With the Eagles coming to town Sunday night the Cowboys will have their work cut out for them this week. Last year the Cowboys dominated the Eagles and were able to shut down the Eagle offensive attack with ease. But it will be much more difficult this year now that Vick has reverted to his pre-prison form. The task on Sunday night will be to contain Michael Vick.
So the big puzzle the Cowboys will have to solve is how to deal with the unique skill set that Vick brings to the quarterback position. They can't sit back in their zone coverage like they have been regularly over the last few weeks or Vick is going to beat them running or throwing the ball deep because he'll have time to wait for his speedy receivers to get behind the defense. They can't blitz every down or Vick will kill them with his legs if the blitzers don't come up with the sack. And blitzing typically leaves your secondary at a disadvantage if you can't get to the quarterback and disrupt his passes.
So what should the Cowboys do to stop Vick? I think defenses have started to show the Cowboys a winning game plan over the last few weeks. There are several things that have to be done on defense to slow down the Eagle attack.
1. Get pressure on the quarterback without sending extra defenders. I'm not just talking about Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer here either. It is important to get pressure on the quarterback from all angles with Vick so he doesn't have room to escape and run wild. So Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, Igor Olshansky and Stephen Bowen all need to put pressure on Vick on a regular basis.
2. Force Vick to scramble to his right. When Vick rolls to his left he can still throw with great accuracy. But when he has to move to the right he is forced to throw across his body and his poor fundamentals get exposed. That means it is vitally important that Demarcus Ware does not lose contain on his rush.
3. Don't let Jeremy Maclin or DeSean Jackson get open deep. Vick has a tendency to wait for the big play to develop even when there are receivers open underneath. As long as the secondary can protect against the deep ball it will keep Vick waiting in the pocket and give the pass rush a better shot at a sack.
4. Don't let the Eagle running game become a factor. You can successfully stop Vick if the entire defense is able to focus on just Vick. But if the Eagles run the ball successfully the defensive line and outside linebackers suddenly have to worry about the run first so Vick will have more time to slice up the defense.
5. Allow Sean Lee to spy Vick in some situations. I don't think you can use a defender on every play to focus only on Vick. But in situations where you know Vick is likely to run it would be a wise move to devote a defender to spying Vick. When the Cowboys beat the Falcons in 2006 with Vick at quarterback Bobby Carpenter was able to contain Vick's running because he was able to just focus on Vick. I believe Sean Lee is faster and more athletic than Carpenter so he could be successful in the same role on the defense. Carpenter came up with one and a half sacks in the spy role and we all know that Lee is a far superior player to what Carpenter will ever be.
This is going to be a tough game for the Cowboys even if they can minimize the damage that Vick does in the game. Losing Dez Bryant changes a lot of things on the offensive side of the ball because defenses were committing extra defenders to Dez. The offense will need to run the ball consistently and score some points because the Eagles will score even if the defense plays well throughout the game.
I don't have the best feeling about this game based on the way the defense has been struggling this year. But the Cowboys are rolling now so I can't pick against them. I think the game will be a hard fought battle but I am picking the Cowboys to win 28-24.