Friday, October 06, 2006

Game 5 Preview

dallas cowboys at philadelphia eagles

the circus is coming to town and eagles nation is riled up and ready for action. hopefully no one will do anything stupid. actually, my wish is for people to ignore me-o completely because that's what would hurt him the most. don't boo him. don't bring signs. no burning in effigy. no throwing pills. no nurses outfits. alas, there is virtually no chance that can happen, at least not while that public menace angelo cataldi is still on the airwaves.

this is a scary game for many reasons. i'll lay out my thoughts at the end, but first what some others think about the game:
- eagles maintain their position at 4th overall in DVOA, stay at 1st on offense, jump up to 9th on defense and 10th on special teams
- cowboys come in ranked 6th overall, 3rd on offense, 7th on defense, and 27th on special teams
If cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Rod Hood aren't healthy on Sunday, the Cowboys will win easily. Fourth cornerback Joselio Hanson, who started against Green Bay, has little experience and weighs 170 pounds after a chili cook-off. If he starts, Owens and Glenn will spend the day singing "Mmm, Bop!" in the end zone. Even with Sheppard back, the Eagles will be hard-pressed to cover Glenn, who had two big games against them in the Cowboys sweep last season. Similarly, the Eagles need Brian Westbrook back, and Monday night injuries to Donte' Stallworth and Reggie Brown could leave them too short-handed to compete on Sunday.

But the Cowboys have injury issues of their own. Andre Gurode may miss some time, thanks to his treatment at the foot of defensive tackle/Droog Albert Haynesworth. Backup Al Johnson has experience, but the Cowboys can't afford any miscommunication when the Eagles start blitzing. And yes, the Eagles will blitz: their best bet for protecting their banged-up cornerbacks is to flatten Drew Bledsoe.

les bowen
IN PICKING the Eagles to win this week, I am violating two of my guiding principles. My first rule is, fans don't win games. Just because the city is all pumped doesn't mean the team will do well. This lesson was learned and relearned through many Flyers Stanley Cup runs I covered, and it became established doctrine as I watched the numbed hordes file out of Veterans Stadium for the last time following the Eagles-Tampa Bay NFC Championship Game.

Rule No. 2, I call the "Biggest Jerk Theory." In any really important athletic contest, the biggest jerk tends to win. This is my explanation for George Steinbrenner. Whatever happens Sunday, Donovan McNabb will still be a decent, team-oriented person, and Terrell Owens will still be a self-obsessed nut case. But rest assured, if Owens' team wins, somebody somewhere will take this as validation of Owens' unique world view. It's among the most irritating and most predictable sports phenomena.

Somehow, though, I still see the Eagles getting it done Sunday, maybe because I think McNabb will do whatever he needs to do to make that happen - run, pass, complete passes to himself, play special teams, fill in at nickel corner, drive the injury cart. Also, I believe there is a good chance that the Eagles are the NFC East's best team, even if they need to heal up a little and develop some consistency before they're really ready to prove that. The Birds really, really want to win this game, not so much because of T.O., but because of 0-7 - their current streak in the division.

But maybe it just comes down to not wanting to face all the grief I'll take if the Eagles win and I picked the Cowboys.

Prediction: Eagles 26, Cowboys 23
vegas vic
Donovan McNabb has been - let's say spectacular - so far, leading the Birds to the No. 1 offensive ranking (426.5 yards per game) in the NFL. Mix in a little double revenge from last year, and Philly will celebrate a win.

Prediction: EAGLES (-2) over cowboys
dallas morning news
a mix of eagles and cowboys picks. the two guys who cover football full-time -- matt mosely, the cowboys beat writer, and rick gosselin, who covers general nfl topics -- both pick the eagles to win.

espn scouts inc
There is no love lost between these two teams and the addition of Owens to Dallas' roster makes things even more interesting. The Cowboys' defense is by far the best the Eagles' offense has faced this year, and the 3-4 scheme that the Cowboys run has always given the Eagles problems. The Eagles are banged up on both sides of the ball but more critically on offense. Look for the Cowboys to pull the upset.

