This is certainly not a ‘must-win’ game, but it is nonetheless an extremely important contest that will likely have playoff ramifications down the road. The Cowboys need to continue the 1-game winning streak, get on a roll, and prove that last week’s excellence was more than just playing a terrible team. If the Cowboys can manage a win in Philly, it could very well end the Eagles chances of making the playoffs. It is very unlikely that they could recover from a 2-5 record. If the Eagles were eliminated from playoff contention, that would essentially leave just the Giants as serious competitors in the division (I think that Washington is in the beginning stages of a long downward spiral). Moreover, division wins are important because they are used to determine the Division Champion if two teams have the same record (this often leads to a bye and/or a playing a game at home).
Click on the link to read about what I will be watching for this week.
Can the OL give Romo time to throw the ball?
The Eagles defense may have some serious weaknesses, but they are relentless when it comes to rushing the passer. They rank second in the league in sacks (18) behind only the Giants (21). The scary part is two-fold: first, they are able to generate pressure and log all those sacks almost exclusively with the front four; second, it looks like they will get Trent Cole back this week. The success of their front four can be attributed to the coaching of their D-Line coach Jim Washburn, not the strategies of their Defensive Coordinator Juan Castillo. For some comments on Castillo, click here.
The formidable front 4 of the Eagles will be a challenge to the Cowboys O-Line. The bad news is that the Cowboys O-Lineman will probably struggle to win their one-on-one battles. The good news is that they will not likely face a lot of exotic blitzes. Given the youth and inexperience of the OL, I think this situation benefits the Cowboys. Even if one of the Tackles or Guards is getting beat frequently, it should be fairly easy to give him help by adding an extra blocker. I think this is preferable to a defense that is constantly confusing the young lineman in a way that makes it impossible to know where the help is needed.
I will be watching to see how much faith Garrett has in the OL’s pass protection in the early going. Will he play it safe by having Romo fire the ball after a 3-step drop, or will he risk giving up sacks by letting Romo take some shots downfield? One indication of Garrett’s faith in the OL in the 1st quarter will be how often Romo is set back in the shotgun.
I will also be watching to see if they try to take advantage of the aggressive pass rush by letting the DE’s come free and then dumping the ball off on screen passes to the RB’s.
Despite its infrequent use (compared to last year) this season, I expect to see Romo try to exploit the occasionally reckless pass rush by faking the pass and then handing the ball off to one of the backs on a delay. It would not shock me to see them get a big gain up the middle on this kind of play.