To win, Eagles have to win downfield

IRVING, Texas — It’s rare when a wild-card playoff game is a rematch of a Week 17 meeting. The NFC has defied even the greatest of odds to have two such contests this weekend. 

Although the Dallas Cowboys would be happy if most recent history repeated itself, the Philadelphia Eagles hope their embarrassing 24-0 loss at Cowboys Stadium last Sunday quickly becomes a distant memory.
 
Cowboys defenders must locate Brent Celek and beware of potential mismatches.
Cowboys defenders must locate Brent Celek and beware of potential mismatches.

You can bet the Eagles will be well-prepared and a much better team. That’s assuming they fix some of the things that went wrong in the regular-season finale. Not to be outdone, the Cowboys know they need to be ready to counteradjust.

 
A look at four story lines from the previous meeting and how they will affect Saturday’s 8 p.m. ET rematch:
 

1. Brent Celek is a tough matchup

The Eagles’ passing game is so diverse and loaded with skill players that it’s hard to shut it down. Though Dallas’ defense excelled at taking away the big play downfield last week, it left tight end Celek in good position to gain chunks of yardage on intermediate routes. He finished with seven catches for 96 yards.
 
Because of Celek’s athleticism, the Eagles can move him around and get him open against a defender who’s either smaller or slower.
 
"He’s made some big plays all year," Cowboys linebacker Bobby Carpenter said. "They had some wrinkles for us last game, and they probably will have more wrinkles this week."
 
After a slow start, Anthony Spencer is spending time looking down at QBs.
After a slow start, Anthony Spencer is spending time looking down at QBs.

The key for Dallas is having a handle on how the Eagles have used Celek all season. But at the same time, they don’t want to focus on him to the point where it opens up deeper routes for DeSean Jackson.

 

2. Anthony Spencer is on a tear

Spencer, a Cowboys outside linebacker, led the charge against Philadelphia’s front five, which was trying to adjust to life without injured center Jamaal Jackson. To make matters worse, Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters didn’t have his "A" game.
 
Dallas grew more confident in using Spencer on passing downs, and he responded big-time down the stretch, with six sacks in the past six games after having none in the first 10.
 
"He’s a dominant player now, and it comes with reps," Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears said. "We knew what he could possibly do when he got a shot."
 
For the Eagles, the trick is slowing down Spencer without using double-teams, which would prove costly on the opposite edge against DeMarcus Ware.
 

3. The Cowboys can pound it

Entering last week’s game, the Eagles were allowing fewer than 100 rushing yards per game. But then the Cowboys put up 179 and Philadelphia answered with 37.
 
Look for Jeremiah Trotter to focus on stopping the Cowboys' ground game.
Look for Jeremiah Trotter to focus on stopping the Cowboys’ ground game.

Despite a lapse in which Felix Jones scored on a 49-yard touchdown run, the Eagles did a better job of stopping the run in the second half. They forced the Cowboys to throw to move the chains and control the clock.

 
Considering how middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter was a key part of that second-half effort, he could see a lot more playing time.
 
"We all noticed a difference when he was in the game the other night," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "He plays with great intensity."
 

4. The Cowboys have done a number on Jackson

It takes a good scheme and sound play all around to prevent Jackson from unleashing a big play. The Cowboys, who held Jackson to five catches for 76 yards in their two wins over Philadelphia, have benefited from a consistent pass rush that limits deep routes from developing. Still, much credit goes to cornerbacks Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins.
 
"We have some shutdown corners, and they’re doing a good job of not getting beat deep," Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh said.
 
Dallas’ scheme has helped prevent deep passes, but Newman and Jenkins have been winning one-on-one battles with their quickness and coverage skills. If the Eagles can’t win downfield, they won’t win the game.
 
This story appears in Jan. 9’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today.
 
Vinnie Iyer is a staff writer for Sporting News. Email him at viyer@sportingnews.com. 

IRVING, Texas — It’s rare when a wild-card playoff game is a rematch of a Week 17 meeting. The NFC has defied even the greatest of odds to have two such contests this weekend. 

Although the Dallas Cowboys would be happy if most recent history repeated itself, the Philadelphia Eagles hope their embarrassing 24-0 loss at Cowboys Stadium last Sunday quickly becomes a distant memory.
 
Cowboys defenders must locate Brent Celek and beware of potential mismatches.
Cowboys defenders must locate Brent Celek and beware of potential mismatches.

You can bet the Eagles will be well-prepared and a much better team. That’s assuming they fix some of the things that went wrong in the regular-season finale. Not to be outdone, the Cowboys know they need to be ready to counteradjust.

 
A look at four story lines from the previous meeting and how they will affect Saturday’s 8 p.m. ET rematch:
 

1. Brent Celek is a tough matchup

The Eagles’ passing game is so diverse and loaded with skill players that it’s hard to shut it down. Though Dallas’ defense excelled at taking away the big play downfield last week, it left tight end Celek in good position to gain chunks of yardage on intermediate routes. He finished with seven catches for 96 yards.
 
Because of Celek’s athleticism, the Eagles can move him around and get him open against a defender who’s either smaller or slower.
 
"He’s made some big plays all year," Cowboys linebacker Bobby Carpenter said. "They had some wrinkles for us last game, and they probably will have more wrinkles this week."
 
After a slow start, Anthony Spencer is spending time looking down at QBs.
After a slow start, Anthony Spencer is spending time looking down at QBs.

The key for Dallas is having a handle on how the Eagles have used Celek all season. But at the same time, they don’t want to focus on him to the point where it opens up deeper routes for DeSean Jackson.

 

2. Anthony Spencer is on a tear

Spencer, a Cowboys outside linebacker, led the charge against Philadelphia’s front five, which was trying to adjust to life without injured center Jamaal Jackson. To make matters worse, Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters didn’t have his "A" game.
 
Dallas grew more confident in using Spencer on passing downs, and he responded big-time down the stretch, with six sacks in the past six games after having none in the first 10.
 
"He’s a dominant player now, and it comes with reps," Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears said. "We knew what he could possibly do when he got a shot."
 
For the Eagles, the trick is slowing down Spencer without using double-teams, which would prove costly on the opposite edge against DeMarcus Ware.
 

3. The Cowboys can pound it

Entering last week’s game, the Eagles were allowing fewer than 100 rushing yards per game. But then the Cowboys put up 179 and Philadelphia answered with 37.
 
Look for Jeremiah Trotter to focus on stopping the Cowboys' ground game.
Look for Jeremiah Trotter to focus on stopping the Cowboys’ ground game.

Despite a lapse in which Felix Jones scored on a 49-yard touchdown run, the Eagles did a better job of stopping the run in the second half. They forced the Cowboys to throw to move the chains and control the clock.

 
Considering how middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter was a key part of that second-half effort, he could see a lot more playing time.
 
"We all noticed a difference when he was in the game the other night," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "He plays with great intensity."
 

4. The Cowboys have done a number on Jackson

It takes a good scheme and sound play all around to prevent Jackson from unleashing a big play. The Cowboys, who held Jackson to five catches for 76 yards in their two wins over Philadelphia, have benefited from a consistent pass rush that limits deep routes from developing. Still, much credit goes to cornerbacks Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins.
 
"We have some shutdown corners, and they’re doing a good job of not getting beat deep," Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh said.
 
Dallas’ scheme has helped prevent deep passes, but Newman and Jenkins have been winning one-on-one battles with their quickness and coverage skills. If the Eagles can’t win downfield, they won’t win the game.
 
This story appears in Jan. 9’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today.
 
Vinnie Iyer is a staff writer for Sporting News. Email him at viyer@sportingnews.com. 

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