Prediction: Cowboys 24, Eagles 23
what i think
this game scares me. i'm not 100% certain about the outcome, but one thing i'm fairly confident about -- it will be high scoring.

here are some things i see on the plus side:
- the eagles have been pointing to this game since the season has started. everyone on the roster and the coaching staff is primed for the game. this is andy reid's equivalent of the ray rhodes 4th & 1 game, and i'm sure he has a good plan in place.
- mcnabb is playing better than he ever has. i'm sure he'll do everything humanly possible to win this game.
- the birds will come out with a lot of fire and emotion and should be able to take it to the cowboys early.
- the o-line and d-line (especially the d-line) have both been dominant at times this season
- drew bledsoe is not good under pressure
- the cowboys o-line hasn't been good the last few seasons
- westbrook and lito should be in the lineup
- a big question mark coming into the season (LB) has actually been a strength

here are some things that i see on the negative side:
- the cowboys o-line has actually played pretty well this season
- JJ sometimes reacts to teams playing max protect by blitzing more and leaving the secondary more vulnerable to big plays
- a non-question mark coming into the season (DB) has actually been a weakness
- eagles may come out too fired up and either shoot their load or make mental mistakes
- mcnabb may come out too fired up and try to do too much by himself
- the eagles are more injured than the cowboys (who come into the game relatively healthy)
- the eagles struggle with speed receivers and weren't able to cover terry glenn even before he had me-o on the other side

cowboys o vs. eagles d
i think there are two approaches that the cowboys may take: 1) come out and try to pound out the yardage, taking the crowd out of the game and survive the inital eagles surge or 2) come out and put the ball in the air to take a lead, attacking the eagles biggest weakness with their greatest strength. i believe the cowboys will attempt option 2 because parcells really only attempts to shorten the game when he is at a talent disadvantage. i don't believe that he thinks the cowboys are at a talent disadvantage in this game. i also don't think that he fears the eagles crowd, being a veteran of the NFC east for many years. i think their gameplan will be to come out in max protect and chuck the ball downfield early, hoping to grind out the clock once they get a lead.

as simon mentioned a few days back, i think the way to counter a max protect offense is by playing great coverage and dropping back. blitzing against a team keeping 2 TE back to block is risky because the success rate of the blitz is lower so your opportunity for giving up big plays is higher. my hope is that JJ comes out with a more conventional look and does less blitzing. one thing in their favor is that drew bledsoe does not play well in offenses designed to getting the ball out of his hands quickly -- something that has hurt the eagles in several games this season -- so that is something that JJ may not have to worry about. all of it hinges on the d-line getting pressure. if they get pressure the eagles can win. if they get little or no pressure from the d-line i have a tough time seeing the birds win this game.

i'd also like to see the eagles match up the corners instead of assigning them a side. me-o is too physical for lito and glenn is too fast for sheldon. i think having lito on glenn and sheldon on me-o is the best matchup the eagles can hope for on any pass play... not that either matchup will necessarily go in the eagles favor, unfortunately.

eagles 0 vs cowboys d
how the eagles play probably depends at least a little on whether or not westbrook plays. we haven't seen much of westbrook split out wide this year. expect to see it in this game. the matchup they'll be looking for is westbrook one-on-one against roy williams (who is horrible in coverage). if westbrook cannot play, it will take this whole dimension out of the gameplan.

the cowboys play 3-4, so right off the bat, you know that's going to give the eagles some trouble. fortunately, the parcells 3-4 tends to be a little less confusing than others because he doesn't zone blitz as much. unfortunately, the eagles struggles against the 3-4 seems to be as much about their unfamiliarity with the various gap assignments and technique differences as anything else. one positive is that jamaal jackson gives them a shot at blocking the nose tackle, something they haven't been able to do in several years.

the cowboys d-line is very good, their linebackers have good size and speed, their secondary is very solid. no real weaknesses on that defense and certainly it is the best defense the eagles have faced so far. still, i think the eagles will be able to score on them. mcnabb is playing too well for them not to. there is a concern about how don will react to the emotions of the game – e.g. coming out too hyped or trying to do to much -- but he knows this is a huge test of his legitimacy and i expect him to rise to the challenge.

overall, i expect a high scoring game, especially if the cowboys come out throwing like i think they might. i'm going to caveat my prediction because, as dave/bumble mentions, the issue of whether or not westbrook is going to play may impact the outcome.

prediction if westbrook plays: eagles 27 - cowboys 24
prediction if westbrook sits: eagles 20 - cowboys 24



Anonymous Anonymous said...

It irks me the Birds are so banged up and Dallas basically is 100% healthy save for an over-rated C whose face was used as a doormat. Without health, they lose a speed edge on offense and defense. That will be the difference.

Boys 24, Birds 13


9:11 PM EDT  
Anonymous Phil said...

Despite the Giants' game (which I'm still scarred from), I think the Eagles win this. They win this whether Westbrook plays or not. They win this because every game up until this point has been played with half a game plan. I think they've kept a huge portion of their O off the table so far. I'm expecting a 10 point lead at half time (17-7) and a strong finish of 37-27 with 7 of that being garbage time points from DAL.

I've probably been drinking too much of the cool-aid, but I just see Philly wanting this more.

10:53 PM EDT  
Blogger Corey & Carson said...

I'm usually not a gung-ho football fan, but for this game I am. I hope the Eagles trounce the Cowboys and knock T.O. silly!

5:53 AM EDT  

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