Audibles: NFC East Week 9 preview

October, 31, 2008
10/31/08
4:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Dallas Cowboys (5-3) vs. New York Giants (6-1), 4:15 p.m. ET

Giants coach Tom Coughlin bristled when asked if his team might experience a letdown because of the absence of so many key players for the Cowboys. This rivalry has heated up over the past three seasons, and Coughlin won't allow his players to take the Cowboys lightly just because the soft-tossing Brad Johnson is under center.

If Johnson can't at least pose a threat of throwing more than 15 yards downfield, Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will keep eight players in the box in order to stop running back Marion Barber. Defensive end Justin Tuck has an unbelievably quick first step, and he'll try to get inside position on right tackle Marc Colombo. If the Cowboys don't have Jason Witten (ribs), rookie Martellus Bennett will have to help block Tuck. If the Cowboys worry too much about Tuck, defensive tackle Fred Robbins and defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka will harass Johnson.

If the Cowboys fall behind early, backup quarterback Brooks Bollinger might replace Johnson. Wade Phillips is hoping that Johnson can play mistake-free football and complete an occasional pass downfield. The Cowboys are coming off an oustanding defensive performance. Look for safety Ken Hamlin to be active in the blitz packages, and I think you'll even see a corner blitz in this game. The defensive line and linebackers have to maintain gap control to slow down running backs Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward.

Quarterback Eli Manning is playing with a ton of confidence, and he'll throw a couple of deep balls early to test the Cowboys' inexperienced secondary. The Cowboys are simply trying to get to the bye. It's almost like they've accepted a loss Sunday, so I'm anticipating a lopsided final score.

Philadelphia Eagles (4-3) vs. Seattle Seahawks (2-5), 4:15 p.m.

This is huge for both teams. You have to try pretty hard to play yourself out of the weak NFC West -- and the Seahawks have done their best. Eagles coach Andy Reid served under Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren in Green Bay and the two men have a great deal of respect for each other. That said, Reid's preparing to deliver a waxing to the outmanned Seahawks.

Without Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback, there's only so much the Seahawks' offense can do. Seneca Wallace can move around a little bit, but his lack of arm strength really hinders any downfield passing game. And the only team that can run on Philly these days is Washington with Clinton Portis. Julius Jones has put up decent numbers, but he won't be a factor in Sunday's game.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb will be glad to see Reggie Brown return to the lineup. Brown has been out the past two games with a groin injury. He and Kevin Curtis complement each other nicely and DeSean Jackson gives the Eagles a legitimate downfield threat and a solid punt returner.

It's tough to win at Qwest Field, but the Eagles are getting ready to batter Wallace. With a healthy McNabb and running back Brian Westbrook, the Eagles have too much firepower for the Seahawks.

Washington Redskins (6-2) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2), 8:30 p.m. ET, Monday

The NFC East owns the Steelers so far this season. By my count, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked a combined 13 times by the Eagles (8) and Giants (5). The Redskins don't have a dynamic pass rush, but they do an excellent job of stiffening when teams get near the goal line.

Cornerbacks Carlos Rogers, Fred Smoot and Shawn Springs have been strong in press coverage, which will make it tough for Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes to get off the line of scrimmage. Springs is banged up, but the other corners should be up to the task. The Steelers' offensive line hasn't
been very impressive, and the team doesn't have a healthy running back to help compensate for that right now.

On offense, Redskins running back Clinton Portis is in the middle of a remarkable stretch. He has run for 120 yards or more in five consecutive games. And what's even more impressive is it's the second time in his career he's pulled that off. Left tackle Chris Samuels has been slowed by a knee injury, which could hamper the running game. The Redskins love to run a play called "90 press lead" on which Portis starts right and then cuts back to the left behind fullback Mike Sellers. If you see Portis tugging on the back of Sellers' jersey, it's a great sign for the Redskins.

Jason Campbell is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league right now. He still hasn't thrown an interception in the first eight games of the season. And that's not because he's overly conservative. The Steelers will try to bring pressure from outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. But the Redskins will counter that with a steady diet of running plays.

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