In an 8:00 P.M. start in Dallas this Saturday night, the 11-5 Eagles will try to avoid being swept by the 11-5 Cowboys after dropping the second game of the season series 24-0 last week. The magnitude of this lost is still hard to comprehend as it dropped the Birds from the #2 seed and a week off to the #6 seed and another trip to Cowboy's Stadium to face one of the hottest teams heading into the post season.
In last week's game Dallas capitalized early on RB Marion Barber and a punishing rushing attack that averaged over six yards a carry. Along with a stifling defense that completely shut the Eagles down, this game was never close. The Cowboys took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards in nine plays for a touchdown. Seven points turned out to be enough as Philadelphia's big play offense was totally negated by a persistent pass rush that hounded Eagles QB Donovan McNabb all day long and a secondary that held All Pro WR DeSean Jackson to just three receptions for just 47 yards. The few times they did move the ball deep into Dallas territory turnovers, penalties and a missed field goal kept them from putting any points on the board.
Dallas on the other hand could basically do no wrong. QB Tony Romo had all day to sit in the pocket and hit his receivers in stride. Barber and Felix Jones were able to break tackles turning short yardage plays into big gains. WR Miles Austin had a big day, catching seven balls for 90 yards. TE Jason Witten was once again an Eagle killer, catching six receptions for 76 yards and a TD. The most glaring problem besides stopping the run was the Eagles inability to put any real pressure on Romo, allowing him to pick their secondary apart.
Before this meltdown, Philadelphia had won six straight games and appeared ready to make another serious Super Bowl run. For the most part they have remained healthy, however losing their starting C Jamaal Jackson in the game against Denver has proven to be a bigger loss than first expected. If they are to have any chance to win this week his replacement, Nick Cole is going to have to play much better than did in last week's game. The strength of this team relies on the offense's ability to make big plays and the defense's ability to be a disruptive force through an elaborate series of blitz schemes. Neither of these was evident in last week's game.
Dallas has been pegged all year long as underachievers. When December rolled around and they lost the first two games of the month, most everybody wrote them off for the year. Behind a solid defense and running game they have built a three game winning streak and some serious momentum that is going to be hard for any team to stop. Now that they have exercised the demons of December, they still have one more to go; winning a playoff game. Tony Romo and the 'Boys appear to have their best chance in recent memory to exercise this demon as well.
The Eagles need to quickly put last week behind them and get back to doing all the things that got them into the playoffs in the first place. On offense they have to run the ball better, protect McNabb better, and put the fear of the deep ball back into the hearts of the Dallas defenders. On defense they have to stop the run and put a tremendous amount of pressure on Romo.
In the NFL it is extremely hard for any team to beat another three times in one season, especially when they know each other so well. This game will be much closer this time around as Philadelphia's playoff experience will work to negate Dallas's momentum. Remember, Andy Reid is 7-0 in first round playoff games, while Wade Phillips is 0-4.
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