Philadelphia Eagles: Jason Witten

It is tempting to cite that early-season stretch -- Indianapolis, Washington, San Francisco, all without suspended right tackle Lane Johnson -- as the key to the Eagles' season. But the NFL has backloaded the schedule with divisional opponents. That last five weeks will tell the tale. The Philadelphia Eagles have two games against the Cowboys, one against the defending champion Seahawks, and one each against Washington and the Giants. The Eagles could use a good start during that early stretch, but they absolutely must finish strong in order to repeat as NFC East champions.

Complete Eagles season preview.
PHILADELPHIA -- If you’re looking for signs the Eagles can handle New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, you won’t find much comfort in Sunday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Tight end Jason Witten caught 12 passes for 135 yards in a game the Eagles hung on to win, 24-22.
Graham is bigger (6-foot-7), faster and just plain better than Witten at this point in his career. But Witten is probably not the best precedent for gauging the Eagles’ ability to cover Graham. Wide receivers like Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson are.

"I think Witten had a great game the other night on us, but he's a great player," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "He's a Pro Bowl player and he's going to make those plays. The first game, he didn't have so much but we kind of shifted where we were helping different places, put a little more help on Dez (Bryant). You move it around and great players play great, especially this time of the year when it's playoff football."

In other words, Davis focused on defending Bryant and running back DeMarco Murray. That left Witten more space to operate. The Saints present a number of challenges, but Graham is a lot closer to the top of the list of priorities.

"He's the No. 1 target they have and he's been their most consistent target," Davis said. "He's a big, athletic tight end, catches everything thrown near him. They move him all over the place so it's tough to practice and get a bead on how to help guys on him."

Against those big wide receivers, the Eagles were far from perfect, but they did limit the damage. And that will likely be their approach with Graham. It wouldn’t be surprising if Davis used linebacker Connor Barwin as he did against Fitzgerald and other big wideouts. Barwin would line up at cornerback and jam the receiver, trying to throw him off his route and disrupt his timing. Usually, a defensive back would then pick the receiver up.

Considering how quickly quarterback Drew Brees makes his first read and gets the ball out, that could be enough to get him looking away from Graham at least some of the time.

"It’s a big thing, messing up that timing between he and his receivers," linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. "With that quick release that he has, it’s going to be huge."

New England used cornerback Aqib Talib to follow Graham all over the field. Davis has not used his corners that way all season. Cary Williams is on the right side and Bradley Fletcher is on the left. It seems unlikely Davis would ask them to change up at this late date.

But it wouldn’t be shocking if Barwin, Kendricks and Trent Cole played Graham physically at the line and then a safety or nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin took over. Boykin can run with anyone, but he gives up nine inches to Graham. That requires a different solution.

"Jump," Kendricks said. "You’re playing ball, man. You’ve just got to go for it. That factor’s not going to change. You’ve got to study him and his routes and attack his hands."

Defense saves game for Kelly, Foles

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
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Chip KellyMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Boykin's interception sealed a playoff berth for Chip Kelly and the Eagles.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Whatever Chip Kelly and Nick Foles accomplish together as coach and quarterback of the Eagles, in these playoffs and beyond, they will look back on Sunday night's 24-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys as their first big game together.

And they will know, deep in their hearts, that those unheralded guys on the Philadelphia defense saved their postseason lives.

With a combination of smarts, sports science and magic, Kelly turned the 4-12 Eagles team he inherited into a 10-6 division title winner. Foles, who took over at quarterback in October, went 8-2 as a starter and finished the season as the NFL's highest rated passer.

The Eagles came to Foles' native Texas for a virtual playoff game against the Cowboys. Win and the Eagles would be NFC East champions. They would host the New Orleans Saints in a first-round playoff game Saturday night. They would have a puncher's chance to be that hot team that burns its way to the Super Bowl seemingly every year.

For a half, they had things in hand. Foles threw two touchdown passes, giving him 27 for the season against just two interceptions. His passer rating was 155.5. The Eagles had a 17-10 lead and possession of the ball to start the third quarter.

And then it started unraveling. The offense was brutal in the third quarter. Foles looked overwhelmed, completing 3 of 8 passes for 41 yards and fumbling the ball away at his own 20. It was so bad, Kelly had Foles throw exactly two passes in the entire fourth quarter.

"We made it a game," Eagles left tackle Jason Peters said. "Not scoring, stalling out a couple times on offense. We let them back in the game."

The defense took the game back.

