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.
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.