Who Has The Edge? (Position Grid)  

 

Cowboys have edge over division rival Eagles

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A position-by-position breakdown of the Philadelphia-Dallas wild-card matchup on Saturday.

Tony Romo has been better than any quarterback in the NFC down the stretch. He has full command of this offense, is making the right decisions and is not turning the ball over. Romo's thrown for 618 yards and two TDs vs. Philly this season. Both efforts produced wins.

Marion Barber and Felix Jones are an effective one-two punch the Eagles have struggled with. Both have had success running off tackle and each has been able to break off sizeable chunks of yardage. Dallas' running game is its bread and butter and sets up the highly effective passing attack.

Patrick Crayton and Miles Austin have made Philadelphia's standout cornerbacks look bad in two games. They have made the bigger plays and Austin's ability to run after the catch is huge. Tight end Jason Witten has favorable matchups in coverage underneath as the Eagles figure to blitz more.

Right tackle Doug Free, a replacement for Marc Colombo, has been highly effective as the Cowboys have run well to the right. Leonard Davis and the rest of the horses have been dominant in the ground attack. The Eagles have applied some pass pressure but for the most part, Romo has had plenty of time to throw.

Leonard Davis

Ratliff is one of the best defensive tackles in the league and he's given the Eagles fits. Ratliff's ability to occupy blockers and make plays shows his unrelenting effort. Ends Stephen Bowen and Igor Olshansky have done what 3-4 ends do, and that's free up space for the outside linebackers to make plays.

This is the strength of Dallas' defense. DeMarcus Ware is arguably the best player on the team, but against the Eagles, fellow outside linebacker Anthony Spencer has been the most dominant defender. Inside linebackers Bradie James and Keith Brooking are the glue and have not been liabilities in coverage.

Mike Jenkins has really come on and has the speed to keep up with Philadelphia's speedy receivers. Terence Newman has also turned things around after a rough start. Ken Hamlin and Gerald Sensabaugh are underrated coverage safeties. The denial of big plays against the Eagles has been the difference.

Dallas has some of the best coverage units in the NFL and it has not allowed Jackson to inflict any damage in the two games they've played with the Eagles. The directional punts and non-returnable kickoffs allow the coverage units a safety net. Place kicker Shaun Suisham is a liability, though.

Say what you want about Wade Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, they've come up with strong game plans for the Eagles. Phillips' defense has posted back-to-back shutouts, while Garrett's play-calling and schemes have been superb. The execution and effort of players show that respect is firmly in place.

Dallas' strengths seem to really overwhelm Philadelphia's weaknesses, especially along the lines of scrimmage. The fact that the game is in the Jones-Mahal also is a huge factor. Still, this is a team facing the pressure to win a playoff game and, as well as they've played of late, the potential to be blinded by the lights remains.

Donovan McNabb was way off target in the season finale against Dallas. Don't expect that to happen again, at least not in the intermediate ranges. McNabb has gotten mildly rattled in both games against the Cowboys because he's been contained to a pocket that was crowded with interior rushers.

Donovan McNabb

Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy are far more dangerous as receivers than as running backs, although both have big-play potential. Philadelphia doesn't emphasize the running game as much as Dallas. If the Eagles are able to play with a lead or keep things close, this tandem could have far more of a role.

In just about any other matchup, Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek and Jason Avant would have a sizeable advantage. However, only Celek has done much against the Cowboys and that's because Dallas' game plan is to allow underneath routes.

Philadelphia has been overwhelmed in both games. The loss of center Jamaal Jackson really hurt because Nick Cole has a tough matchup with Pro Bowl DT Jay Ratliff. Right guard Max Jean-Gilles also is more of a run blocker than pass protector. The Eagles have allowed seven sacks to Dallas.

Max Jean-Gilles

Philadelphia's four-man front is about as solid as it gets, especially at end with Trent Cole and Juqua Parker. Tackles Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley are stout. However, Parker and Patterson have been attacked by Dallas with success. They have to play better this go round to slow the Cowboys' run game.

This is the weakness in Philadelphia's defense. Injuries really hurt at middle linebacker, and the Eagles aren't getting the physicality they desire inside. OLB Will Witherspoon was a nice pickup on the outside, and he makes a lot of plays. Too often, those plays are being made downfield.

Will Witherspoon

Pro Bowler Asante Samuel and fellow standout corner Sheldon Brown have gotten caught in some bad positions against the Cowboys, especially on double-move routes. Safety Quintin Mikell is solid and Macho Harris has had a good rookie season. This has simply been a bad matchup for the Eagles.

Place kicker David Akers and punter Sav Rocca have been reliable and are even more so in a climate-controlled setting like they'll have again Saturday. Philadelphia's coverage units have been excellent and have denied Patrick Crayton any opportunities to get going.

Andy Reid is one of the best coaches in the league and he is going to come up with a game plan to catch Dallas off guard. He could start by incorporating his running backs more. Defensively, coordinator Sean McDermott might have to risk blitzing more, even in nickel sets, to get Romo out of his comfort level.

Philadelphia's playoff experience is huge here. The Eagles tend to play their best football at this time of the season, regardless of what's happened prior. McNabb should be better than he was last game and Philadelphia must find a way to make Romo uncomfortable.

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