Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Sunday's Eagles-Cowboys game could've had it all, but the pesky Redskins got in the way. The Eagles (8-6-1) are now depending on the Oakland Raiders to help them out -- and that's never a good thing.
The Cowboys have owned the Eagles in December over the years, but Philly has won the last three played in this important month. The Cowboys are a win away from fueling a bunch of "dangerous" team stories -- especially since they took care of the Giants two weeks ago. As I've written all week, the Cowboys caught a huge break having Sunday's game moved from 1 p.m. ET to 4:15 p.m. In this special Cowboys-Eagles holiday edition, we'll deal with that particular issue and much, much more:
Hoozurmama from Far North Dallas, you're up first: Yesterday I was listening to "Galloway and Company" on the radio and you were discussing the line on the Cowboys-Eagles game. You said not to bet on the game because there may be an announcement made right before game time. It sounded as if you had some potential important injury information. I had to go into a meeting so I did not hear if you ever elaborated. Is that the case? I don't gamble so I'm curious just from a suffering Cowboy standpoint.
MM: Hoozur, as I wrote in the blog Monday, the Eagles will know before kickoff whether or not they have anything to play for. No matter what Andy Reid or his players might say, finding out that you've been eliminated from playoff contention is a huge emotional letdown -- especially right before a game. A lot of people will point to the Eagles' hatred for the Cowboys as reason enough not to count them out, but I still think the Cowboys caught a big break when the game was moved back. I had a solid run picking games against the line for the Dallas Morning News from 2003 to 2006, but I do not advocate gambling. If someone forced me to offer a little gambling advice, I might say something like, "Avoid this game like the plague." The Eagles couldn't even seize the moment against a Redskins team that had been in implosion mode for a couple of months. What makes us think they'd suddenly embrace the role of spoiler? And stop telling me how the three hours will allow Eagles fans to partake in more holiday sauce. The Linc isn't close to the Vet when it comes to the intimidation factor. Sorry, but it's true.
Erik in Arlington: The Cowboys stink on offense. Is it just a very poor game plan by Jason Garrett or are the players not executing? I feel like Garrett neglects the run, doesn't set up play-actions, and doesn't call pass plays that can make it easier on the quarterback (slants, hooks, etc.). Also, I heard a good point that Romo didn't once throw a hot route against the Ravens to beat the blitz. I think that T.O. is seriously in Romo's head and it's affecting his performance.
MM: First of all, T.O. and Roy Williams appear to be chasing cars instead of running routes. You should focus on Williams, and just watch how there's no purpose to what he's doing. There's a story on ESPN.com today talking about Williams' frustration with his role in the offense. He said the exact same stuff to the NFC Beast blog a couple of weeks ago, so none of this is new. The funny part, though, is that T.O.'s now speaking on behalf of Williams. I absolutely love it. He realizes his act has grown tired, so now he's taking up the Williams cause.
T.O.'s pretty limited in what he can do right now. He doesn't run good routes and then he couldn't pick up the ball when he beat the Ravens deep Saturday. How much blame should we place on Garrett? Well, quite a bit. I think we've all underestimated how important Tony Sparano was to this offense, and there are at least four players on offense who would back me up on that. Garrett's scared to crack down on Tony Romo for not protecting the ball and he can't seem to get in any play-calling rhythm. Tashard Choice has become the Cowboys' most effective weapon, but Garrett got away from him at crucial moments in Saturday's game. I don't see how you can replace Wade Phillips with Garrett at this point.
Jason from Bryn Mawr, Pa. has a Romo question: First, allow me to clarify that I am not saying that Tony Romo is a bad quarterback, I think he is a very good quarterback, BUT we have a large enough sample size to say that Romo might not be the top-tier quarterback that he was proclaimed early last season. Romo has often been compared to his idol Brett Favre and it's ironic that Romo's biggest weakness is also the weakness of Favre -- careless turnovers. If Favre was less turnover prone maybe the Packers would have won two to three Super Bowls instead of one. Given the sample size, I am no longer sure that Romo will learn to be more careful with the football. On a team that also doesn't commit 10 penalties per game, maybe Romo is good enough to win a title. But no team in the NFL is good enough to overcome both a turnover-prone quarterback and a team with a penchant for dumb penalties.
MM: Romo's numbers suggest that he's a top-tier quarterback in this league, but I see where you're coming from. First of all, it was Favre's carefree style that defined him and will help make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Romo hasn't won a playoff game yet, so he'll continue to come under a lot of scrutiny. He came across as cavalier in describing his two interceptions against the Ravens after the game. He's a little too defensive at times, which can be traced to his head coach. The bottom line is that Romo misses guys like Bill Parcells, David Lee and Sean Payton in his life. They didn't give a hoot about his celebrity status because they knew him when he was a humble kid from Wisconsin. Jason Garrett and Wade Phillips coddle players -- and Romo's not a guy who needs that. Some of the things that drive you nuts about Romo are the same things that make him a unique talent. If he wins a couple of playoff games, all this stuff will die down. But I still think he's a top-tier quarterback. Yes, he makes mistakes. But he has the type of mentality where he can bounce right back and make big plays. He's probably taking too much heat right now for what happened against the Ravens. He put them back in the game twice in the fourth quarter, but the defense cratered on two long runs.
