Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Monday Night Football: Eagles vs. Cowboys

In case you missed last night's Monday Night Football game, the Dallas Cowboys came back in dramatic fashion to steal a game from the Philadelphia Eagles. I fully expected the Cowboys to roll into Pennsylvania and beat the Eagles convincingly as they did earlier in the year. This did not happen. The Eagles dominated the game from the 2nd quarter up to the final 4 minutes. The Eagles called a very balanced game, mixing in plenty of runs with their normal fast paced passing attack. If you look at the drive chart, both defenses performed well. The Eagles scored first; the Cowboys answered; no one really moved the ball well until the second half. The Eagles did force one turnover which lead to a TD in the first half, but neither team was an offensive juggernaut until the wear and tear of a long game would settle in.

Dallas could not run the ball, and Julius Jones was rarely used, which leads me to believe he still is fighting off the ankle sprain. The Eagles blitzed more often and more effectively this game than last. Drew Bledsoe was on his back this game, and not given all day to pick apart the secondary of the Eagles. Even with the blitzes, the Eagles line seemed to just take up space. Jevon Kearse, despite 4 sacks this year, just does not seem to be the same explosive player he was for the Titans. On a few plays, he was run over. If he is not going to be a run stuffer, he needs to improve his pass rush output to prove his worth.

It was an odd game, with no real offensive stars for the Eagles despite their 13 point lead with 4 minutes to go. The Cowboys moved down the field in their 2 minute drill efficiently. They were helped by an injury timeout due to Michael Lewis, and execution on their next two plays. Because the Eagles were cheatign deep, the Cowboys could execute on a quick out pattern and stop the clock and then call a draw. The draw was so effective because the blocking downfield by the receivers. Keyshawn Johnson is a decent blocking WR, and he sealed off a defender so the running back could make it out of bounds and stop the clock. This was all important because the clock stoppages meant that the Eagles had to make a first down to keep the ball and run out the clock.

This leads me to my two critques of the Eagles play calling. With the first & 10 at the Eagles 20, the Eagles blitzed. The Cowboys picked up the blitz and the one on one coverage was exploited by Bledsoe. Earlier in the game, Bledsoe showed the danger with failed blitzes, deep passing plays. Why bliz at this point? I think the Eagles blitzed because they had been so successful during the night at blitzing, forgetting that they could fail. A blitz & sack would put the Cowboys in a long 2nd down situation, which could lead to a long field goal attempt. At this stage in the game I would have played softer and allowed the underneath routes to force the Cowboys to use their timeouts and chew up clock. This still was not as bad as the second coaching/strategy error in the final 4 minutes.

After fielding the kickoff and getting a decent return to the 35, the Eagles could run 3 times and force the Cowboys to use at least 2 timeouts before the 2:00 minute warning stopped the clock. The Eagles averaged 5.0 ypc in the game, which is staggering against the Cowboys run defense. When they got the ball, they ran once and then tried to pass to the outside. A pass to the outside makes no sense because:

a) if it is incomplete, it stops the clock & sets up a long 3rd down
b) if complete to the sideline, it causes a clock stoppage
c) if it is intercepted, it sets the Cowboys up in Eagles' territory and with 3 timeouts.

What happened was d) Roy Williams makes the kind of play he is known for, a "gamechanger", and takes the INT back for a TD. I think this play was called because the Eagles felt the Cowboys were expecting a run and could catch the Cowboys off guard. This play was probably called, subconsciously, because Andy Reid wanted to win on his terms, with his style. Charlie Weis suffered from this at times with the Patriots. Reid does not adapt well to games where the opposition jumps out in front; he does not make great in game adjustments. Reid also is a passing man, and would not just want to chew up clock, timeouts, yardage, etc. Since the Eagles were averaging 5 ypc, they had a high probability of making the first down running twice in a row at 2nd and 7.

Another Andy Reid and Jim Johnson's playcalling miscues, I think last night showed why Brian Westbrook is not worth $25 million. Westbrook carried the ball 16 times, and when the team needed to put the game away, they did not go to him. The Eagles had to use Lamar Gordon to pound the ball between the tackles. Any of the running backs on my top 5 list would have demanded the ball in that situation. A running back worth $25 million hits the inside holes, runs the outside sweeps, catches balls out of the backfield, and wants the ball when you need a first down and to run out the clock with your QB at 75%.

Update: This makes it 4 or so posts where I focus on the Eagles at the end. I apologize for posting so much about them, but they have been the most interesting team this season on/off the field. I will say it for the fifteenth time this month, "I said the Eagles were heading for a fall". It's not just a fall.... it's a soap opera.

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