In the NFL, an explosive play is defined as a passing gain of 20 yards or more, or a rush for at least 10 yards. So often, they have the biggest impact in a game.
When Rob Ryan was hired, for example, it was in large part because his ideas of good defense aligned with those held by Jason Garrett, emphasizing the importance of stopping the run, while not allowing big plays in the passing game. The Cowboys have been excellent in those areas through six games.
But their opponent this week, the Eagles, specialize in explosive plays. With the most athletic quarterback in league history, Michael Vick, they present the threat of a scramble on every play, but also have two incredibly fast wide receivers he can get the ball to in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, both of whom are threats downfield as well as on catch-and-run plays. Running back LeSean McCoy is equally threatening as a receiver out of the backfield as he is taking handoffs.
In six games, the Eagles have had 44 explosive plays, 24 passing and 20 rushing.
Defensively, the Cowboys have given up 22 explosive plays on the year, but they haven’t faced the kind of scrambling threat that Vick presents.
“It’s very important being in the right place, because you have to prevent some of those things from happening,” safety Abe Elam said. “Guys can make mistakes up from and it won’t cost points, but when you make mistakes on the back-end, it’s going to cost us six points.”
Last year, when Philadelphia beat the Cowboys 30-27 at Cowboys Stadium, it was a 91-yard catch and run by Jackson that proved monumental in a tie game in the fourth quarter.
Because the Cowboys aim to play such sound defense every week, they won’t have to change too much against the Eagles.
“You can’t get caught up into ‘Oh, we’re facing D-Jack (DeSean Jackson) this week, I don’t want him to do this, I don’t want him to do that,'” cornerback Mike Jenkins said. “Of course you know what his talents are, but you don’t want to start speaking nothing until existence. You know what you do. You just do what you do.”