Jeff from Albany, N.Y. writes: Matt, any word on what you think the Eagles will do with Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid after the season?
MM: Jeff, I'm getting a lot of e-mail calling for Reid's job, but he's the safest guy in the building. The only way you might see him leave is if he decides to take a Cowher-like sabbatical. But Reid's certainly not cut out for TV, and he's not a real couch potato -- despite what his figure might suggest. He's not going anywhere.
With McNabb, it's sounding more and more as if the Eagles will bring him back. There's still a lot of doubt surrounding Kevin Kolb, and that second half against the Ravens didn't help his cause. Of course, that's a tough situation to get thrown into. McNabb's going to start asking for a new contract (probably already has) and he might force the Eagles' hand at some point. Publicly, he'll continue to talk about wanting to come back. Privately, I think he'd love the opportunity to play in front of a fan base that might embrace him. Some of his teammates (Dawkins, Runyan, Trotter) over the years fell in love with the Eagles' diehard fan base. McNabb never understood why fans were
so tough on him, and he'd love to try out another destination. But be careful what you wish for. There's a curse that comes along with playing quarterback in Chicago and he might feel somewhat irrelevant joining the Vikings. This is a story we'll stay on top of throughout the offseason.
Rhys in Calgary faxed this in: Mr. Mosley, I enjoy your writing. But I have to disagree with your assessment of Jason Garrett's play call on the option pitch. If you say that Tashard Choice was the only reliable option all game, then why was that a bad play call? Watching the play, the execution was perfect, the pitch was perfect, and then Choice dropped the ball with no one in the run lane. I'm just annoyed at how NFL coaches believe a dive up the gut on a short yardage play is the way to go.
MM: My problem wasn't with the design of the play. But why do you need to take a chance on an option pitch when you've had success running Choice inside all night? Or you could even quarterback sneak on third-and-inches. The Cowboys haven't run that option play in a game all season. I don't care if they run it in practice all the time. At a crucial point in the game, you asked a rookie to do something he's never done in a game at this level? It doesn't matter if it would've worked. It was an unnecessary risk, and I'm surprised I was alone in ripping Garrett for the play call.
Kurt from a cabin in Devon, Pa. actually sent this via snail mail: Matt, I saw it in your Audibles and I know it's not the first time this year you've done it, so thanks for giving Trent Cole some well-deserved credit. I realize that in a year with guys like DeMarcus Ware, John Abraham and Jared Allen getting all these sacks, a guy with only eight sacks isn't going to get that much attention. But he's getting a lot of those sacks despite double teams in blocking because of teams respecting him, and he also gets a ton of tackles for loss in the run game.
MM: Kurt, I have no problem praising Trent Cole. Wrote a column on his passion for hunting several weeks ago. Just an all-around good guy who happens to be a tremendous football player. His sack totals are down this season, but he's better than ever against the run -- and he takes a lot of pride in that. His presence has also helped guys like Juqua Parker and Darren Howard have solid seasons.
Philip from the Philly burbs asks the following question: What do the Eagles need to do Sunday to have success against the Cowboys' improved defense?
MM: Andy Reid has to stick with the running game for more than one series, Philip. It's that simple, but he can't get it through his head. He tried to use poor field position as an excuse for not running the ball against the Redskins. It was a pitiful attempt to explain away why he took his best weapon out of play. In their recent win over the Giants, the Eagles couldn't get anything going on their first eight or nine rushing attempts. But Reid stayed with it and the Eagles ended up wearing down New York's defensive line. Giving Brian Westbrook only 16 touches should be a crime for an offense-minded head coach. Westbrook is one of the best in the game, but the Eagles didn't take advantage of him. They need to do to Zach Thomas what they did to Antonio Pierce a couple weeks ago. Use Westbrook on those little bubble screens and wheel routes and get him in isolation with Thomas or Bradie James. In their three-game winning streak, the Eagles did a great job of putting themselves in third-and-short situations. If they end up in too many third-and-longs, DeMarcus Ware will a field day against left tackle Tra Thomas.
Ed from Bethlehem, Pa. writes: Matt, which one of these teams could make the longest playoff run?
MM: Ed, both of these teams are -- wait for it -- dangerous. But the quarterbacks are both streaky at times and don't always protect the ball. You could make the argument that the Cowboys have more weapons (T.O., Williams, Witten, Barber, Choice) than the Eagles, but I'm not sure Jason Garrett knows what to do with them. I keep thinking back to last season's Giants team. What did that team have in late December and early January that put them in a Super Bowl? In my mind, it was a fierce defense and a quarterback who didn't turn over the ball. Their pass rush was the best in football when it truly needed to be. For that reason (the dynamic pass rush), I think the Cowboys would have a better shot of getting hot in the playoffs. But honestly, I don't trust either team to make a big splash.
Folks, I hope you're having a wonderful holiday season. It's my pleasure and great privilege to be able to visit with you on a daily basis. Thanks for making this one of the top NFC East blogs (the only one) in the nation.