Editor’s Note: Steve Fini breaks down five players that will have the biggest impact in tonight’s Eagles-Cowboys game.
Tony Romo (QB/Cowboys) – The Eagles are again this week going up against a turnover-prone quarterback in Tony Romo. The last time out they forced Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman into four interceptions, but prior to that they had trouble forcing opposing signal-callers into mistakes.
Forget stopping the run, creating turnovers needs to be the number one priority. And the Eagles will have to some chances in order to do that.
Romo, obviously, is a much better quarterback than Grossman and his talent is undeniable. The problem for Romo is when the game is squarely on his shoulders he seems to falter. He makes a lot of plays in the face of pressure and can make the “how did he do that?” play. But he also throws a lot of balls that should be picked off and makes the “why would he do that?” play. With an offense that can score, a running game that can eat up the clock, and a defense that can pressure any quarterback, the Eagles cannot give the ball away. If Romo feels he has limited opportunities to make plays, he’s going to be more inclined to force the issue. The Eagles defense needs to take advantage of “bad” Tony Romo and the Eagles offense needs to limit “good” Tony Romo’s chances.
Miles Austin (WR/Cowboys) – Dez Bryant has been getting all the hype since he’s come to Dallas. Jason Witten throughout his career has been an Eagles killer because of their consistent inability to cover tight ends. let alone a player of Witten’s caliber. But it’s Austin that will be the Eagles biggest challenge on defense in this game for one simple reason–his run-after-catch ability.
The Eagles have been putrid tacklers this season which has allowed opponents to get into manageable third down situations. If this trend continues, it’s going to create a favorable matchup for Romo and Austin. In the past, Dallas has attacked the Eagles with short, quick passes to force Asante Samuel to come up and make plays. In games that Samuel makes the plays, the Eagles usually win. In games where Samuel seems disinterested or playing his own game, they stuggle.
If Nnamdi Asomugha really is the player everyone thinks he is, Dez Bryant should be contained in this game, leaving the key matchup between Samuel vs. Austin on the other side.
One can only hope that the controversy surrounding Samuel this week will cause him to play inspired football. Something he has not done much of this season.
Eagles Defensive Ends – Jason Babin has been a stud this season. Rotational guys like Darryl Tapp and Juqua Parker have played well in the absence of Trent Cole, who hasn’t played since Week 4 against the 49ers. He will return for tonight’s game.
That makes for a heck of a rotation.
While pressure generated by interior lineman is important, it’s going to be on the defensive ends to contain Romo. He loves getting outside of the pocket, extending the play and making things happen. Keeping him between the tackles and collapsing that pocket will be the key to forcing him into turnovers. Dallas has a couple of good offensive tackles in Doug Free and rookie Tyron Smith, but the Eagles have enough fire power to wear them out.
The success of Cole, Babin and the rest of the defensive line rotation will likely dictate the outcome of this game.
Lesean McCoy (RB/Eagles) – I talked earlier about how the Eagles need to force Romo to be the “bad” Romo. From the Dallas perspective, they are saying the same thing about Michael Vick.
A player that will go a long way in determining how Vick plays will be McCoy. Dallas likes to blitz. They can also create pressure with their base defensive front. LB/DE Demarcus Ware is possibly the best in the league at rushing the passer. That means screens and draws to McCoy, as well as his ability to pick up the blitz will be huge. McCoy has been by far the best player on the offensive side of the ball this season. Really, he’s been one of only a few players that have been consistently effective.
This is the kind of game where box scores don’t matter and each team desperately wants to win. Stats don’t matter. Not only must McCoy must continue to be the complete back he has been over the first six games, but Andy Reid has to create a gameplan that allows for it to happen.
Michael Vick (QB/Eagles) – I know. Picking Romo and Vick as players to watch is a bit, um, predictable. But let’s be honest here. Vick is going to have to play solid football–not the explosive, but inconsistent brand we’ve been watching this season.
Both quarterbacks in this game will not only have to deal with the pressure of a fierce pass rush, but they will be carrying the weight of an entire season on their shoulders. As much as Tony Romo can take over this game, Michael Vick can do that ten-fold.
Vick has been inconsistent and hasn’t yet found his form of a year ago. A big game and a win tonight can erase all of that. Vick should have every opportunity to make a ton of plays. I fully believe that the Cowboys number one priority will be shutting down Lesean McCoy. That should really open up passing and running lanes for Vick.
The Cowboys front seven is terrific, but their secondary leaves a lot to be desired. The Eagles need Vick to come out from the jump and show he has studied Rob Ryan’s defense and knows exactly how to beat it. He needs to be poised and savvy in the pocket and wait for the big play instead of forcing it. He can’t have his passes batted at the line of scrimmage and he needs to know where his protection will be. If he does these things, the Eagles’ playoff hopes will be very much alive as the calendar turns to November.