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A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Eagles Week 17 Manifesto: DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

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Jonathan Bales

With the Cowboys forced to start third-string quarterback Stephen McGee and the Eagles already locked into the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs, this Sunday’s matchup between the teams doesn’t possess the normal magical feel.  Philly is likely to sit some of their starters, particularly quarterback Michael Vick.

Still, it always feels good to beat the Eagles, no matter the situation.  For Dallas to not let a second game against Philly slip away from them this season, this is what they need to do. . .

DO open up the playbook for Stephen McGee.

Normally you would want to protect a young quarterback on the road, but what’s the point?  While winning is always important, there are times when performing sub-optimal tasks in a football game are acceptable.  This is one of them, as placing McGee in unique situations so the coaches can properly analyze his performance is more valuable, in my view, than forcing him to continually throw screens and dump-offs.  What can you really learn about McGee from that?

DO run some designed rollouts.

In the beginning of the season, I thought we’d see more designed rollouts from the Cowboys.  That hasn’t been the case, particularly since Jon Kitna took over as the starting quarterback (and rightfully so).

McGee has shown tremendous mobility, however, and seems to throw pretty well on the run.  He appears to have a skill set that more closely resembles that of Tony Romo as compared to Kitna.  Plus, designed rollouts could aid a struggling offensive line, i.e. a struggling Marc Colombo.

DO blitz more often than in the first matchup.

A few weeks ago, it was difficult for the Cowboys to blitz much because playing man coverage against Michael Vick can be deadly.  With the defenders’ backs turned to the quarterback, he can run wild.

Vick is unlikely to play in this game, however, and Kevin Kolb is nowhere near as nimble as Vick.  He can beat you with his legs, but not to such a degree that it makes man coverage impossible.

As always, blitzing the defensive backs could create problems for Philly.  Last night, they had tons of problems blocking the Vikings’ nickel back.  Orlando Scandrick has found a lot of success on blitzes this season, so Paul Pasqualoni should dial up those exotic blitzes even more often than usual (which wasn’t near enough in the first place).

DON’T place Alan Ball anywhere except over top of DeSean Jackson.

It’s unknown how long Jackson will play or if he will even suit up at all, but if he does, he’s got to be the defense’s top priority.  Jackson single-handedly beat Dallas a few weeks ago, even when the ‘Boys were in rather safe coverages.  There’s not much else you can do other than place a cornerback on him and a safety over top, so the secondary needs to mentally rise to the challenge this week in Philly.

DO double-team Eagles defensive end Trent Cole with tight ends and running backs.

From my Cowboys-Eagles Week 14 Preview:

In my view, Cole is far and away the Eagles’ top defensive player.  He creates havoc in the opposition’s backfield whether defending the run or the pass.  He’s consistently one of the most underrated players in the NFL.  I place him on par with guys like Dwight Freeney and even Ware (but no, I wouldn’t prefer Cole to Ware).

If the Cowboys leave Doug Free on an island against Cole, he will get abused.  Free has been the Cowboys’ best offensive lineman all season, but I don’t think he’s up for that sort of challenge just yet.  Look for the Cowboys to run the same “Gun 5 Wide Tight” formation they created for last week’s game in Indy to help Free and the always helpless Marc Colombo.

DON’T start Marc Colombo.

Last week, Colombo played one of the worst games I’ve ever seen an offensive lineman play.  I attributed four sacks to him, but he got beat on virtually every snap.  Starting Colombo would signal to the team that awful play is acceptable.

DON’T leave Colombo on an island (assuming he does start), unless you want McGee to die.

I’m guessing Colombo will still start, even though he shouldn’t.  If he’s left on an island, Trent Cole and Juqua Parker will absolutely dominate him.  It’s getting to the point where the Cowboys need to be concerned about the health of their quarterbacks.  Look for a lot of “right-handed” formations with Martellus Bennett helping Colombo.

DO place Colombo at quarterback and let him see how it feels.

Last one.  I swear.

DON’T call two plays in the huddle as often as normal.

As you probably know, Jason Garrett loves to call two plays at a time.  The offense plans to run the first one called unless the quarterback sees something from the defense he doesn’t like and issues a “Kill” call.  The offense then switches into the second play.

This week, the Cowboys should back off from that approach a bit.  In Week 14, the Eagles really confused Jon Kitna and the Dallas offensive line with their defensive looks.  They often blitzed without showing it and dropped out of alignments that appeared to be blitzes.

Actually, Philly blitzed only 12 times, yet disguised them so well that the Cowboys mustered only 38 yards on those plays (all passes).  Kitna generated just a 60.4 passer rating on Eagles blitzes.  Meanwhile, Philly showed blitz five times but then backed out, and Dallas gained only 17 total yards on those plays.

To counter the Eagles’ unique pre-snap alignments, the Cowboys could benefit from implementing a “dummy” snap count.  This would force the Eagles to show their intentions prematurely, providing McGee with a better idea of where to go with the football.  To use a “dummy” snap count, however, the offense needs time on the play-clock.  That time is severely limited if the Cowboys call two plays in the huddle.