After Foles' fumble, Dallas ran three plays for a total of 2 yards. Linebackers Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans and Connor Barwin made one-on-one tackles to stop Jason Witten once and DeMarco Murray twice. The Cowboys kicked a field goal and the Eagles clung to their slim, 17-16 lead.

After another three-and-out by Foles and the offense, the Eagles' defense allowed 1 yard on the Cowboys' next possession. That forced a punt that DeSean Jackson, who was held to three catches, returned 23 yards to the Philadelphia 48-yard line.

That was the spark the Eagles needed. They were at midfield instead of their own 20. LeSean McCoy ran three times for 24 yards. Foles completed a short pass that Brent Celek took 22 yards down to the 6-yard line.

That's when Kelly almost outsmarted himself. He couldn't resist bringing Brad Smith in for another of those gimmick plays that look so clever on the dry-erase board. The halfback option pass went incomplete.

"Trying to score," Kelly said. "We thought we would be in man coverage down there. We had a throw back to the quarterback [called]."

Foles threw incomplete on second down. On third down, Jackson caught a ball at the 1-yard line and was held out of the end zone by Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr.

Fourth-and-less-than-a-yard, late in the third quarter.

The book says kick the field goal. Kelly decided to go for it.

"We felt like with the ball on the half-yard line, we've got to be able to punch it in," Kelly said.

They couldn't. Foles was stuffed on the quarterback keeper.

If the Cowboys had seized the momentum there and won, Kelly would have had a very tough time living down the gadget play, the failed fourth down and the non-use of McCoy. That didn't happen, because the Eagles' defense wouldn't let it happen.

"That was an interesting fourth quarter," Kelly said. "Those guys didn't flinch."

The Cowboys drove 59 yards to a fourth-and-1 of their own at the Philadelphia 40-yard line. Jason Garrett decided to go for it. He had a good play call. The Eagles expected a run, so Murray slipped into the flat for a flare pass from Kyle Orton.

Barwin thought it was a run, saw that Orton still had the ball and closed in on him. Orton tried to get it over the 6-foot-4 linebacker's head. He couldn't. Barwin swatted it away. Eagles ball.

"I thought I could catch it," Barwin said. "I knew we were off the field. But I knew there was still some game left to play. I knew it was a big play in the game, but I knew we would be back out there on defense."

It was the first of several signature plays the defense made to save this game for the Eagles. The next was cornerback Cary Williams, breaking up a 2-point conversion pass for Dez Bryant that would have tied the game at 24.

Foles and the offense got the ball back with a chance to run down the clock. Instead, it was another three-and-out, another punt, another save required by the defense.

As it turns out, the Eagles' defense had been through this drill a few times this season. Those home wins against Washington and Arizona came down to late defensive stops.

On first down, needing maybe 30 yards to get within field goal range, Orton threw a pass intended for Miles Austin. It was a little behind him. It wasn't behind Brandon Boykin.

The nickel corner caught it and the Eagles were NFC East champions, Kelly had a division title in his first season and Foles won the first elimination game of his career.

"There's going to be adversity in games," Foles said. "We overcame it today as a team and it was an exciting game to win. I had a blast out there. Our defense was coming up big, special teams played really good ball, and our offense was able to put some points on the board. In those times of adversity, the game's not over. There's still time on the clock. That's how I've always looked at it -- I'm going to play until that clock says zero."

Earlier this season, Eagles owner Jeff Lurie said he wouldn't judge Kelly strictly on wins and losses. That was before Lurie knew there would be 10 wins and a home playoff game.

But his larger point still holds true. Lurie hired Kelly because he believed the unorthodox college coach with the cocky grin could build a winning program. His Eagles, on offense and defense and special teams, made a pretty good case this year that Lurie was correct.

"This team has character," Peters said.

That seems clear. And it's just as clear the coach is a character.

"He's a little different than what most coaches are," said Williams, who won a Super Bowl with John Harbaugh in Baltimore last year. "He goes against the grain. It's great."

 

Quick Take: Saints at Eagles

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Three things to know about next Saturday's New Orleans Saints-Philadelphia Eagles wild-card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field:

1. Unsteady Brees: It has often been said the Saints are a different team at home and on the road, but really, Drew Brees is a different quarterback. In seven home games before Sunday, Brees threw 23 touchdowns and three interceptions. His passer rating was 122.5. On the road, Brees has thrown 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions with a passer rating of 84.8. Brees averaged almost two more yards per attempt at home than on the road.

New Orleans’ defense is actually a bit better on the road. The Saints have eight interceptions and 26 sacks on the road and had three picks and 21 sacks in the Superdome before Sunday.

