Dallas Cowboys: Joselio Hanson

The NFC East: Living in the nickel

August, 9, 2012
8/09/12
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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.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Eagles preview

December, 23, 2011
12/23/11
11:42
AM ET

Scout's Eye
When Jason Garrett's Cowboys met at Valley Ranch this week, all they had to do to be reminded of what these Philadelphia Eagles did to them in Week 8 is sit down in their meeting rooms and study the tape of the total domination to understand what they will be up against this weekend.

The Cowboys have faced some quality opponents, but when you study the Eagles you see nothing like the other teams in the league with what you have to deal with from an offensive standpoint. There were days when I was in Green Bay and playing the '90s Cowboys when you went into a game against them trying to figure out how you were going to stop Emmitt Smith from running the ball or Jay Novacek on third downs or Michael Irvin on the slant. Just when you thought that you had one of those areas taken care of, the other players would find a way to take the game from you. This Eagles offense puts a lot of those same thoughts in my mind that I experienced against those Cowboys teams.

In the last meeting between these two teams, Rob Ryan and his staff made the decision to not allow these Eagles wide receivers to make any vertical plays down the field. Safeties Abram Elam and Gerald Sensabaugh, as Ryan put it, played "503 yards deep" from the line of scrimmage. The problem with this decision for Ryan was with his safeties so deep, he opened up the middle of the field.

Then to compound the problem, he lost Sean Lee in the game -- the only linebacker that was athletic enough to make a play in the middle of the field. This was a horrible situation for Ryan because it meant that he had to rely on Keith Brooking and Bradie James, who were exposed in coverage and in the running game. With the deep safeties, it allowed tight end Brent Celek and wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson to work crossing routes inside.

When I have studied Vick his last four games, the one area that he likes to attack is the middle of the field. Matter of fact, his best and worst throws come when he is working the middle of the field. Vick just looks more comfortable throwing to targets right in front of him, but like I mentioned he will make mistakes trying to fit ball down the middle against safeties.

McCoy looms as multi-dimensional threat


The deep safeties also hurt Ryan in the running game dealing with LeSean McCoy.

There are three areas that McCoy can hurt your defense.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
AP Photo/Matt SlocumExpect LeSean McCoy to give Sean Lee and the Cowboys defense the most fits.
The first one is on the stretch play when you have the offensive line with full flow running with defenders and he takes the ball all the way to the edge and around the corner. The Cowboys got gashed in the last meeting by the down blocking by tackles Jason Peters and Todd Herremans, who were able to set the edge allowing the ball to get outside. Watch how Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher and Kenyon Coleman play in this contest, because if the Eagles are running the ball well on the edges, it's probably because the defensive ends are not doing their jobs getting off blocks.

The second way that McCoy hurts you is with the sprint draw. Teams have various ways they run the draw, but the Eagles take full advantage of the ball-handling skill of Vick. Teams try so hard to get up the field and attack the Eagles before they get going that it leaves lanes in the defense. As the defense is coming up the field, Vick does an outstanding job of tucking the ball into McCoy and letting him use his vision and quickness to get the ball up the field past the oncoming defenders.

The final way that McCoy can hurt you is as a pass catcher, whether that is in the flat or more impressively in the screen game. The Eagles love to run screens and they will do them from anywhere on the field. The Eagles are the most dangerous when they get into the red zone and once again try to take advantage of defenders getting up the field. The Eagles will throw wide receiver screens to Jackson, they will use Celek in a delay screen where he blocks for two or three counts, then works his way to the outside in the open field, but the player that gives defenses the most trouble is McCoy. He catches the ball so well on the move and when he gets one-on-one, he can break anyone down. The problem for Ryan is that he doesn't really know when offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is going to use these screens, but he knows they will.

The Eagles' struggles this season have been with their offensive line. Against the Cowboys in the last meeting, I felt like that they were better than the Dallas front seven. There were too many plays where the Cowboys didn't do a good enough job of getting off blocks allowing the Eagles to control the game upfront.

The best offensive lineman for the Eagles is Peters at left tackle. In the games I was able to study, Peters more than has held his own, whereas earlier in the season, he didn't appear to move all that well. I thought he moved way too slow with his feet, but that has changed.

Teams have taken advantage of the Eagles inside with guards Evan Mathis and Danny Watkins. Rookie center Jason Kelce will get overpowered at the point of attack. The mobility of Vick and the quickness of McCoy really assist this offensive line in overcoming a great deal of their shortcomings.

