Dallas Cowboys vs Philadelphia Eagles Preview: Defense

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Stopping the run will take another strong performance from everyone.

Can the defense stop the rushing duo of LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick?

The battle of the leagues stingiest run defense versus the NFL’s rushing yardage leader is one of the most intriguing things to watch.  The Cowboys are giving up less than 70 yards a game on the ground; their opponents are averaging just 3.3 yards per carry.  The mere fact that they have given up less yards than any other defense may not seem that impressive on its own, but factor in the fact that in 6 of those games, they have faced 2 of the league’s top 10 rushing attacks (San Fran is 6th in the league in total rushing yards and NE is 10th.)

Philadelphia is ranked first in the league rushing yards; they are averaging around 170 yards a game on the ground.  McCoy is averaging about 95 yards a contest, but at a very impressive rate of 5.4 yards per carry.  Vick is averaging over 60 yards a game, which is more than a third of their total rushing yards.

The majority of the Vick’s rushing yards come on plays that were not designed as runs.  Vick’s running is improvised and unpredictable. To prepare for the unique challenge presented by Vick’s unique set of skills, the Cowboys had Dez Bryant run the scout team offense.

Stopping Vick from making long runs, especially on 3rd down, will be the real test for this defense.   I think there are two obvious things you can do immediately to attempt to contain Vick when he runs. First, you can play more zone defenses, so the players in pass coverage don’t need to turn their backs to the QB near as often.  Second, you can ‘spy’ the QB on plays you suspect Vick could look to take off.

Vick’s ability to rack up rushing yards comes at a cost to his team.  He has fumbled 7 times this season, 3 of which were lost.  He has also thrown 8 INT’s.  These stats suggest that while Vick will make some plays that get included in the ‘Plays of the Week’, he often turns the ball over when he tries to make big plays.  Romo’s ‘reckless’ inability to take care of the ball doesn’t seem too bad in comparison: Romo has fumbled 3 times, lost 1, and thrown 6 picks.

I will be watching to see if the defenders are focused on taking the ball from Vick, especially when he puts it down and tries to run.

I think that stopping McCoy will be easier than stopping Vick.  To stop McCoy, the defense really just has to continue what they have done so far this season.  The success so far has really been a group effort: everyone who plays in the front seven has made plays in the running game near the line of scrimmage.  They have been showing a variety of different looks/formations with the front 7, and they have run-blitzed frequently, but also brought pressure from different places.

I will be watching to see if the defense can contain McCoy without bringing either safety up into the box.  Given the dual receiving threat of Jackson and Maclin, the Cowboys may need both safeties to play back in coverage.

Elam and Sensabaugh have played remarkably well so far this season in run support.  I don’t recollect either of them blowing tackles or whiffing on any take-downs. I do recollect both of them making enthusiastic hits on ball carriers. The Cowboys hadn’t given up a single rush over 20 yards until last week against the Rams.  If none of the opposing RB’s are ever picking up more than 20 yards, I can infer that anytime a runner got beyond the front 7, both safeties did their job.  Elam had a monster game last week with some big tackles; he also recovered a fumble that he forced.

I will be watching if Ryan continues to use the delayed blitz.  Given Vick’s tendency to hold the ball too long while trying to make something out of nothing, it seems the delayed blitz could be exceptionally effective.

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