2. Subplots and storylines: The game will draw huge ratings in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Austin, Texas. Brees and Eagles quarterback Nick Foles went to Austin’s Westlake High School a decade apart. Foles broke Brees’ school records for touchdowns in a season and a career and yards in a game and career. Brees held on to the mark for passing yards in a season.

Saints head coach Sean Payton and assistant head coach Joe Vitt were both assistants on Ray Rhodes’ Eagles staff. Vitt coached linebackers from 1995 to 1998, while Payton coached quarterbacks in ’97 and ’98.

Saints defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley was the Eagles’ first-round draft pick in 2006. As a rookie, he played against the Saints in a divisional playoff game. The Saints won, 27-24.

Back in the 1980s, Buddy Ryan was head coach of the Eagles. Bill Davis, who had been an assistant on Dick Vermeil’s staff, was a personnel guy. They didn’t exactly get along, and Davis left in 1989.

Almost a quarter-century later, their sons are first-year defensive coordinators for the Saints and Eagles. Rob Ryan has done a dramatic job revamping the Saints' defense. New Orleans was worst in the NFL in yardage and points allowed in 2012. The Saints are fourth in yards and fifth in points under Ryan. Davis has engineered a transition to the 3-4 that has the Eagles playing markedly better defense in the second half of the season. The Eagles have held 10 of their past 11 opponents to 21 or fewer points.

3. Graham cracking: In Jimmy Graham, the Saints have arguably the most dangerous tight end in the league. The Eagles have had mixed success against tight ends this season.

San Diego’s Antonio Gates caught eight passes for 124 yards, but that was early in the season, before Davis’ unit hit its stride. Just last week, Chicago’s Martellus Bennett caught five balls for 85 yards. Tampa Bay’s Timothy Wright caught seven passes for 91 yards.

Going into Sunday night, tight ends have caught an average of 4.3 passes for 52.7 yards per game against the Eagles this season. Jason Witten had 12 catches for 135 yards for the Cowboys on Sunday.

Rapid Reaction: Philadelphia Eagles

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Quick thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' 24-22 victory against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night.

What it means: Chip Kelly won the NFC East title in his first season as a head coach in the NFL despite a rough night on the sideline. The Eagles' defense bailed Kelly and his offense out, holding the Cowboys to one touchdown and three field goals. Linebacker Connor Barwin batted down a Kyle Orton pass on a crucial fourth-and-1 play in the fourth quarter to prevent Dallas from taking a late lead. Brandon Boykin intercepted a pass to seal the Eagles' win with 1:43 left. The victory gives the Eagles a 10-6 record -- six more wins than last year -- and a date next Saturday night with the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs.

Kendricks shows up: Second-year linebacker Mychal Kendricks has shown flashes of excellence all season, often negated by some lapses. He was the Eagles’ best defender all night. Kendricks forced a DeMarco Murray fumble after the Cowboys drove to the Philadelphia 25 on their first possession. He intercepted a pass to set up an Eagles touchdown just before halftime. Kendricks also made some big tackles to hold Murray and Jason Witten to little or no gain in key situations.

Head scratching: Kelly couldn’t resist trying another gimmick play with Brad Smith in the red zone. This time, on first-and-goal at the 6, Smith lined up wide left. He took a handoff from Nick Foles and rolled out to his right. He threw an incomplete pass to Zach Ertz in the end zone. Foles had to throw the ball away on second down, and hit DeSean Jackson for five yards on third. That set up the fourth-and-goal play. Kelly decided to go for it instead of kicking a field goal. Foles was stuffed on the keeper and Dallas had a huge shot of momentum.

Stock watch: Falling: Nick Foles. It didn’t tank completely, but Foles’ stock fell within the game. In the first half, he was terrific, completing 12 of 16 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns -- a passer rating of 155.5. In the second half, Dallas started getting pressure as Foles struggled to get rid of the ball. Foles was 3-of-8 for 41 yards and a passer rating of 54.7 in the third quarter. He was sacked twice in the quarter, fumbling the ball away on his own 20-yard line. It’s the kind of mistake Foles had avoided all season. The defense held the Cowboys to a field goal to minimize the damage.

What’s next: The Eagles host the Saints (11-5) Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field. The Saints are 3-5 on the road this season. The Eagles have won their past four home games after enduring a 10-game home losing streak. It will be Kelly’s first NFL playoff game, although he does have plenty of experience coaching on Saturdays.

Halftime thoughts on Eagles

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
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ARLINGTON, Texas – The Philadelphia Eagles lead the Dallas Cowboys 17-10 at halftime in their game to determine who wins the NFC East and hosts the New Orleans Saints in a playoff game next weekend.

