Thursday, December 31, 2009
Defense targets Eagles' Jackson, Maclin
By Calvin Watkins
IRVING, Texas -- When the Philadelphia Eagles first met the Dallas Cowboys this season, their high-powered, quick-strike offense was anything but that in a 20-16 loss.
The rematch is Sunday at Cowboys Stadium, and there's a lot on the line. The winner will clinch the NFC East, a home playoff game and, with a little help, a possible bye as the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
If the Cowboys plan on achieving any of that, stopping the Eagles from making big plays is a must.
"They're a big-play offense and you have to play fundamentally sound because they got a lot of guys who can play a lot of positions," outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "A lot of big-play playmakers, you have to stop those guys, especially with [Donovan] McNabb running around. You got to get pressure on him."
The Eagles are tied for second in the NFL with 61 pass plays of at least 20 yards and tied for third in the league with 13 touchdown passes of at least 20 yards.
Wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are two speed freaks that worry defensive coordinators and secondary coaches.
On Nov. 8, the Eagles scored only one touchdown against the Cowboys on an 11-yard pass from McNabb to Brent Celek.
Jackson and Maclin combined for five catches that day, and the Eagles had five plays of at least 20 yards. None for touchdowns.
Philadelphia, who has 13 scoring drives of four plays or less this season, had none against the Cowboys.
"I was pleased from a standpoint that we didn't give up the big play, and I think that's the key," secondary coach Dave Campo said. "You have to limit the big plays. That's their style, they're going to gouge you, that's how they win."
The Cowboys say they didn't change anything in their secondary coverage or pressures.
Corners Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins are fast enough to stay with Jackson and Maclin in man-to-man coverage, therefore offsetting any big plays.
"He's a big play waiting to happen," Campo said of Jackson.
Jenkins' improvement in zone coverage, where he can anticipate knocking down passes, also helped against the Eagles.
The pass rush, led by Ware and Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff, put pressure on McNabb, forcing him out of the pocket or hurrying him into making throws.
Those things helped the Cowboys in the first game. Will it help in the rematch?
"They may make a little adjustment, but they have a lot of confidence in their plays and players," Jenkins said. "If I was their coach, I wouldn't change nothing. At the same time, our coaches won't change anything."
Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.