It has been said that the upcoming Eagles-Cowboys game is considered meaningless. No Eagles-Cowboys game is ever meaningless. Pride amongst division rivals is always a factor. Considering that the Eagles 2009 regular season ended with an embarrassing (meaningless) Cowboys loss and then a devastating playoff loss at the hands of the Cowboys the following week, it matters. Even though it has no bearing on standings or playoff seedings, this game matters a lot to players, coaches and fans.
Sizing up Sunday’s game between the Eagles (10-5) and the Dallas Cowboys (5-10) at Lincoln Financial Field. The most important aspect of this season finale is Eagles’ prepare for their postseason. Rest the starters to get healthy or eradicate ghosts of last week’s Minnesota debacle? Each philosophy was debated ad infinitum. Play for pride.
We’ve seen Andy Reid in these end-of-the-year scenarios before, where the Eagles have to play a meaningless regular season finale on their way to the playoffs. Reid takes the same approach, which is to rest the starters and play the backups. There is no reason to think Reid will play it any differently this week. Mike Vick (bruised quad) will definitely sit. DeSean Jackson (foot) will probably join Vick on the bench. Winston Justice (knee) still isn’t 100 percent, so expect to see a lot of King Dunlap at right tackle. Asante Samuel will also sit out and possibly DE Trent Cole.
It might not be a bad idea to give LeSean McCoy a break. The second-year back is approaching 300 touches (207 rushing attempts, 78 receptions) and when you combine that with all the blitz pickups, I’d say he earned some R&R. He played through cracked ribs and a bruised shoulder so it can only help to get him rested for the playoffs. Jerome Harrison carried the ball just six times in the last six weeks, so he could use the work. He did well the one time he got extended minutes (11 carries for 109 yards against Washington) so why not put him back out there? Eldra Buckley has been busting his butt on special teams so why not reward him with a few touches? It is the holiday season, after all.
Kevin Kolb has not taken a meaningful snap since the Tennessee game two months ago, but he is looking forward to playing against the Cowboys, especially after seeing rookie John Skelton pick their secondary apart last week in a 27-26 Arizona win. This season has not played out the way Kolb expected. He suffered a concussion in Week 1 and lost his starting job to the resurgent Vick. But Kolb won two of three starts when Vick was injured including a 23-for-29 passing performance against Atlanta that earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Don’t tell Kolb this is a meaningless game. Several teams will be looking for a new QB and a big game against Dallas – even in a playing-out-the-string scenario – can only increase Kolb’s value.
If Jackson sits, Jeremy Maclin will step front and center in the passing game. He was Kolb’s go-to guy earlier in the season. In Kolb’s three complete games, Maclin had 18 receptions, including 2 TD against the Falcons. Eagles receivers need to be more attuned to what’s going on and the situation. At least three times against the Vikings, Vick read the blitz and wanted to unload early. His receivers weren’t looking for the ball so Vick had to run for his life. The receivers must do a better pre-snap job of seeing the blitz and adjusting to the hot route.
One thing the Eagles can accomplish Sunday is to tighten up their play against the blitz. The Vikings blitzed all night Tuesday and the Eagles were unable to deal with it. Vick was sacked a season high six times and was knocked down a dozen more. Most of the starting offensive line will play Sunday, so this is an opportunity to improve in that area.
Cowboys Jon Kitna (abdominal strain) is listed as questionable so for the second time in six days and we already know that Tony Romo (broken collarbone) is finished for the 2010 season. The Eagles will face a quarterback making his first NFL start for the second time in a week. Joe Webb made the most of his opportunity leading the Vikings to a 24-14 win before a national TV audience Tuesday.
Stephen McGee has his chance Sunday. McGee is a 6-3, 220-pounder who joined the Cowboys last year as a fourth round draft pick out of Texas A&M. He was not activated until the middle of this season when Tony Romo went down and Kitna took over as the starter. McGee stepped into the backup role and last week when Kitna was injured in Arizona, he finally got a chance to play.
McGee played well, rallying the Cowboys from a 21-3 deficit and throwing a late touchdown pass to Miles Austin to put Dallas in a position to tie the score, but kicker David Buehler missed the extra point. It was almost fitting given the way this season has unraveled for the Cowboys. McGee finished with 11 completions in 17 attempts for 111 yards and no INT. He did not seem flustered by the rush and interim coach Jason Garrett kept it simple for him calling a lot of short throws to the backs and tight end Jason Witten (who last week reached 600 career receptions faster than any tight end in history, 125 games).
When the Eagles defeated the Cowboys three weeks ago, they shut down running backs Felix Jones (13 carries, 41 yards) and Tashard Choice (seven carries, 16 yards). Marion Barber is expected to play Sunday but he isn’t the runner he once was. He is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry.
For the second game in a row, the Eagles will be facing an interim head coach and that is something to consider. Minnesota’s Leslie Frazier used Tuesday’s game to make his case for keeping the head coaching position. His aggressive game plan shut down the league’s No. 1 offense and offered a compelling argument for why management should just give him the job.
Jason Garrett is in the same position. He was named interim head coach in Dallas when Wade Phillips was fired two months ago. Garrett won his first two games and it appeared he had a good shot at staying on, but the Cowboys have dropped three of five since then and losing to the woeful Cardinals on Christmas night did not exactly fill Jerry Jones with holiday cheer.
“I’m mad as hell,” the Dallas owner said, “and I know all our fans are.”
So Garrett may be coaching for his job on Sunday. If so, look for him to pull out all the stops. He will be somewhat limited if he has to play McGee, but he could still run a lot of different formations, double reverses, fake punts, flea-flickers, wildcat sets, you name it. If you are Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, you’d better be prepared for anything.
David Akers was named to his fifth Pro Bowl this week, but he had a rough game against Minnesota. He was short on his 54 yard field goal attempt and the kickoff he knocked out of bounds in the fourth quarter set up the Vikings drive to the clinching touchdown. Cowboys’ Buehler has a strong leg but he is erratic as evidenced by his missed PAT in Arizona. He is 24-for-31 on field goal attempts and he has missed three of seven tries between the 30 and 40. In the matchup of Aussie punters, Mat McBriar of the Cowboys has the edge on Eagles Sav Rocca. McBriar leads the league with a 48.4 yard average and a 42.1 net. Rocca has a 44.3 yard average and a 39 yard net – though in fewer pint attempts. The Cowboys lost their kick return threat when rookie Dez Bryant was injured. The Eagles are unlikely to use either Jackson or Maclin on returns this week so they will probably give Chad Hall and newly signed Gerard Lawson a shot on special teams returns.
Eagles 27, Cowboys 21. Bring on Green Bay!
Playoffs? Playoffs? We’re talking about PLAYOFFS? PLAYOFFS??
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About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org