Friday, December 26, 2014

Cowboys a tough matchup for Eagles

Not exactly coy boys: Anthony Spencer and Demarcus Ware (right) get to Donovan McNabb during Sunday´s game. Containing McNabb isn´t as difficult as it once was for the Cowboys.
Not exactly coy boys: Anthony Spencer and Demarcus Ware (right) get to Donovan McNabb during Sunday's game. Containing McNabb isn't as difficult as it once was for the Cowboys. RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
IRVING, Texas - The evidence is getting harder to ignore: The Cowboys are simply a bad matchup for the Eagles.

It's not a case of the Cowboys "having their number." That leaves too much to fate.

When it comes to matchups and personnel, this edition of the Cowboys, particularly the defense, seems to have a counter for everything the Eagles do well.

How else to explain the Eagles scoring just one touchdown in eight quarters against the Cowboys? And the trend is getting worse, if last Sunday's 24-0 Cowboys win is any indication.

More coverage
  • Head to Head: Eagles at Cowboys
  • Video: Eagles fans prepare for the big game
  • Cowboys a tough matchup for Eagles
  • Fair or not, McNabb to be judged heavily
  • "It's just that we play them twice a year, every year," outside linebacker Anthony Spencer said. "We know the things that they do and what they do well. We get prepared for it."

    Cowboys coach Wade Phillips has assembled a 3-4 defense that seems perfectly suited to attack what the Eagles do best.

    It starts with the Eagles' running game, where Brian Westbrook has made a living running over the Cowboys. But the Cowboys' run defense was shored up this season with the addition of a couple of players Phillips coached in previous stops: inside linebacker Keith Brooking from Atlanta and defensive end Igor Olshansky from San Diego.

    The Eagles are a big-play passing team, but the emergence of second-year cornerback Mike Jenkins has been a boon. Strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh was another key off-season acquisition. Sensabaugh replaced Roy Williams, who was often lost in pass coverage.

    Then there's the playmaking ability of Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. With Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff coming up the middle, Pro Bowl outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware rushing from one side and breakout star Spencer coming from the other, containing McNabb isn't as difficult as it once was for the Cowboys.

    "I think we match up real well," inside linebacker Bradie James said. "We've got some fast guys, they've got some fast guys. That helps out."

    The Cowboys have been especially successful containing the Eagles' fastest guys: receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Keeping the Eagles from hitting big plays has been the Cowboys' focus.

    "If they're going to drive, they're going to drive with a bunch of short stuff," Sensabaugh said. "Our corners are playing excellent, they're not getting beat deep at all. That helps a lot, especially against a team that likes to isolate your corners and run them down the field on deep passes."

    The Cowboys' offense is also greatly improved. Disgruntled receiver Terrell Owens was cut in the off-season.

    The Cowboys have improved at taking advantage of aggressive defenses such as the Eagles'. Quarterback Tony Romo has cut down on his turnovers while the Cowboys have become adept at using screens and draw plays to counter blitzes. The Eagles' lack of blitzing in the last encounter was glaring.

    Miles Austin has emerged as the big-play threat to replace Owens. His ability to get deep opens things underneath for tight end Jason Witten. Rookie tight end John Phillips, who caught two passes last week, is also becoming more of a target.

    The Cowboys expect all sorts of blitzes tonight.

    "They've played that style of defense for a long time and had a lot of success with it," Witten said. "We're going to be ready for it. We've just got to execute."

    With memories of last year's 44-6 loss to the Eagles still lingering, the Cowboys aren't relying on matchups to win the game for them.

    "I don't know, they're probably a bad matchup for us," free safety Ken Hamlin said.

    "With all the guys they have, the type of weapons, the things they can do, it could be a nightmare. But we accept the challenge. We'll come out flying around and try to make plays."

    Cowboys note: Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (sore back) and running back Marion Barber (sore knee) were listed as probable for tonight's game. Both took part in yesterday's walk-through practice and are expected to play.

    Keith Whitmire For The Inquirer
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