There was going to be two ways that Jason Garrett and the Cowboys were going to play this game against the Eagles on Christmas Eve:
* If the Giants won, it'd be a meaningless game and Garrett would need to manage the game to try and protect players injured players such as Felix Jones, Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware before this week's showdown vs. the Giants.
What Garrett didn’t count on was quarterback Tony Romo getting injured. What surprised me the most about the way that Garrett played this game was the amount of snaps that he gave to Ware and Ratliff. I was convinced Jones, Ratliff and Ware wouldn't play much, but it didn’t work out that way. To their credit, Ware and Ratliff were the best players on defense.
Cowboys' ends limit McCoy's effectiveness this time
I felt Eagles RB LeSean McCoy would cause the most problems on offense, both in the running and passing games. When the Cowboys and Eagles met in Week 8, the Cowboys' front seven -- particularly DEs Marcus Spears, Kenyon Coleman and Jason Hatcher -- played poorly. They couldn’t get off blocks and did nothing to hold the point of attack.
In Saturday's game, the Cowboys' ends did a much better job of not getting pushed around, allowing the linebackers to flow and make plays. Spears had several plays where he was square to the line of scrimmage and was able to stack the blockers, which gave McCoy no room to run. Where the Cowboys' defense was outstanding was playing backside technique and not allowing McCoy to make that stop-start cut which hurt them last time.
Newman, Cowboys' secondary struggle yet again
In the first half, there were once again problems in the secondary with coverage. On the first drive of the game, the Cowboys were able to get pressure on Michael Vick.
With Anthony Spencer flushing Vick to his left, Spencer grabbed a hold of Vick’s facemask while trying to get him to the ground. Down the field, Mike Jenkins lost contact with receiver Riley Cooper as he started up the field. Gerald Sensabaugh tried to get over to help, but was left backpedaling while trying to locate the ball as it floated over his head. Safety Abram Elam also tried to get over to help, but he badly misplayed the ball as well. The result: Cooper caught the ball with three defenders within two yards of him.
There were several plays in this game where Terence Newman was not near good enough. In the second quarter, Newman misplayed a ball on second-and-10 after Marcus Spears made a nice square tackle on first down against McCoy.
When you study Vick, the one place that he loves to throw the ball is the middle of the field. On this particular play, receiver DeSean Jackson drove on a crossing route against Newman in man coverage. When Jackson broke inside, Newman lost contact with him and then tried to undercut the route but was a step late. Ware was able to get pressure on Vick, but not enough to affect the throw. Vick ripped it down the middle of the field to Jackson with Newman in chase position, giving up a catch and the first down.
On the Eagles TD with 10 seconds left in the half, Newman and Jenkins were playing in-and-out coverage on Jeremy Maclin from the 6. Newman was on the inside and Jenkins on the outside as Maclin started his route up the field and then inside. Newman passed Jackson inside to Sensabaugh from the slot and turned his attention to Maclin on the outside. Jenkins saw Maclin start inside but Newman didn’t react quick enough to pick him up. As Maclin got away from Jenkins and cleared Newman, Vick saw Newman not react and fired the ball to the middle of the end zone for a TD.
In the third quarter, the Eagles dialed up a screen pass to tight end Brent Celek. Where the Eagles are dangerous is that they'll throw a screen at any point on the field. On this play, Newman was once again trying to cover Maclin down the field but misplayed his route and got turned around and had his back to the screen. As Newman is hand fighting with Maclin, Celek ran right by him and up the field for a big play. If Newman hadn’t got in such bad position on the route, he could have made the tackle, keeping Celek from getting down the field.
Cowboys' offensive line failed to protect Romo
This game was going to be a struggle for the Cowboys' offensive line to provide protection, with or without Romo in the lineup. Romo doesn't have Vick's mobility, but he has been able to buy second and third chances with his legs the last several weeks. That's why the offense has been so productive.
The challenge for the line this week was to block defensive ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole. Once again, the line struggled most with protection as a result of not picking up the twist stunt. On the play that Romo was injured, the Eagles used a blitz that they've run in several games this season.
With the Cowboys facing a third-and-4, the Eagles blitzed Matthews in the front side “A” gap, which was picked up by Phil Costa. Patterson hit the “B” gap, which was blocked by Kyle Kosier. Jason Babin was lined up on the outside shoulder of Tyron Smith, started into the line then looped all the way behind his teammates hitting the gaps. Smith tried to crash down inside to wad up the rushers, but Babin made it clean all the way through the center box while Costa was still locked up on his man.
Kosier saw what was happening and tried to work inside to block Babin but went to the ground. Babin had a free run at Romo, who was trying to get the ball to Miles Austin on a crossing route. The problem with this play is that Austin and Dez Bryant were trying to cross by each other with one of them not running the route deep enough, causing both receivers to not get to their spot cleanly. Romo had Babin in his face to the point that his hand hit Babin’s helmet. In all discussions that I have had with members of the front office, Romo should be ready to play against the Giants on Sunday.