Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Week 16: Dallas May Be Able to Clinch NFC East
One of the advantages of playing at 4pm on Christmas Eve is that the Cowboys will know if they will be able to clinch the division with a win. If the Giants lose to the Jets during their 1pm tilt, Dallas will be the NFC East champs with a win over Philly. If the Giants win, the game doesn’t become meaningless for Dallas, as they could still theoretically win a Wild Card spot if they do not secure the division.
I have a feeling the G-Men are going down on Saturday, meaning this one has the potential to be an incredibly important game for the ‘Boys. They do not want to head to New York in Week 17 needing a win to get into the playoffs. Here is how they can take down Philly. . .
DON’T blitz much from Psycho, Cloud, and other unique passing down alignments.
Last week, we saw the Cowboys line up in Psycho (below) and similar “chaotic” alignments quite often, but they usually backed into safe coverages. They should do more of that on Christmas Eve. If they can confuse Michael Vick and the Eagles’ offensive line, it will be much easier to generate pressure with just three or four rushers. One of the major keys to the game will be if Dallas can get to Vick without blitzing too often.
DO place DeMarcus Ware all over the field, but rush him primarily from the right side of the defense.
Last week, we saw Ware line up at middle linebacker and a few other spots before the snap. Even if he eventually shifts to his normal seven-technique alignment, it is valuable for Dallas to hide Ware’s rush location for as long as possible. A lot of Philly’s protection calls will be based on Ware’s position. If he is constantly shifting, it will be difficult for the Eagles to make proper protection calls.
The majority of the time, though, I would rush Ware from the right side of the defense. Some might argue he should be placed on the left side to rush against Todd Herremans instead of the vastly superior left tackle Jason Peters (Pro Football Focus‘s top-rated tackle in the league), but I disagree. Ware is superior to just about any tackle he faces, and his presence on the right side of the defense means the Eagles will send help to the left side of their offense. This leaves open the ability to. . .
DO blitz from the left side of the defense.
I think the Cowboys should blitz fairly often in this game (just not as much in obvious passing situations), and there are five reasons they should send most of those blitzes from the left side of their defense:
- With Ware on the right side, Anthony Spencer, Victor Butler, and Orlando Scandrick from the slot should be isolated nearly all of the time.
- RT Todd Herremans and RG Danny Watkins are inferior to LT Jason Peters and LG Evan Mathis.
- The right side of the Eagles’ offense is Vick’s blind side.
- As I discussed in my previous Eagles-Cowboys preview, Vick does not throw any better when rolling left (contrary to popular opinion), so go ahead and force him that way.
- It will help stop the running game. The Cowboys were overpowered on the ground in the teams’ first meeting, and that can’t happen again.
The second bullet point is the primary reason to blitz from the left side of the defense. Together, Peters and Mathis (ranked as the top players at their positions in the NFL by PFF) have yielded 29 total pressures on the season. Herremans and Watkins have given up 51. I’ll take my chances with Peters on Ware and hope the left side of the Cowboys’ defense can work together to get to Vick.
DON’T use Jason Witten to help Doug Free.
Don’t get me wrong–Free needs all the help he can get against Trent Cole. Cole is an absolute monster and has been the Eagles’ best defensive player for awhile. He will destroy Free if he is singled up against him. I think the ‘Boys should use primarily Martellus Bennett to aid Free, however, allowing Witten to go out into routes. Witten has been an Eagles-killer, and that could very well be the case again this week with Philly’s horrendous linebacker corps. Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews, Brian Rolle. . .who is going to stop Witten?
DO use Tony Fiammetta on passes.
You can probably expect a lot of double-tight sets so that the ‘Boys can help Free and Witten is still able to catch passes, but there is another option. I think now wold be a good time to use Fiammetta on passing plays. Thus far this season, Fiammetta has played 79.7% of his snaps on running plays. I have noticed on film that defenses are keying Fiammetta and attacking the line of scrimmage when he is in the game. This is one of the reasons the Cowboys’ rushing efficiency has declined a little in recent weeks (as compared to Demarco Murray’s initial run).
Fiammetta is still a major tool in the Cowboys’ rushing arsenal, but it might behoove the team to use him on some passes this week. Obviously he doesn’t have much use in clear passing situations, but on 1st and 10, 2nd and medium, 3rd and short, why not use Fiammetta as a decoy? He can help Free on the left side of the line, giving Romo time to get the ball downfield. Plus, it should confuse Philly.
DON’T forget about Jason Babin.
The most likely matchup Philly will exploit is Cole vs. Free, but fellow defensive end Jason Babin is no slouch either. With 18 sacks on the year, Babin has an outside chance to break the all-time single-season sack record. He’s gotten a little “lucky” since he actually has one less pressure (32) than Cole, but it isn’t like Babin can’t cause major problems for Dallas. The only way to ensure (or come as close as possible) that neither Cole nor Babin cause problems is to. . .
DO use max protection a lot.
The Eagles will be aggressive this week, and they have the potential to give Dallas’ entire offensive line fits. Don’t forget defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins has the third-most pressures of any tackle in the league. He will be a nightmare for center Phil Costa. To combat that rush, the Cowboys may use more max protection than normal, sending just two or even a single receiver into routes. I like the idea, as either Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, or Laurent Robinson should be able to find openings if Romo is provided ample protection. If the ‘Boys can get one of them isolated on Asante Samuel or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, double-moves will work. It all comes down to protection.
DO play far more nickel than normal.
Even though LeSean McCoy killed the Cowboys’ on the ground earlier this season, I’d make the Eagles and their pass-happy offense do it again. Until they find continued success in the running game, I’d be in my nickel defense. It’s a better one from which to blitz anyway.
DON’T spy Vick.
To me, spying Vick is wasting a defender. If that’s the only method you employ to corral him, you’re going to get burnt. A single defender isn’t going to be able to tackle Vick in the open-field. The Cowboys need to work as a unit to stop him, and that means mixing up blitz looks with safe coverages and tackling him when he does get into the open field.
DO screen a lot, but bring out the power running game as well.
The screen is always useful against Philly, and you should see a lot of it with Felix Jones. You might also see the return of some wide receiver screens which have made their way out of the playbook in 2011, especially on third downs. I normally advocate a finesse running game of counters and tosses to complement the screens, but this week I would stick to a power rushing attack. The Cowboys’ offensive line should be ale to overpower just about everyone on defense other than Cole. I’d run away from Cole with powers, and even up the middle at times. Cullen Jenkins is an excellent pass-rusher, but he can lose gap integrity and give up big plays on the ground. The lead draw will be a useful way for Dallas to get Jenkins out of position, then hit him with a power running play.