Three-feat? Cowboys face three hurdles to trifecta vs. rival Eagles

ARLINGTON, Texas — Just how difficult is it to beat the same team three times during an NFL season? Since the 1970 merger, the opportunity has arisen 19 times in the playoffs and 12 sweeps were completed.
 
That should make Dallas Cowboys faithful feel better about their chances in their first-round matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, a team they beat 20-16 at Philadelphia in Week 9 and then 24-0 at home on Sunday. (Kickoff is 8 p.m. ET Saturday.)
 
Last season, the Steelers pulled off a three-feat of Baltimore en route to winning Super Bowl 43. Dallas, however, has failed in its only two attempts—in 1998 against the Cardinals and 2007 against the Giants, both part of the franchise’s 13-year postseason drought.
 
"I don’t know that we have faced in the playoffs, since I’ve been here, more of a challenge to turn around and play that good of a team for a third time," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of the Eagles. "Now we’ve done it two years ago with a team that we thought could go all the way with all the talent and we couldn’t get it done."
 
Jones’ players aren’t expecting Philadelphia to struggle to play defense and score points in their return trip to Cowboys Stadium.
 
"It definitely gets our attention, because I know (Eagles coach) Andy Reid is going to have those guys ready," Dallas wide receiver Patrick Crayton said.
 
Here are three notable obstacles Dallas must overcome to beat Philadelphia one more time:
 

More Brian Westbrook

He didn’t play in the Nov. 8 matchup and was limited to nine touches for 37 total yards Sunday. Reid is slowly working Westbrook back into the mix, and if the Cowboys keep focusing on taking away DeSean Jackson deep, Westbrook could burn them on underneath routes that get him into the open field.
 
Before the final month of the season, there was a question as to whether Westbrook, 30, would return at all after suffering two concussions and missing nine games. But he is back with fresh legs, having avoided the grind that would have put more wear and tear on his knees and ankles.
 
The Eagles kept Westbrook active, so Reid must think Westbrook can have big impact. The only way to find out is increasing his touches to 15 to 20, using him in the running and short passing games to keep the Cowboys’ pass rush in check. Using him more on early downs would help keep Philadelphia on schedule and out of one-dimensional third-and-long situations.
 
"I feel pretty good," Westbrook said Sunday. "I don’t think the offense really got into the rhythm — some parts we did, but for the most part, we didn’t."
 
Keeping the offense balanced will help that cause, and that means Westbrook, rookie LeSean McCoy and fullback Leonard Weaver all need to be involved more in the game plan.
 

A better Donovan McNabb

Five previous times this season, McNabb has seen his passer rating dip into the 80s or below and followed it up with a strong, efficient outing.
 
"At times, I feel like when you are at the top you sometimes have to get knocked back down to dust yourself back off and to get yourself back in order," McNabb said.
 
McNabb usually takes advantage when defenses work so hard to not let Jackson beat them. On Sunday, he was a little off with his connection to rookie No. 2 wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who found himself open often, and his starting wideouts were each limited to just three catches for 47 yards.
 
Look for No. 3 receiver Jason Avant, also capable of making big plays, to get more looks in Saturday night’s playoff rematch. The good news is tight end Brent Celek should draw more coverage in the middle, which should open up some deep out routes.
 

A more aggressive defense

Cowboys QB Tony Romo had plenty of time to throw Sunday, so Philadelphia is certain to dial up its pressure even more than usual this weekend.
 

"They’re going to blitz a lot," Romo said. "They’re going to try to create turnovers, try to disrupt the flow of the offense."

 
Although the Cowboys’ offensive line turned in a superb run-blocking performance against Philadelphia in Week 17, the right side of guard Leonard Davis and tackle Doug Free had some trouble in pass protection against Eagles defensive end Juqua Parker and defensive tackle Mike Patterson.
 
Look for Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to throw a lot more blitzes and exotic formations at Romo, including loading the line with four ends to get a size-speed-athleticism mismatch against interior linemen. Also expect occasional safety blitz to attack Romo from different angles. The key is stopping the run first, even if it requires an eighth defender to consistently do it.
 
This story appears in Jan. 5’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today for free.
 