Plus, I don’t trust McGee’s ability to correctly check into the correct play as much as that of Romo or Kitna, so a “dummy” count cold provide more value to Dallas than “Kill” calls.

DO throw plenty of screens.

In the first contest, the Cowboys found some success on screen passes against the Eagles, running five of them for 44 yards.  I think you could see more than 12 blitzes this week from Philly, so the screen pass (specifically to Felix Jones) could be of use.

DO run more counters.

In general, the Cowboys should run far more counters.  Thus far this season, they have run only 24 of them, yet gained an astounding 202 yards (8.42 yards-per-carry).

Counters are particularly useful against ultra-aggressive defenses, which is exactly how I would describe the Eagles’ defense.

DON’T be so nonchalant at the end of the half.

The Cowboys’ lack of urgency in hurry-up situations is a product of coaching.  It all starts in practice, and it is clear the ‘Boys need to dedicate quite a bit of practice time to their two-minute drill.  Sometimes, it appears as though Garrett is content just getting into field goal range instead of pressing the issue and getting the offense in position to take some shots at the end zone.

DON’T keep making poor decisions on fourth down–be aggressive!

In recent weeks, the Cowboys have punted the ball on fourth down in opponent’s territory far too often.  When at the opponent’s 40-yard line, for example, an offense should statistically go for it all the way up until 4th and 15.  The Cowboys have been punting in situations such as 4th and 3 in that area, however.

DO play with pride.

In my opinion, this game will be an excellent test for Garrett.  It’s easy to get a team with playoff hopes to play hard, but how about a team that underachieved incredibly all season and is on the road with “nothing” to play for in Week 17?  If Garrett can get the team to fight on Sunday, it will go a long way in letting Jerry Jones know Garrett has what it takes to properly motivate a football team.

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11 Responses to Cowboys vs. Eagles Week 17 Manifesto: DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

  1. willis says:

    I’ve wanted the cowboys to win all season, but I think it is just hard headed not to start some of the younger guys this game. Young at tackle, maybe Brewster at guard, perhaps even putting T-new in the slot to see what scandrick has on the outside.

    It maligns me to bring up this point, but if we lose this game we are guaranteed the sixth pick in the draft, or higher. if we win we could fall to twelve. If you think about six spots through seven rounds, that is 42 draft spots.

  2. VINCE GREY says:

    Tough call here. Mixed feelings. It’s doubtful the Eagles play their starters much, if at all in some cases, but the Cowboys are down to the 3rd string QB. But, if I’m Reid, the last thing I want (Other than a bunch of injuries) is to go into the playoffs with a 2 game losing streak.

    OTOH, a loss by Dallas guarantees them a top ten slot, and possibly a top five, in the draft. Lord knows they need the best picks they can get, so a loss is sort of a win in that respect.

    OTOH, I hate losing, and especially to the Eagles anytime, anyplace.

    OTOH, I agree that we should look at some younger guys to see of they have any future with the team.

    I guess about the only outcome I’d really be seriously mad about is another 44-6 type blowout loss.

  3. Willis–I like all of your substitution suggestions. It won’t happen, but I agree it is simply stubborn to not see what you have in certain players.

    Vince–I’m kind of in the same boat. I want to see the young guys play hard and try to win. I always prefer a win, but I won’t be crying over a loss this week either.

  4. starred4life says:

    Good point Willis,
    I’d like to point out that this year there is a rare second draft. With New England possessing two picks in each of the first four rounds, and already having a talented young roster, there will be a second “draft” available via their practice squad after the final cuts. They will have to let go of some players that they wish they could keep. I’d like to see Dallas take every one of them. I’d wager that swapping out the bottom of our roster for the bottom of theirs will be an upgrade. They can’t keep everybody.
    Having said that, I wouldn’t be surprised if they move up in this years draft sacrificing quantity for quality. There have the same salary cap the rest of us do and they have a great team already.

  5. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    willis, EXCELLENT point!!!!!

    I know this is drastically off the subject, but I have a question for you all – why is it Dallas is in the NFC East? As much as I like the rivalry w/ Philly, NY and, of course, the Redskins, each team we play is over 2000 miles away. I’m a season ticket holder and have had ample opportunity to trade my tickets for Cowboys away games but haven’t had the time and $ to actually travel to an away game. On top of that, St Louis, which is further east geographically than Dallas, plays in the NFC West.

