Each week, John Lynch breaks down a dynamic NFL offensive playmaker, devises a game plan and discusses a strategy for success. This week, Lynch examines the unique challenges the Cowboys defense will face against running back LeSean McCoy and the Philadelphia Eagles offense.
Don’t you just hate those unwanted guests during the holidays? Your wife’s third cousin on her mother’s side suddenly remembers he’s visiting your town and he wants to "stay over’" for a few days.
That’s probably a little like how the Dallas Cowboys are looking at the Philadelphia Eagles this week. Because if I’m the Cowboys, the Eagles are the last team I want coming to town right now.
Yes, the Cowboys (8-6) still lead the NFC East by a game over the Giants and can control their own fate. That’s the good news.
Who likes fruitcake? Anybody? That’s what I thought. Because like fruitcake, the rest of the news isn’t good if you’re a Cowboys fan. The past few weeks, the Eagles (6-8) have looked downright scary and might be playing the best football in the NFL. Kind of what everybody was expecting of them at the beginning of the season.
To make matters worse, there’s Week 8. If you can’t remember Week 8, the numbers 34 and 7 are ones the Cowboys would like to forget. The Eagles led 24-0 at halftime and 34-0 until the Cowboys finally scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Philadelphia embarrassed Dallas that Sunday night, and having watched a lot of Eagles’ games this season, I’d say it was probably Michael Vick’s best performance of the year. Vick completed 21 of 28 passes for 279 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. Eagles running back LeSean McCoy was no slouch either, rushing for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who had trash-talked about the Eagles and their high-profile offseason signings during the summer, said the Cowboys would beat the Eagles’ butts in October. However, he ended up having to eat those words, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they tasted like fruitcake. "I got outcoached by Reid and their staff," Ryan said at the time. "It's ridiculous. I never gave our guys a chance. The whole thing was on me."
So, I have the unenviable task of game-planning for the Dallas defense as my assignment this week.
Let me start off by saying when you’ve already played someone during the season, there really are no surprises. It’s going to come down to execution — who blocks and tackles better, who makes the plays and who doesn’t.
Like I said earlier, the first time these teams played, I thought it was Vick’s best game. He made great decisions and he was incredibly accurate. What Ryan and the Cowboys need to do is try to figure out how to deal with all of the weapons the Eagles have. And that’s not easy, because they have a lot.
Besides Vick, there’s a beast of a back in McCoy, who is second in the NFL in rushing with 1,274 yards. He’s also scored a league-leading 17 touchdowns on the ground (20 overall) and leads the NFL in most runs over 20 yards with 14, both Philadelphia team records. And McCoy needs only 239 yards in the final two games to break Wilbert Montgomery’s single-season franchise record.
McCoy reminds me a lot of Brian Westbrook, another running back that Eagles coach Andy Reid knew how to use perfectly. His experience with Westbrook, knowing how to use him in the backfield and in the passing attack, has come in handy, and he uses McCoy in much the same way. He’s a really special football player. I mean, 20 touchdowns? That’s unbelievable. McCoy is incredibly athletic. He’s fast, he’s quick, and he’s much stronger than people think. He runs right over people.
And if you stop McCoy, then you have to deal with that group of receivers they have in DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek. It presents a very tough challenge.
So here’s my game plan:
DeMarcus Ware. DeMarcus Ware. And more DeMarcus Ware.
Ryan asks a lot of his defensive players, and their game plans are never simple. You have to be smart to handle them. I think the Cowboys’ front seven is stronger than their secondary. So if you start to overpursue to stop McCoy, those Eagles receivers can kill you.
So I go to Ware and I tell him I know he’s had an outstanding year (third in the NFL in sacks with 16, including four against the Eagles in Week 8), but I need him to be the best he possibly can be this week. I know this is about more than one player, but Ware is where it starts. And that front seven has to apply as much all-out pressure as possible. Then, the Cowboys need to get physical at the line of scrimmage with the Eagles receivers. They struggle with that.
Again, it’s hard disguising anything because these two teams know each other so well. The last time they played, Vick did an outstanding job of diagnosing what the Cowboys were doing and picked up their blitzes very well.
This game really isn’t about who is going to trick whom; the key to the game will be who wants it more. The Cowboys have the lead with two games left, but believe it or not, the Eagles could still win the division. They have to beat the Cowboys, then Washington the following week. Then they need the Giants to beat Dallas on the final day of the season.
So both teams have a lot at stake.
Loser eats fruitcake.
John Lynch will be calling the St. Louis at Pittsburgh game at 1 p.m. ET Sunday for FOX.