Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan vs. Eagles RB LeSean McCoy: With as many weapons as the Eagles have on offense, this is the one matchup the Cowboys cannot afford to lose.
Rob Ryan and his staff must find a way to put his defensive players in the best positions to make plays. When you study the Eagles, you understand the dynamic of what Michael Vick brings to the game and how dangerous he can be to defend, but McCoy is truly what makes this Eagles offense go. With McCoy, it’s about dealing with his explosive plays that cause defenses the most trouble.
Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg uses McCoy in so many different ways, whether it’s on the stretch play, sprint draw or the screen. Mornhinweg does a great job of getting McCoy one-on-one in space, which puts so much pressure on a defense to have to make a sure tackle.
McCoy has that rare stop-start quickness that backs like Barry Sanders had. He has the ability to allow the play to develop front side, then see what is happening back side, plant his foot and make a cut into the open space. Many a day I observed Sanders doing the very same thing for the Lions.
McCoy does an outstanding job of avoiding tackles because of this skill. He has the ability to run out of the negative play.
Mornhinweg likes to use McCoy in the screen game. It doesn’t matter at what point or where on the field, the Eagles will run a screen to McCoy.
The last time these teams met, Ryan played his safeties deep to prevent the vertical passing game of the Eagles. I believe you will see Gerald Sensabaugh and Abram Elam lining up at normal depth, but also one or the other down in the box helping with the running game and the potential for the cut-back run.
The second area that should help Ryan is that Sean Lee will be back in the mix. Like many of the defenders in the last meeting, Lee was not at his best, and then got hurt and was out of the game. Ryan needs Lee to be special in this game and if the Cowboys are going to contain McCoy, it will be because of Lee, DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. The defensive ends will need to be on point, but so will the linebackers for Ryan.
Cowboys RT Tyron Smith vs. Eagles DE Jason Babin: Smith really struggled with the inside spin move of Babin when these teams met in Week 8. Smith indicated that he has a better feel and understanding of what he has to deal with in playing Babin the second time around.
What makes Babin so dangerous on that move is that he is able to rush to the depth of the quarterback in the pocket, get the weight of the offensive tackle on his right foot, then spin hard inside and right on top of the quarterback for the sack. Smith really struggled early in the season when the rush came to the inside, not with the wide rushers. Since that game, he has done a much better job of handling those types of moves.
Smith will also need to be able to handle Babin in the running game, whether that is reaching him to the front side or play side or when the ball goes away. Babin is not as good as Eagles right DE Trent Cole playing the run, but because of his motor and effort he is one of those guys Smith is going to have to block to and through the whistle.
Smith needs to turn this game into a brawl against Babin and try to beat him up with power. Babin can’t go toe-to-toe with Smith power-wise, so beating him up will go a long way toward trying to slow his rush and having a better chance of controlling him.
Cowboys FS Gerald Sensabaugh vs. Eagles TE Brent Celek: The Eagles' leading receiver is tight end Brent Celek. When you study the games, it is very evident that he is Vick’s favorite target. When Vick gets in trouble or he feels pressure, Celek is the guy he is looking to.
Celek is similar to Jason Witten in the way he plays. He lines up all over the formation, like Witten, but when Celek can and will do the most damage is when he lines up inside as a normal, true tight end. You will generally see Celek line up on the offensive left side because when he runs his routes to that side, it is easier for the left-handed Vick to make that throw.
Celek is too dangerous a player to cover with Frank Walker, who earlier in the season did a nice job against tight ends but has not been as productive lately. I could see Ryan putting Sensabaugh in coverage to deal with Celek. Sensabaugh does have the cover skill to run with Celek and can be physical enough when he needs to be.
Last week, Jets coach Rex Ryan tried to cover Celek with cornerback Antonio Cromartie, but that didn’t work out well. Of the two Cowboys safeties, Sensabaugh does have the better cover skill, and next to dealing with McCoy, this will be the next most important job for the defense.