We've all seen the games between the Cowboys over the last few years. They are usually close and there are usually big plays for both teams throughout the game. Last year's season finale was the obvious exception. But with the Eagles adding another play maker in Jeremy Maclin this season and the Cowboys discovering the talent of Miles Austin it seems like both teams are primed for a shootout. While that would be entertaining for fans who like scoring I think the Cowboys would be making a mistake by playing that type of game.
I don't mean the Cowboys shouldn't run their offense. I think what they have been doing over the last month is exactly what they need to do in this game. Mix the pass and run, play safe at times and go for the big play in the right moments. The main thing is that the game has to remain relatively close or the Cowboys will be forced to open things up which could mean a shootout or it could mean disaster if Tony Romo isn't having one of his good games.
So how do they keep the game from turning into a shootout? I believe the key to stopping the Eagles is to contain DeSean Jackson. I know Westbrook, Maclin and McNabb all present their own challenges, but the Eagles have lived by the big play this season. They don't have a single scoring drive that has lasted over 5 minutes. That means that when the score the drive usually involves one or more big plays.
There are two places I worry about Jackson. Punt returns are a big concern just because, at some point, the Cowboys are going to have to punt the ball to him. It is going to be vitally important that the punt coverage gets down the field quickly and bottle him up before he gets in the open. If he gets in the open field he is gone. The other concern is the big pass play. That is where the pass rush becomes the key to the game. The only way McNabb can throw 50 yard bombs to Jackson is if the Cowboys give him time to let the play develop. Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer need to be in McNabb's face all night long. I'm sure Wade Phillips will be dialing up blitzes to prevent the deep balls, but the best plan is to get your pass rushers to beat their blockers one-on-one without blitzing.
If the Cowboys can prevent the big plays in the Eagles passing game and continue their improved special teams play I believe they will win. Donovan McNabb is not an accurate passer and he will make mistakes if the Cowboys pressure him. And not only get to him but bring him down once they get there. McNabb is a big guy and he is hard to bring down so the defense needs to wrap up when they get to the quarterback.
I believe Tony Romo has turned the corner and he will continue to play good football this week. That means that the Cowboys will score enough points to win provided that the Eagles don't hang a big number on the scoreboard. I predict a 31-20 victory for the Cowboys.