    How about this for a regroup (perfect time w/ a new CBA to be worked out):

    NFC East: Philly, NY (football) Giants, Washington and Cincinnati (yes, Cincinnati)
    NFC South: Dallas, New Orleans, Tampa and Atlanta
    NFC North: Minn, Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit
    NFC West: Kansas City, St Louis, Denver (yes, Denver from the AFC) and San Francisco

    AFC West: Seattle, Oakland, San Diego and Arizona
    AFC South: Houston, Tennessee, Jacksonville and Miami
    AFC North: Indy, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Carolina
    AFC East: New England, Baltimore, New York Jets, Buffalo

    This, or something similar, might create better fan participation in away games in that it’s less distance to travel for many and will create “new” rivalries while allowing the old to remain (through non-conference scheduling). It does have SF travel further distances than they do now, but Denver is by far closer to them then any of Dallas’ current divisional foes.

    What say you?

  6. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    As far as winning vs. losing, it’s a NO BRAINER. Losing, by far, benefits the organization more than winning.

    Now, I’m not saying go out there and TRY to lose, but w/ a 3rd string QB and the opportunity to check out the ability of a few prospects, losing, even w/ Philly resting their starters, is more likely than willing. Keep in mind, they beat us at home – now we’re on the road in a a place that is certain to have cold/miserable weather and some of the nastiest fans in the NFL.

    It all has to start w/ Jerry Jones. Jason Garrett is doing what he can (winning or at least losing close) to get an NFL head coaching job somewhere. If he isn’t selected by Jerry, he WILL get picked up somewhere else (Carolina, SF, ???). So, he’s doing exactly what anyone in that same position is doing – trying to win every game. If Jerry were to pull Jason aside and say, “Listen, I like what I’ve seen from you and think that you’d make a fine coach of my team. I won’t guarantee you the job just this minute as I have to comply w/ the Rooney rule, but unless I’m completely blown out of the water w/ some other applicant, the job is yours. Now go out there and do your best to win, but I want you to put an emphasis on evaluating our younger talent.” – that’d be the best thing right now.

    Given JJs comments in that manner, Garrett could start all the old heads (Davis, Brooking, Newman, Roy Williams, Ratliff, Witten, Gurode, Ware, Sensabaugh and a few others) than they sit for most of the game. Yes, Witten, Ratliff and Ware too.

    That gives Butler, Costa, Young, Brewster, Lee, Olgetree, Brent, McCann and Church opportunities to play most of a game and prove something. Garrett will have some game film he can go back and look at in the off season to evaluate who stays and who goes.

    My thinking is that Davis, Brooking and Columbo are no-brainer cuts. Than, perhaps Newman for a trade if you can get anything for him (which is doubtful). Butler vs. Spencer next year might be interesting for LOLB. McCann vs Scandrick and/or Jenkins as well.

    Then, that #6 or better draft pick should be used on a DT or DE. If it’s a DT, go w/ someone other than Nick Fairly as he’s underszided at NT. I’d much rather pick up a prototype NT and move Ratliff to DE opposite Bowen or Hatcher. DON’T, for the life of me, pick up another CB other than Peterson. Prince Amukamara isn’t a shutdown corner and probably isn’t any better than Jenkins. The #6 pick is too valuable to risk on that. Get a DT or DE since they’re projected to be much better value at that position.

  7. bW says:

    Your columbo comments had me rolling haha…
    I wouldn’t mind seeing some of the younger guys getting some snaps…especially in place of columbo but I want to win. I want them to do whatever it takes to win…in some cases like columbo, playing the young guys is the answer but not in all.
    I don’t want to lose to the eagles, I certainly don’t want to get swept by the eagles. It would give me some satisfaction in this horrible season to send the eagle on a two game losing streak and hope they lose in the first round.

  8. john coleman says:

    All I want is a look at some newbies. I would like to see the Columbo at QB thing. Seriously I want McGhee to take off running at least 10 times. Don’t forget to slide feet first!
    TJ-Your last two paragraphs are my views to a tee.

  9. VINCE GREY says:

    TJ, you can forget Dallas leaving the NFC East. Absolutely no chance of that, because the Cowboys don’t want it and, more significantly, the other East teams don’t want it. Basically, the East is made up of all the “big market” teams (With the exception of the Bears) and though Dallas is a relatively small market, the Cowboys are THE big market franchise.

    As to the draft, to me the biggest need areas are the O-line and safety, but unless you’re getting Ed Reed or a superstud LT, you don’t take either that early in the 1st round. If we stay in a 3-4, I’d be hesitant to take a DL that early either. Might not be a bad idea to trade down a few slots and pick up another 2nd or so. Otherwise, just take the best guy available.

  10. Starred–Good point, plus I trust New England’s scouting and talent evaluation more than just about anyone.

    Tyrone–Certainly losing this game benefits the team more in the long-run. There really will be quite a difference in draft spot between a win and a loss. Either way, the pick is going to be a good one. And as much as I want to see the new guys, it isn’t going to happen any more than it has prior. And you’re thinking about NT is why I chose Dareus as the Cowboys’ top choice. I know Fairley is popular, but Dareus is a total stud and I think he’ll rise by draft time. He would play NT and Rat could move.

  11. bW–I want to win too, of course, but I actually think any of the other RTs give Dallas a better chance than Colombo.

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