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Eagles blitz their way past Cowboys

PHILADELPHIA -- It is termed, rather fittingly, "Tex-11" in the Philadelphia Eagles' voluminous defensive playbook, one of the jillion or so Byzantine blitzes that coordinator Jim Johnson has conjured up over his long NFL career.

And one that he dialed up time after time here Sunday afternoon to send a certain Texas 11 limping out of Lincoln Financial Field with a big knot on its collective noggin.

If the "Tex 11" gambit wasn't quite the cornerstone of the Philadelphia defensive game plan in the 38-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, several Eagles' defenders explained it was clearly a significant building block. And the extensive utilization of the inside blitz, in which middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter walks up to the line of scrimmage and challenges the pocket from the inside, allowed the Eagles to drop a ton of bricks on the head of embattled Cowboys' quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

"Our whole attitude was just like, 'Keep bringing it, keep bringing it, keep bringing it,' because we wanted to hit (Bledsoe) as often as we could, and break him down," said Eagles' defensive tackle Darwin Walker, whose career-best three sacks led a merciless and unrelenting siege on the Dallas quarterback. "Sooner or later, you hit a guy that much, he's got to crack a little. And, man, we kept hitting him."

The highlight packages will all air video of cornerback Lito Sheppard's second interception of the game, and his electrifying 102-yard touchdown return which repelled a last-minute Dallas effort. And long touchdown grabs by wide receivers Hank Baskett (87 yards) and Reggie Brown (40 yards on a flea-flicker) will get plenty of replay mileage as well. Those two long scores, the first lifting the Eagle from a four-point deficit halfway through the third quarter, and the latter of which snapped a fourth-quarter tie, helped quarterback Donovan McNabb throw for 354 yards.

Those big plays also helped the Eagles snap a seven-game losing streak against NFC East rivals and may have established Philadelphia as the favorites in an always difficult division.

But make no mistake: Even though the Eagles' defense surrendered 320 yards, 23 first downs and nearly 37 minutes in time of possession, it was the unit most responsible for hammering out a key victory. And put the emphasis on hammering, because the defense left Bledsoe with a welt-pocked body after a game in which he was pummeled from the outset.

"A lot of people might say, 'Well, they gave up some drives and some points, and they almost let (Dallas) tie the game,' and there's something to that," said cornerback Sheldon Brown. "But we played hard and we played tough. You ask the guys down the hall in the other locker room how hard we hit them. If it moved, we hit it, and it all started with those guys upfront. I mean, they made our jobs (in the secondary) a whole lot easier because of the pressure they had going."

The Philadelphia defense, which came into the game with 16 sacks, the second most in the NFL, collected seven more, and all of them were from linemen. The only non-lineman with a sack through the first outings in 2006 is Lewis, who has two. That's a pretty notable difference for a Johnson-designed scheme, because the Philadelphia coordinator likes to bring the heat from so many exotic angles.

Two years ago, the Eagles had 14 different defenders with at least one sack. Even in 2005, when the team had just 29 sacks, the sixth-fewest in the league, Philadelphia had 11 defenders with sacks. On Sunday, the sacks went to Walker (three), left end Darren Howard (two), right end Trent Cole and reserve end Juqua Thomas (one each).

Such constant pressure took a toll. In addition to the seven sacks, Bledsoe was unofficially hit a dozen other times and knocked down on at least seven other occasions. Rarely was the 14-year pro able to comfortably set his feet. And the Cowboys, as a result, had five turnovers, three interceptions and two lost fumbles. Of the Eagles' 38 points, 17 resulted directly from defensive takeaways. Dallas had 14 offensive possessions and only two of the series didn't include at least one negative play.

It was fashionable during the post-mortems in the Philadelphia locker room Sunday night to assign almost an Armageddon-type quality to what had transpired. In truth, despite the circus atmosphere generated by the return of Terrell Owens to city where he was once revered and is now reviled, it was just a football game. Fact is, there were times when Dallas appeared, in short stretches, to be the better team. But the Eagles' defense wasn't about to let the game get away.

"I couldn't have looked at myself in the mirror (Monday) morning," said Sheppard, whose last-minute pickoff came when Dallas tight end Jason Witten hooked inside and Bledsoe misread the route adjustment. "No way were we going to let them off the hook. Give credit to those guys upfront for allowing us to play Owens and their other receivers the way we did."

The performance of the Philadelphia defensive linemen allowed Johnson to protect an undermanned secondary, which had the benefit of Sheppard back in the lineup for the first time since the opening quarter of the opening game of the season, when he suffered a high ankle sprain.

To counter the potential for big plays from Owens, and to double him on many coverages, and to keep a defender at home against the draw plays that are a staple of the Dallas running attack, Johnson usually kept at least one safety deep. There appeared to even be a few snaps on which the Eagles played some "cover two" looks, with both safeties deep.

"Our whole attitude was just like, 'Keep bringing it, keep bringing it, keep bringing it,' because we wanted to hit (Bledsoe) as often as we could, and break him down. Sooner or later, you hit a guy that much, he's got to crack a little. And, man, we kept hitting him."
Darwin Walker, Eagles DT

But the bigger key was the extensive use of the "Tex 11" blitz, because it forced the Dallas offensive line, and in particular left guard Kyle Kosier, to make some pass protection decisions. In too many instances, especially plays on which Walker was running an inside "twist" or stunting with an end, Kosier and left tackle Flozell Adams took the wrong options. Hardly noted for his elusiveness, Bledsoe didn't stand much of a chance, even when he was left standing, which wasn't very often.

The perception was that the Eagles created pressure without many blitzes, but that wasn't true. It didn't help the Cowboys or Bledsoe, either, that the offensive line continued to play unevenly. It is a unit that, even after making adjustments at halftime, struggled mightily to staunch the Philadelphia pass rush.

"The thing about having (Trotter) blitzing, and he came a lot, was that he's so big and he's coming so hard with such momentum moving forward, that he pushes everything backwards," said Howard. "If the guard guesses wrong, and blocks the wrong guy, it allows (Walker) to just come free. But even when they make the right choice, Jeremiah is occupying people inside and compressing room in there. And that makes it a lot easier for the linemen to get the kind of penetration we got tonight."

On Wednesday afternoon, at practice, Philadelphia coach Andy Reid told his charges that he felt the game would be won by the offensive and defensive lines. He was half-right but, for this game, Reid will take that .500 batting average, since the Eagles batted Bledsoe around so much.

Surrounded by a media horde, Walker stood for a long time wearing a white tank-top, sometimes referred to as a "wife-beater," before pulling on his dress shirt. When someone mentioned to Walker that a better name on this day would be "quarterback-beater," the veteran defensive tackle smiled.

"I'm so pumped right now, I don't know if I can sleep tonight," Walker said. "Even when I go to bed, I'll probably lie awake thinking about those three sacks, about how hard we rushed the quarterback tonight. I may not fall asleep at all."

Insomnia might be a blessing for Bledsoe, who figures to have nightmares about the manner in which the Philadelphia front harassed him. The generous use of the "Tex 11" blitz, which unofficially led to at least four sacks, might have Bledsoe thinking the Eagles were playing with more than 11 defenders on the field, Cole agreed.

"We made sure that Drew knew we were there," said the second-year Philadelphia end, who now has six sacks, one more than he rang up for his entire rookie season. "We buzzed all around him."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.