The Dallas Cowboys look to take division lead over the Philadelphia Eagles this week.
Their Nemesis: Dwayne Harris
Dwayne Harris has only faced the Philadelphia Eagles three times in his career, but in those games, he has made more than his share of big plays. In games when the Eagles have kicked off in his direction, he has averaged over 35 yards per return.
For the 2013 season, Harris has returned nine kickoffs for an average of 34.7 yards per return. In 2013, the Eagles are ranked 31st in the league in kickoff coverage, allowing opponents an average of 28.8 yards per return.
Of the 36 kickoffs the Eagles have had this season, they have had 16 of them returned, so Harris should get opportunities to bring a ball back up the field to expand on that average. When the Eagles have punted the ball to Harris, he has an average of 14.2 yards per return, with a touchdown also to his credit – the one he scored in Philadelphia last November.
For this season, Harris has returned eight punts for an average of 23.6 yards and one touchdown, which he scored last week against the Redskins. With two teams as equally matched as the Cowboys and Eagles are, Dwayne Harris has proven in the past that he can in fact be a difference maker in a game.
Our Weapon: Orlando Scandrick
What Monte Kiffin and this defensive staff have shown the last two weeks is that they are not afraid to match their best corners on the opponent’s best threats. The way that DeSean Jackson has been playing this season, the Dallas Cowboys will need to match him with a corner that can play with quickness and straight line speed. Scandrick is that guy.
Where the Eagles might work their way around this is to try and keep Jackson out of the slot, which is where Scandrick does the majority of his work. Kiffin doesn’t have anyone that he trusts enough to take Scandrick out of that role.
Jackson is too quick for both Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, which presents a big problem when you match him on the outside. With Jackson, there is that fear that he can score from anywhere on the field, and that is why you need to match him with a player that has the ability to function under that pressure.
There has been little that has affected Scandrick this season. He has been the best player in the secondary. Orlando Scandrick also has faced DeSean Jackson enough in his career to understand how he needs to play him and that is very important when you are trying to match a player with this much talent.
Under Their Radar: Joseph Randle
Last week against the Redskins, rookie Joseph Randle saw his first NFL action as a running back in this league. This week against the Eagles, in a divisional game on the road, he will make his first start.
Randle had little time to prepare when DeMarco Murray left the game with a knee injury. During the week before the game, he might get one or two reps with the first offense while Murray takes the majority of the others.
As Randle prepares for this opportunity, he will be getting all the reps with the offense in practice, and to be honest, he will need every one of them. In reviewing the game, Randle did not appear nervous or out of his element, but this week should be much easier for him because of the extra work he is getting in practice.
There is a confidence that he can come in and get the job done. His teammates are going to need him at his best to beat the Eagles. There are so many things that Murray does well and his play will be missed. Where Randle can help this team is with hard running, a check down or two catching the ball and being absolutely sure of who he has on these blitz pickups, because that is where this defense will test him the most.
Our Nemesis: DeSean Jackson
If you look at DeSean Jackson’s career against the Dallas Cowboys, it’s actually quite impressive.
Jackson’s most productive game that he has ever played in this league came against the Cowboys on a December day. He was unstoppable that afternoon, catching four passes for 210 yards and one touchdown. As a matter of fact, if you look at Jackson’s top 11 career games, two of them have come against the Cowboys.
Jackson currently leads the Eagles in receptions and touchdowns due to how this Chip Kelly lines him up all over the field in different formations — either getting the ball on the move or vertically down the field.
What makes him so difficult to deal with is the speed and quickness he plays with. Jackson is one of those players that, if you play off coverage on him, he is going to eat up your cushion in a hurry. He is on you right now and if he is on you, he is by you.
There have been days, though, where Jackson has been his own worst enemy with drops. As many times as I have seen him catch the ball on the move, there have been times where he has appeared to hear footsteps and drop a ball or two that he should have made a play on.
I would not say that he has the most consistent hands and there are times where they have let him down. Jackson still is a unique talent and has rare ability.
Their Weapon: LeSean McCoy
Nervous as this Cowboys defense is about playing against DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy presents an even more difficult problem. This Chip Kelly offense is perfectly tailored to his running style.
McCoy is one of those backs that can take simple plays and make them into huge gains. It doesn’t matter if it is a handoff out of the read-option or a screen pass in the flat, he is going to be hard to handle. He has the unique ability to make the first man miss, then get into the open field and make others miss.
He is an explosive runner, and when he can turn his shoulders and go downhill, he can be tough to bring down. The best way to slow him down is get him going sideways and not allow him to turn up the field. He makes some violent cuts in the way he runs the ball. He can plant his foot in the ground and explode off of it.
McCoy can take the ball off the read option, allowing the line to get into their blocks, then hit it to the back side as the defense over-runs the play. He plays with outstanding hands, and it’s rare to see him drop a pass. He has a feel for how to work himself open, secure the catch and head up the field. He’s a hard player to completely shut down, and the Cowboys will have their hands full with him.
Under The Radar: Mychal Hendricks
The Eagles have several good, young players on their defensive roster, but one guy that really caught my eye was linebacker Mychal Hendricks.
He was a second round selection by the Eagles in 2012, and, right now, he looks like a quality pick. The first thing you notice about him is how quick he plays. He is very active and is a difficult guy to block when he is on the move.
He looks like a nice scheme fit for this 3-4 defense, because he can get away from blocks. He’s short, but he does play with some pop at the point of attack. He will be used on blitzes to attack the pocket, and he can be a relentless guy when it comes to rushing the passer.
Hendricks does a really nice job of chasing the ball. He’s strong enough to play off blocks, and he can be physical when he needs to be.
He’s a very good tackler in space and a hard guy to get away from when he has the ball carrier wrapped up. He can really close when he sees the ball, and he has a burst and some explosive traits. He showed the ability to carry the back out of the backfield, and he moves with ease and is able to stay in position while playing the route.
Hendricks one of those defensive players you have to be aware of and make sure you get a hat on him at all times.