When the Eagles meet the Cowgirls on Monday Night Football tonight several questions will be answered. At the center of the storm will be the man pictured above, Asante Samuel. After the jump we'll take a look at the keys to the game.
The question I've been asking myself all week is "Are the Eagles really that good, or are the Rams just that bad?" I was hoping to get an answer to that question on Sunday when the Giants took on the Rams, but it wasn't meant to be. The Rams hung in there against the Giants into the third quarter, but then it got ugly again. They did manage to put 13 points on the board, which seemed impossible against the Eagles last week. But still, they're bad. Very bad.
Which brings me to tonight's game. Think of last week as the fifth preseason game, and tonight the official opener. The Eagles haven't proven anything yet, neither have the Cowboys (who beat the Browns in week 1). This game is the first test of the season and it's against everyone's darling from Texas that this team will have to prove its worth.
This game will be a huge test for the Eagles, and a win would be a gigantic statement. Jerry Jones seems to have everyone from HBO to Jessica Simpson convinced that the Cowboys are the team to beat. The only problem is that they haven't beaten anyone when it matters. The closest thing the NFC has seen to a powerhouse in the past decade is the Eagles, and this game is a huge opportunity for them to remind everyone that they're still here. It's time to put the past three seasons of injuries and turmoil behind them and reclaim their perch atop the NFC. Here's how they can do it.Offense
- Smash-mouth football - In week 1, Cleveland had a fair amount of success on the ground against the Cowboys. Jamal Lewis rushed for 62 yards on 13 carries (4.8 y/c). That's where the Eagles need to start. I'd love to see them come out and pound the ball down Dallas' throat on the first drive. Line up, run behind Shawn Andrews, and drive right down the field for a score. It's doubtful, but it would be completely unexpected. Dallas' D is predicated on speed. I think a heaping helping of the biggest o-line in the league can neutralize that.
- L.J. Smith - Smith not only looked good in week 1, but he looked healthy. If he can roam in the middle of the field and pick up big gainers it's going to make life much easier for DeSean and Co. on the outside to go to work.
- DeSean - His ball skills were above and beyond anything anyone could've expected in his first pro game. He made two amazing over-the-shoulder catches against tight coverage in week one. We need to see more of the same from him. He might see some double coverage this week, he needs to find a way to get open and continue to assert himself as the team's #1 option. It looks like Reggie Brown won't be playing.
- McNabb's Legs - On two seperate occasions last week McNabb threw a last-second pass when he had running room in front of him. That can't happen this week. If he has a crease that will get him a first down, or a touchdown, he has to take it. It cost them 4 points last week, this time he needs to use his legs for those yards.
- Assante's Second Test - So welcome to the Eagles. In week 1 your assignment is Torry Holt. In week 2, O.D. Owens. Tests don't get much bigger than this. If Assante gives owens a cushion, which I think he will, he needs to close quickly on him and either break up the play, or at the very least wrap up Owens. This seems to be his strong point, closing speed. If he can find a way to get in front of Owens on a quick out it could be six going the other way. I doubt we'll see a great deal of Samuel on T.O. on an island, but when we do he needs to minimize the damage. It's a Monday Night game, T.O. will put numbers up, Asante needs to stop the big play.
- Lito on Witten - That's not a type-o. The Eagles need to cover Witten with a corner, probably Lito. The Cowboys have zero depth at WR. Creighton is their #2 receiver, behind him on their depth chart is Isaiah Stanback. In the passing game they need to stop T.O., Witten and Marion Barber. No one else is going to hurt you. I want to see a corner on Witten whenever possible.
- Discipline on the D-Line - This is a two-fold focus. First, the linemen need to maintain their lanes when rushing Romo. He will dance in and out of the pocket and find room to make the throw. Don't get pushed up the field and create a lane for him and don't over-pursue. Discliplined rushes will get to him and put him on the ground. The second part comes against the screen. The D-line needs to recognize screens early and get out to Barber before he gets into the open field. He's a load for a DB to bring down and giving him some room to work is a recipe for disaster.
- Tackling LBs - Stewart, Gocong and Gaither need to be the last line of defense. No arm tackles on Barber. Wrap him up and put him on the ground. Marion Barber scares me more than anyone else on the Cowboys roster. I'm not entirely sure why, but I have nightmares about him running through arm tackles and wreaking havoc on the Eagles secondary. The Birds did a great job on a similar back last week, but I have a feeling the 'Boys line will be a notch better. It's going to take more than just the D-line to stop this running game. The LBs have to be up to the challenge.
I just saw the Sunday Night conversation with T.O. and Suzy Kolber (she still has a job, huh?). That guy is certifiable, literally. A perfect night tonight would include an Eagles win and a clean shot at T.O. by Dawkins or Sheldon Brown. Fingers crossed.
Kickoff is at 8:30 p.m. Let's go Birds.