Some quick thoughts:

Nick Foles told the truth. That first Dallas game was not stuck in his craw. Foles was accurate, authoritative and not afraid to take some risks. He threaded two defenders for a 16-yard throw to Riley Cooper in the first quarter. His jump balls to Jason Avant and Brent Celek set up the Eagles’ second-quarter touchdowns.

LeSean McCoy set the Eagles’ franchise record for rushing yards in a season on a 16-yard run in the second quarter. Wilbert Montgomery’s 1979 record of 1,512 yards lasted 34 years. McCoy had 51 rushing yards in the first half for a season total of 1,527.

Mychal Kendricks was the Eagles’ defensive MVP. He ended the Cowboys’ first drive deep in Eagles territory by knocking the ball out of DeMarco Murray’s hands. (Cornerback Bradley Fletcher recovered.) In the second quarter, Kendricks caught a ball that tight end Jason Witten dropped. The Eagles scored 10 of their 17 points off the two turnovers.

Double Coverage: Eagles-Cowboys

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
11:00
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Kyle Orton and Nick FolesAP Photo, Getty ImagesDallas QB Kyle Orton, left, and the Eagles' Nick Foles didn't open the season as starters, but are expected to be leading their teams Sunday night with the NFC East title and a playoff berth at stake.
IRVING, Texas -- The NFC East title is at stake Sunday at AT&T Stadium when the Dallas Cowboys play the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Cowboys have been in this spot for the past three seasons, but for the first time the are likely to be without quarterback Tony Romo, who sources tell ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen is not expected to play. The Eagles were not expected to be in this situation in Chip Kelly’s first season.

ESPN.com NFL reporters Todd Archer and Phil Sheridan dissect the matchup in this week’s Double Coverage.

Archer: Nick Foles was awful when these teams met earlier in the season. Where has that guy gone?

Phil Sheridan: This is the great mystery of the Eagles’ season. Theories abound. Foles had been on the Eagles’ injury report the week before that with a groin injury. Was it the groin? He left the game with a concussion. Had he suffered it earlier and been affected by that? He didn’t play well in a bowl game at Arizona. Did he shrivel up in big games? Did Jerry Jones have his family tied up in a dungeon?

It was just such an outlier of a performance from anything else he’s done this season, it seemed like there had to be some explanation. Best guess: He had a bad day. A really bad day. And he moved on from it and hasn’t let it happen again. In his next game, he threw seven touchdown passes in Oakland. He’s been outstanding since.

We’ve heard a lot about how involved Romo has been in running the offense. How much would that change with Kyle Orton in there? And is there any way he’s ready to play at all?

Archer: Honestly, I don’t believe it changes all that much. The scheme will be the same. What they will miss is Romo’s ability to make things up as things break down. That is not Orton’s game. The offensive line has played much better down the stretch, especially running the ball. The pass protection has been good enough, but needs to be better because Orton simply doesn’t move like Romo. But Orton has the arm strength to push the ball down the field, and his receivers like him even if they have not had much work with him. I’ll go back to 2010 when the Cowboys lost Romo to a collarbone injury and Jon Kitna took over. In the six games Kitna started and finished with Garrett as interim head coach, the Cowboys averaged more than 30 points a game. They need to have Orton trust the system the way Kitna trusted the system.

How much credit does Chip Kelly deserve for getting the Eagles to this point? Certainly things didn't look stable when the Cowboys visited in October.

Sheridan: Kelly deserves tons of credit. The Eagles were a smoking husk by the end of the Andy Reid era, as evidenced by their 4-12 record last season. Change was necessary, and Kelly is about as big a change as you can get. The players bought into it immediately, and they really seem to enjoy playing for him. He got a great effort from them Sunday night against the Bears, just hours after the Cowboys won and the Eagles knew they couldn’t clinch the division.

I think two things happened to account for the rough patch the Eagles hit in October. The Giants had found some ways to disrupt the Eagles’ run-blocking scheme, and the Cowboys deployed a similar approach. Also, the quarterbacks were both terrible and injured, in that order, in back-to-back losses to the Cowboys and Giants. Kelly adjusted the run blocking, Foles came back, and the Eagles are 6-1 since.

Let me ask the flip side of the Foles question: The Cowboys didn't have DeMarcus Ware in that first game. They dominated Foles and held LeSean McCoy to 55 rushing yards. What happened to those guys?

