. His four playoff pick-sixes are a league record.

“You have to watch out certainly,” Wade Phillips said. “You have to be aware of where he is because he’s very adept at breaking on the ball and making a play on it.”

However, that doesn’t mean the Cowboys should avoid throwing at Samuel, who can get himself in trouble by gambling.

According to Stats, Inc., Samuel allowed six touchdown passes this season, which tied for the eight most in the league. One of those was a Tony Romo throw to Jason Witten on the opening possession last week, when Samuel tried to jump the route and Romo threw a perfect pass to the other side of Witten.

Samuel gambled two other times against the Cowboys last week with mixed results. He jumped a red-zone slant to Patrick Crayton, deflecting a pass that Joselio Hanson intercepted. Miles Austin snagged an out route over Samuel the other time and turned upfield for a 40-yard gain.
IRVING -- The Cowboys took a early 7-0 lead at Cowboys Stadium over the Eagles in this NFC East title game.

Dallas took the opening drive and scored on a Tony Romo 10-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten. The score ended a nine play 80 yard drive that took 4:25 off the clock. The key to the drive was Marion Barber.

He had runs of 32, eight and 18 yards on the drive to get the Cowboys in scoring range.

The Cowboys had another chance to score on their second possession of the opening quarter but Romo threw his second intercepiton of this month.

Romo targeted a pass to Patrick Crayton just outside the end zone, but corner Asante Samuel tipped the pass away and the Eagles Joselio Hanson picked it off, his second of the year, with 1:55 to play in the quarter.

The Eagles and Cowboys have used plenty of shotgun formations in the game and the Eagles have yet to go deep, something they're noted for.

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