Cowboys defense gets another shot at slowing Eagles offense

Every week, Steve Wyche examines a handful of the week's premier matchups on the field.

Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan spent a moment this week talking about getting a shot at a head-coaching job some day. Another smack down by the Eagles -- a result that would dampen NFC East-leading Dallas' playoff hopes and breathe more life into Philly's -- would put that type of promotion on hold.

Give Ryan credit. This second go-round of drawing attention to himself before facing the Eagles hasn't provided near the billboard fodder of his first bombastic salvo. His labeling the Eagles as "all hype" and saying the Cowboys were going to "beat their ass" ended up with Philadelphia hyping its way to a 34-7 whipping of Dallas in Week 8.

The Cowboys (8-6) have gone 5-2 since and put themselves in position to seal the NFC East with a victory at home against the resurgent Eagles, coupled with a Giants' loss to the Jets. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has won two straight with Michael Vick's return from a rib injury and, at 6-8, still have an outside chance to get to the playoffs.

While the Eagles defense has been their biggest problem this season, it will be the Cowboys defense that could be the difference Saturday. Philadelphia's receivers will test a so-so secondary that allowed Vick to complete 21 of 28 passes for 274 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting.

The obvious suspects --- Cowboys corners Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman, Eagles wideouts Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson -- might not be the difference-makers, though. Dallas will need to figure out how to limit tight end Brent Celek and slot receiver Jason Avant as well as running back LeSean McCoy, who should get some fringe Offensive Player of the Year mention for doing so much.

Celek is coming off a five-catch, 156-yard, one-touchdown effort against the Jets and has nine catches since Vick's return two games ago. In the first meeting with Dallas, Celek had seven catches for 94 yards and a touchdown. The Cowboys should be more attentive this time around, which could open things up for other players.

The Dallas secondary could be stressed if not enough pressure is put on Vick. Ryan will have to come up with some creative ways to keep Vick off his marks, otherwise the attention coming his way postgame won't be self-induced.

Eli's targets vs. Cromartie and Revis

Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz -- he of the best touchdown celebration in the NFL -- said "teams aren't really afraid" of throwing at Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, adding the Giants will make Revis earn his money. Now, Cruz has been great and had a nice season, but really? Not saying that Cruz won't get open or catch some balls, but do you seriously think Revis ever lost any sleep thinking about Cruz at any point of his career, including now?

Giants quarterback Eli Manning is having a great season, in large part because of Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. The WRs getting open against the cross-town Jets this weekend will determine whether Manning can continue racking up good numbers or have a repeat of last week's three-interception performance in a shattering loss to Washington.

Revis and Antonio Cromartie are bad matchups for the Giants wideouts. If Cromartie and Revis can get their hands on any of New York's receivers, then there could be problems. Cruz, playing in the slot, could be the wild-card. He is a tough matchup for nickel backs and linebackers and he could be the difference.

Cruz might not visit Revis Island very much, which would be a wise thing, and potentially beneficial for the Giants.

Falcons vs. redemption

In the first New Orleans-Atlanta meeting, Falcons coach Mike Smith dubiously gambled on a fourth-down call deep in Atlanta territory and failed, leading to a Saints field goal that swung the NFC South in New Orleans' favor. Monday night, Atlanta gets the chance to avenge that loss and stifle one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

Both teams are playing at a pretty scary level right now. The Saints know how dangerous Atlanta could be once things get into the postseason, which is why they'll be keeping the pedal to the floor in trying to officially relegate the Falcons to wild-card status and planting a seed of inferiority.

Atlanta won't be scared facing its familiar foe now, but if it loses twice, it will be well aware of its flaws should it have to travel to New Orleans in the playoffs. The Falcons' defensive interior is playing better -- defensive tackle Corey Peters is one of the better defensive tackles in the NFL -- and if it can limit New Orleans' running game, it could affect how the game is played.

Drew Brees has been downright scary of late but Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan has been red hot, too. If the Falcons can force some punts and give Ryan some opportunities, Smith might have another chance to make a call that decides his team's fate.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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