Smith handles Babin once more


The last time that these two clubs met, there was a great deal of pressure on Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo because of the direction that the defense was going. Losses were mounting and the players that were brought in had yet to truly play as a collective unit.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Matt SlocumJason Babin will play wide on the outside shoulders of the tackles seeking to add to his league-leading sack total.
The buzzword that you will hear in all the pregame shows will be how the Eagles play this defensive alignment of a "Wide 9," which is simply, defensive ends Trent Cole and Jason Babin play wide on the outside shoulder of the tackles Doug Free and Tyron Smith. At times they will be a full man removed from the tackle. When you play this type of scheme, you are asking your ends to get up the field as quickly as possible to disrupt the running game but more importantly cause problems in the passing game. Pass rush is where the Eagles cause the most problems.

Usually your best pass rusher will rush from the offensive left hand side, but the Eagles' best rusher comes from the offensive right. The Green Bay Packers are the same way with Clay Matthews rushing from the offensive right.

Babin, who has a league-leading 18 sacks, is as explosive as any rusher Smith will face all season. As a matter of fact, Babin was the rusher who gave Smith the most trouble with his inside move. Talking to Smith, he now understands what he is up against and I think he is better for it.

Babin is unique with this move because he is able to do it at the depth and level of the quarterback's drop. He has a real feel for how to push up the field and get all of the weight of the tackle on his outside foot then quickly duck underneath. Smith really struggled when Babin used this technique on him.

At the other end is Trent Cole against Free. There should be serious cause for concern here because of the struggles that Free has had with technique this season. Cole is a better run player than Babin.

The Eagles are at their best in run defense when the ball goes wide and they are able to handle the play. It is when teams have run the ball at them that they have had their struggles. I thought the Seahawks did a real nice job with this in the regard that they physically came off the ball, getting hats on hats and making the Eagles fight blocks then have to deal with Marshawn Lynch.

The Eagles' weakness on defense is at linebacker. In studying Akeem Jordan, Jamar Chaney, Brian Rolle and Casey Matthews, I didn't feel like they did a good enough job of taking on blocks. With the injury to Felix Jones, I would not be one bit surprised to see Jason Garrett try to attack this Eagles defense with fullback Tony Fiammetta, Jones and Sammy Morris going straight ahead.

Teams have had also had success running the ball with misdirection plays. By that, I mean starting flow one way and getting the defense to react then bringing the ball backside with an H-blocker or fullback. If Jones was healthy, this is something you might see more of.

In the secondary, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are the corners with Joselio Hanson as the nickel. Asomugha will play the slot. The last time that these two teams met, he covered Jason Witten when he was in line and in the slot.

Something else to watch for is that Castillo has gone back to some of the old exotic blitz schemes that former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson used. In the Jets and Dolphins games, Castillo used two down linemen and had Cole, Babin and Matthews standing up in the middle of the defense. The Cowboys have had their troubles with blitz pickups when teams put pressure in the middle of the pocket with twist stunts.

Two things must happen this week: the Cowboys receivers must find a way to win on the outside and the offensive line must be able to pick up blitzes in the middle of Eagles defense. If they struggle in either area, you will see sacks much like Mark Sanchez and Matt Moore suffered in their games against the Eagles.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Eagles review

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
11:22
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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.

Garrett: 'Don't want our players officiating'

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
9:26
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IRVING, Texas – Dez Bryant’s rant received the most attention, but he wasn’t the only high-profile Cowboy to initiate an animated conversation with an official Sunday night.

Tony Romo got involved in the second round of Bryant’s complaint session after a heavy-contact incompletion in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. Jason Witten jogged out to the middle of the field during a commercial break to plead his case after a third-down incompletion in the third quarter.

Coach Jason Garrett doesn’t mind his players discussing such plays with officials, to a certain extent.

“We don’t want our players officiating the game,” Garrett said. “Having said that, communicating with officials I don’t think is a bad thing, as long as it doesn’t get to the point of distraction.”

The Cowboys had cases on both non-calls. Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha got away with grabbing Bryant’s arm as the ball was in the air during the garbage-time third-and-goal play. Bryant demonstrated the motion in exaggerated fashion to the official standing a few yards away after the play and went back for more discussion after a sack the following play, when Romo halted his discussion with the official to hold back Bryant. Witten’s complaint came after Joselio Hanson got away with a more subtle grab in the middle of the field.

“I think that’s a natural reaction,” Garrett said of complaining to officials after such plays. “We don’t want to take that away from our players, but at the same time, we want them to continue to focus on the task at hand and worry about their job.”

Scout's Eye: Eagles-Cowboys review

December, 14, 2010
12/14/10
11:11
AM ET
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.

Scout's Eye
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.

PODCAST
Former Cowboy Darren Woodson jumps on with Skin and ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon to break down the Cowboys' secondary.

Listen Listen
*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.

Eagles leave CB, RT in Philly

December, 11, 2010
12/11/10
10:32
AM ET
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
11:00
PM ET

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.

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