Archer: Injuries have happened. The Cowboys have lost Sean Lee to hamstring and neck injuries, and he’s not likely to play Sunday because of the neck. Morris Claiborne has missed six of the past seven games with a hamstring injury. He might play Sunday, but he’s not been effective when he has played. Ware has not been anywhere close to form because of a variety of injuries and just poor play. Jason Hatcher has slumped after a solid start. Brandon Carr has slumped, too. Bruce Carter has not played well. Are you sensing a trend? To me there is a huge crisis of confidence with this defense from a player and coach standpoint. I don’t know if the players trust the coaches, and I don’t know if the coaches can dial up changes to stop anybody. But they can hang their hat on that first game as they enter this one, so we won’t have to bring up Kelly’s collegiate success vs. Monte Kiffin as much.

LeSean McCoy for MVP? It sure seems like he's perfect for what Kelly wants to do.

Sheridan: Bears coach Marc Trestman nailed it after McCoy went for 133 rushing yards Sunday night: “I don’t think it would matter what offensive system he plays in. Chip has done a tremendous job putting his offense in, no doubt about it, but he is just a great back.”

One of the perennial gripes about Andy Reid was that he called running plays about as often as he turned down a second helping. That was true when he had Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook and McCoy. But McCoy was effective in Reid’s offense. It’s just that Kelly loves to run the ball, and his play designs reliably get McCoy into the secondary with one man to beat. And McCoy can beat almost anybody one-on-one.

MVP? Guessing the Sportsman of the Year Peyton Manning already has his name engraved on the trophy, but McCoy certainly belongs in the conversation.

What is the sense you get of the Cowboys' mindset? Do they see the blowout in Chicago, the collapse against Green Bay and the struggle at Washington as three bad games in a row? Or does pulling out the win Sunday give them a feeling they're back on the right track? And are they right?

Archer: If you asked me this after the Redskins game, I would say they are riding high. It was the kind of win that can carry a team emotionally. But with the Romo news, I think that deflates them some. This team has shown a resiliency. They bounced back after tough losses to Denver, Detroit and Green Bay. I’ll give Garrett credit for that. He has a mentally tough team. He just doesn’t have a terribly talented team. Romo creates so much for this offense that they will need others to raise their games. It’s possible. They still have Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten and Miles Austin on offense. That’s not a shabby group by any stretch. And Orton is smart enough to know what he isn’t. I think with the Romo news coming early in the week, it will allow them to prepare knowing he probably can’t play.

.

Kelly on Cowboys QBs, Curious George

December, 26, 2013
12/26/13
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PHILADELPHIA – Eagles head coach Chip Kelly talked about the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback situation, his own brief injury report, and the ol’ banana-in-the-tailpipe trick. A few highlights from Kelly’s Thursday press availability:
    Jones
    Kelly
  • Whether Tony Romo or Kyle Orton starts at quarterback, Kelly said, his team’s preparations won’t change.“I don’t think it changes their offense much just because of who the backup is,” Kelly said. “I think they’re going to stick with what they do. They obviously have playmakers in Dez Bryant and [Jason] Witten. They’re going to run the ball with DeMarco Murray, who didn’t play against us in the first game.”On Monday, Kelly praised Romo’s performance in bringing Dallas back for a fourth-quarter comeback win at Washington the day before. With reports that Romo has a serious back injury, Kelly was even more impressed.“If he can’t go, the first thing that came across my head will be that that performance against the Redskins was pretty special,” Kelly said. “He did what he did, with the ability to bring them back and win that football game. The one thing you know about him is he’s an unbelievable competitor.”
  • Backup center Julian Vandervelde “tweaked” his back, Kelly said. Vandervelde did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday. He has been active for all 15 games because he’s starter Jason Kelce’s understudy. “We’ll see how he is,” Kelly said.Kelly said left guard Evan Mathis has played some center, but it was right guard Todd Herremans running with the second team during the open portion of practice.
  • This week’s random non-football reference came courtesy of the Man in the Yellow Hat. Kelly was asked if he was curious about how his team will respond in a big-game situation in Dallas Sunday night.“I don’t think curious is the word, I think excited is the word,” Kelly said. “I think we’re all excited about going down there and what’s at stake and what we can do. I’m not Curious George wondering whether we’re going to show up or if we’re going to show up. We’re excited about playing a really good team that beat us the last time we played them. Obviously, there’s a lot at stake.”Curious George. Winston Churchill. Kent Tekulve. You never know with Kelly.

    Maybe he had the “curious little monkey” on his mind a few minutes later. Asked if he was worried that the Eagles would let down based on the reports about Romo’s injury, Kelly scoffed at the idea.

    “I know this team’s not going to fall for the banana-in-the-tailpipe trick,” Kelly said.
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.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe 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.

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