Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC East [Print without images]

Thursday, October 17, 2013
Cowboys a pass/fail exam for Eagles CBs

By Phil Sheridan

PHILADELPHIA -- After getting decent grades on a couple of tests, the Philadelphia Eagles defense faces another major pass/fail exam Sunday.

The Dallas Cowboys have the kind of high-powered passing offense that incinerated the Eagles in games against Denver and San Diego. After getting some turnovers against the Giants’ Eli Manning and playing solidly against Buccaneers rookie Mike Glennon, the Eagles will find out just how much progress they’ve made against Tony Romo.

Dez Bryant
The Eagles' secondary will have its hands full with red zone threat Dez Bryant, who has six receiving touchdowns.
The focus will be on cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, who will be matched up with Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Miles Austin and the rest of Romo’s weapons.

“It’s a unique challenge for me this week, to go up against the NFC’s best,” Williams said. “I take that role very seriously.”

So far, Williams has played on the right side of the Eagles’ defense, Fletcher on the left. Brandon Boykin has played mostly in the slot. Some teams would match their best corner on Bryant wherever he lines up.

“In practice, they switch right and left,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said of his corners. “We always have the ability to follow somebody if we want to, but right now Fletch and Cary are so similar in their builds and their styles -- if I felt there was an advantage, I would do it.”

That’s fine with Williams and Fletcher.

“My experience has always been on the right side,” Williams said. “Not that I can’t play the left side, by any means. It’s what the defensive coordinator wants to do. I just think Coach thinks I play well on the right side, and that’s great.”

So neither corner knows which receiver he’ll be facing on a given play. Against this offense, they will both have to be physical with Bryant at the line of scrimmage, trying to disrupt Romo’s timing, and then stay with the big receiver.

“He's a heck of a challenge,” Davis said. “He's got the size, speed, athleticism. We face a couple of them but we've got to be great with our one-on-one matchup of both corners. Fletch and Cary have to be great in their individual coverage on them. You can't double a guy every play. So they will have plenty of times where they’ve got to just handle that and we will get help to them and zone over the top of them and use all of the different tools to help when you stop a star receiver.”

Williams and Fletcher may have similar builds and skill sets, but they couldn’t be more different as people. Williams is volatile and demonstrative on the field and unafraid to speak his mind off it. Fletcher is softspoken off the field and more likely to sneak up and bat a ball away than try to take out the receiver.

“You don’t want [Bryant] to get too settled out there,” Williams said. “You don’t want him to run free and make his moves. As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to get up in his face.”

“He’s a big receiver,” Williams said. “You have to play the ball however it comes, if it’s a longer ball, short ball, slants, anything. We’re going to have to get up and press, slow down the timing.”

The entire defense will be tested, of course. The pass rush has to make Romo uncomfortable. The linebackers and safeties have to cover the likes of tight end Jason Witten and handle whatever is left of the Cowboys’ running game.

But there won’t be many opponents that test the cornerbacks as unforgivingly as the Cowboys will.

“I think both our corners have been really good,” linebacker Connor Barwin said. “They’ve emerged as playmakers.”

Against the Giants and Bucs, they passed. They can’t afford to fail this week.