Breaking Down The Showdown

December 13th, 2014 by Sam Shipley | Filed under Eagles, Football, NFL.

The last two weeks have both had the “must-win” feeling for the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles won the first of those two in dominating fashion against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, but came up short against the defending champion Seattle Seahawks. This time around, it is basically win or go home for the Eagles.

On Sunday night, the Eagles and Cowboys will battle, and once again first place in the NFC East will be on the line. However, this time around the winner will have a clear path to an NFC East crown by controlling their own destiny. A win for the Cowboys puts them a full game ahead of the Eagles in the standings with just two games to go, while a win for the Eagles puts them a full game ahead of the Cowboys, including holding the head to head tiebreaker between the two. This game will not be another blowout like Thanksgiving day. The Eagles will have to play their best game to beat a hungry Dallas team who certainly has revenge on their mind.

In order to beat Dallas there are a few key match ups in the game that the Eagles will have to win, so let’s take a look at those.

The Battle In The Trenches

On Thanksgiving the Eagles dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The defense really got after it from the start as Tony Romo was under pressure all day, getting sacked four times and hit five times. The defense also racked up eight tackles for loss. Romo didn’t handle the pressure very well as he finished the day 18-29 for just 199 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.

The offensive line may have played it’s best game of the season on that day. The unit gave up just one sack, and created constant running lanes for LeSean McCoy who ran for 159 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. On the day, the Eagles as a whole rushed for 256 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, averaging a whopping 5.7 yards per carry.

If the Eagles have any chance of winning this game, they will have to win this matchup early and often. The Eagles pass rush won against a very good Dallas offensive line the first time around, but they will have to repeat that performance and get constant pressure on Tony Romo. Look for Fletcher Cox, who is having a Pro-Bowl caliber year, to lead the Eagles front seven and set the tone early by making plays in both the run and pass game.

Offensively, the line will have to play much better than they did against the Seahawks. A repeat performance by the line, likely means a repeat performance in the loss column. Luckily for the birds, the Cowboys defense is nowhere close to as good as Seattle’s but that doesn’t mean they can let up. Mark Sanchez isn’t a good enough quarterback to put the team on his back and get in a shootout with Tony Romo, so the running game will have to be a big part of the offense once again.

Defending Dez Bryant

Over his early career, Bryant has been one of the best wide receivers in football, especially against the Eagles. In just seven games against the Eagles, he has 38 catches for 348 yards and four touchdowns. On Thanksgiving the Eagles secondary did an outstanding job defending Bryant, holding him to just four catches for 73 yards.

What was the secret to defending Bryant this time around?

No secret. The pass rush played a big part in the success by the secondary, along with the corner backs being physical with Bryant right off the line of scrimmage and contesting every pass his way. In the matchup, the referees were more lenient than most officials earlier in the year with corner backs playing a more physical game which certainly benefited the Eagles corner backs. Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams aren’t top corners in the league, but if with a good pass rush and the ability to get physical with the receivers they are very capable of holding their own.

With that being said, they still aren’t capable of holding their own all game, and a receiver like Dez Bryant will make plays during the game. It is just a matter of containing him and making sure he doesn’t torch you. Having safety help is a must, and it is easier to roll a safety over to his side of the field since the Cowboys really don’t have a very good number two wide receiver to lineup on the other side of the field who demands attention.

Early on in this game Fletcher and Williams need to play physical and see how the refs are going to call it and adjust their game accordingly.

Stopping DeMarco Murray

Not an easy task to do, but a task that the Eagles accomplished two weeks ago is stopping DeMarco Murray. Held to just 3.7 yards per carry, Murray failed to reach the 100 yard mark for just the second time all season against the Eagles as he totaled just 73 yards on 20 rushing attempts.

This may sound crazy and obvious, but that is how you stop a running back like Murray.

Stop him before he gets started.

As I said above, the defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage and never allowed Murray to get going. They were constantly getting in the backfield and disrupting the offense, and they also were doing a great job of closing down running lanes. Mychal Kendricks played a heck of a game totaling seven tackles, including one for a loss against Dallas and he was often seen defending Murray or filling gaps. The dominance against Murray is displayed in the stat of his longest run all day was just nine yards.

Murray is the kind of back who once he gets his shoulders turned and hits his first cut or initial hole is impossible to stop. He will gash your defense all day long if you allow him to. The Cowboys offensive line is one of the best in football, a big reason why Murray is leading the league in rushing this season. In order to contain Murray the Eagles defense will have to win their matchups at the line of scrimmage once again, and not allow him to get past the first wave of defenders.

If the Eagles contain Murray again and force Tony Romo to beat them, the Eagles will be one win away from winning the NFC East after Sunday night.

Mark Sanchez

The game on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys may have been Mark Sanchez’s best game of his career. He didn’t light up the stat sheet, but he was a true game manager completing 20-29 passes for 217 yards and a touchdown, while carrying the ball seven times for 28 yards and a touchdown. The even brighter stat was that Sanchez didn’t commit a single turnover.

All the Eagles need out of Sanchez this week, and every week, is to be a game manager and just control the game. He doesn’t need to throw for 350 yards or four touchdowns every game, the Eagles have a very talented roster who are capable of making plays and winning ball games.

For Sanchez to be successful this Sunday, he will just have to take what the defense gives him. Make smart throws, don’t force anything if it isn’t there, and control the tempo of the offense. Another component that Sanchez can utilize is running the read option. In their first matchup, Sanchez really did a great job keeping the defense honest because of his success when he kept the ball on the option and gaining positive yardage every time. It opened up the running game and the passing game because the defense had to respect and defend all options in the offense.

The throw that Sanchez has done a good job on seems to be the intermediate crossing routes across the middle. I would love to continue to see them, and every once in a while pump fake to draw the safety in and take a shot down field with man to man coverage and give Jeremy Maclin an opportunity to go make a play against a porous Cowboy secondary.

If Sanchez has a similar stat line to the one in the first matchup, the Eagles chances of winning this football game sky-rocket.


Follow Sam Shipley on Twitter: @samshipley5


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