Coming into this match up with the Eagles, Jason Garrett and his staff understood the difficult task of having to game plan for a team that had some many explosive players on the offensive side of the football.
In many ways preparing for the Eagles has become more of a task because the emergence of Michael Vick as the quarterback. In years past, going into games against the Eagles, Donovan McNabb was the trigger man for the offense, but as in games that finished the 2009 season and the NFC Wild Card game, McNabb clearly wasn’t the player that he had been.
In studying Vick for this game, the Eagles offense operated at a different level than that of the previous McNabb teams. Vick still showed the ability to beat you with his legs, but now he has become an accurate pocket passer. There was that threat that if he got in trouble and the pocket broke down that he would be able to run his way out of trouble.
Going into this game, I felt like that the Eagles offensive line was going to struggle with this Cowboys defensive front the longer they had to hold their blocks. Paul Pasqualoni’s game plan was a sound one by trying to hit Vick at every opportunity. By punishing Vick, you affect the way he runs the ball or his willingness to run the ball and you affect the way he passes it.
Cowboys outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer played well in this game. Early in the game, the Eagles tried to block Ware with fullback Owen Schmidt, tight end Brent Celek and running back LeSean McCoy at various times but Ware was able to play off blocks and get pressure on Vick and be a factor in the running game. On the interception by Bradie James, Ware was able to beat McCoy and cause Vick to have to alter his throwing motion, which caused the ball to be delivered high for the interception.
Spencer was relentless in the way he played in this game. The way that he was able to get hits on Vick throughout the game was exactly what Pasqualoni had planned going into this game. He was also had a tipped ball and kept nice leverage on a screen that the Eagles set up that had a chance to be a big play if he is not there.
*The Cowboys lost this game because of several big plays both offensively and defensively.
The first snap of the game for the Eagles found the Cowboys in zone coverage with Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman on the same side of the field. At the snap, the line goes full flow to the right along with McCoy as Vick spins to his left on the boot. Jeremy Maclin is lined up on the outside of DeSean Jackson and starts inside toward Jenkins and safety Alan Ball. Newman now turns his attention toward Jackson working his way up the field. Newman gets turned, which causes him to have to adjust on the move which allows Jackson to get an advantage on him.
Vick is now standing on the left side of the pocket with no rush. Spencer is on the outside of him but is holding his ground, thinking that Vick might take off. Vick then launches the ball down the field to Jackson, who has separation on Newman. Ball sees what is happening and tries to move in that direction but is there only to make the tackle on Jackson.
*With 11:43 left in the fourth quarter, the Eagles take over the ball on their own 9-yard line with the score tied. The Eagles break the huddle in their three-wide receiver package and the Cowboys counter in the nickel.
Jenkins is in press coverage on the outside against Jackson. At the snap, safety Gerald Sensabaugh walks forward and Ball begins to roll deep. Jackson is off the line with Jenkins right on his hip, Jackson sharply cuts outside and down toward the sideline, Jenkins plants, gathers then tries to drive back into position to play the ball. Vick has delivered the ball to the outside as Jackson makes his break.
Jenkins plays the ball correctly technique-wise with his off hand, but the route and the spot of the pass is just too good. The diving Jenkins cannot make the play.
From the near safety position, Sensabaugh is too far forward to help because of alignment and the speed of Jackson. He is now behind the play. Ball now reacts to the play from the middle of the field and as he is working his way toward Jackson, and he slips as Jackson cuts inside of him.
No one is now in the middle of the field as Jackson is now at full speed. Orlando Scandrick and Newman are in coverage to the left side of the field. They have their men covered, stop, then begin to sprint to chase Jackson who beats them to the goal line for the 91-yard touchdown.
*After the Jackson touchdown, the Cowboys get the ball on their own 23-yard line with plenty of time.
Garrett calls for the two-tight end package with Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett. Roy Williams lines up to the left side with Eagles corner Dimitri Patterson nine yards off and playing outside of Williams.
At the snap, Jon Kitna gives a play-action fake to his right. Andre Gurode is beaten off the snap and defensive tackle Antonio Dixon is right in the face of Kitna. Leonard Davis tries to help Gurode but is unable to offer any. Williams starts his route up the field breaking down at the sticks. Patterson turns inside after seeing Williams settling. Patterson then plants and drives under Williams, who has now lost his balance and is falling backwards. Patterson now is driving outside and to the ball.
Kitna, with Dixon in his face, has to hurry the ball to the outside really unaware of Williams falling and how well Patterson has played the route. Williams is left scrambling to try to get in front of Patterson, who is in much better shape to play the ball and make the interception.
*As good as Kitna had been these last several weeks for this offense, this wasn’t one of his better games overall. It appeared that he felt more hurried throwing the football than he really was.
He missed a blitz pickup, which caused him a sack by Joselio Hanson on a slot blitz. Kitna moves Felix Jones to his left pre-snap. On the right side of the formation, he has Miles Austin in the slot working against Hanson with a safety behind him. At the snap, right tackle Marc Colombo fans to the outside and Davis down inside. Kitna’s eyes never see Hanson, who runs between Colombo and Davis unblocked.
By alignment, Kitna should have known that there was a chance that Hanson would be coming on the blitz.
Kitna also missed a throw to Bennett on a busted coverage by the Eagles that should have been a touchdown if he threw the ball further down the field. He had Roy Williams open earlier in the game but threw the ball behind Williams, who had to adjust but was unable to keep the defender from making the play.
Kitna did make two nice throws to Witten down the middle of the field with one of those resulting in a touchdown. But again, as good as Jon Kitna had been in his starts, this is one I am sure he will go back and feel like he left some plays on the field.