Vinnie Iyer is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at viyer@sportingnews.com.
ARLINGTON, Texas — Just how difficult is it to beat the same team three times during an NFL season? Since the 1970 merger, the opportunity has arisen 19 times in the playoffs and 12 sweeps were completed.
 
That should make Dallas Cowboys faithful feel better about their chances in their first-round matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, a team they beat 20-16 at Philadelphia in Week 9 and then 24-0 at home on Sunday. (Kickoff is 8 p.m. ET Saturday.)
 
Last season, the Steelers pulled off a three-feat of Baltimore en route to winning Super Bowl 43. Dallas, however, has failed in its only two attempts—in 1998 against the Cardinals and 2007 against the Giants, both part of the franchise’s 13-year postseason drought.
 
"I don’t know that we have faced in the playoffs, since I’ve been here, more of a challenge to turn around and play that good of a team for a third time," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of the Eagles. "Now we’ve done it two years ago with a team that we thought could go all the way with all the talent and we couldn’t get it done."
 
Jones’ players aren’t expecting Philadelphia to struggle to play defense and score points in their return trip to Cowboys Stadium.
 
"It definitely gets our attention, because I know (Eagles coach) Andy Reid is going to have those guys ready," Dallas wide receiver Patrick Crayton said.
 
Here are three notable obstacles Dallas must overcome to beat Philadelphia one more time:
 

More Brian Westbrook

He didn’t play in the Nov. 8 matchup and was limited to nine touches for 37 total yards Sunday. Reid is slowly working Westbrook back into the mix, and if the Cowboys keep focusing on taking away DeSean Jackson deep, Westbrook could burn them on underneath routes that get him into the open field.
 
Before the final month of the season, there was a question as to whether Westbrook, 30, would return at all after suffering two concussions and missing nine games. But he is back with fresh legs, having avoided the grind that would have put more wear and tear on his knees and ankles.
 
The Eagles kept Westbrook active, so Reid must think Westbrook can have big impact. The only way to find out is increasing his touches to 15 to 20, using him in the running and short passing games to keep the Cowboys’ pass rush in check. Using him more on early downs would help keep Philadelphia on schedule and out of one-dimensional third-and-long situations.
 
"I feel pretty good," Westbrook said Sunday. "I don’t think the offense really got into the rhythm — some parts we did, but for the most part, we didn’t."
 
Keeping the offense balanced will help that cause, and that means Westbrook, rookie LeSean McCoy and fullback Leonard Weaver all need to be involved more in the game plan.
 

A better Donovan McNabb

Five previous times this season, McNabb has seen his passer rating dip into the 80s or below and followed it up with a strong, efficient outing.
 
"At times, I feel like when you are at the top you sometimes have to get knocked back down to dust yourself back off and to get yourself back in order," McNabb said.
 
McNabb usually takes advantage when defenses work so hard to not let Jackson beat them. On Sunday, he was a little off with his connection to rookie No. 2 wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who found himself open often, and his starting wideouts were each limited to just three catches for 47 yards.
 
Look for No. 3 receiver Jason Avant, also capable of making big plays, to get more looks in Saturday night’s playoff rematch. The good news is tight end Brent Celek should draw more coverage in the middle, which should open up some deep out routes.
 

A more aggressive defense

Cowboys QB Tony Romo had plenty of time to throw Sunday, so Philadelphia is certain to dial up its pressure even more than usual this weekend.
 

"They’re going to blitz a lot," Romo said. "They’re going to try to create turnovers, try to disrupt the flow of the offense."

 
Although the Cowboys’ offensive line turned in a superb run-blocking performance against Philadelphia in Week 17, the right side of guard Leonard Davis and tackle Doug Free had some trouble in pass protection against Eagles defensive end Juqua Parker and defensive tackle Mike Patterson.
 
Look for Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to throw a lot more blitzes and exotic formations at Romo, including loading the line with four ends to get a size-speed-athleticism mismatch against interior linemen. Also expect occasional safety blitz to attack Romo from different angles. The key is stopping the run first, even if it requires an eighth defender to consistently do it.
 
This story appears in Jan. 5’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today for free.
 
Vinnie Iyer is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

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