I was hesitant to say that the Eagles were facing a make it or break it situation heading into their 34-7 pasting of the division-rival Dallas Cowboys, but it was in fact a game that will hopefully set the tone for the rest of the season for the Birds.
After showing off an impressive defensive stand against the Redskins the Birds followed the trend in this one with back to back outstanding executions on the defensive side of the ball. They almost shut out one of the best offenses in the National Football League and that wasn’t an easy chore.
Coach Reid asserted that the tone was set on both sides of the ball by the line. The key this game from a defensive standpoint is the fact that they played 60 minutes. The men in midnight green held a 24-point lead heading into halftime, but the defense came up huge staying consistent throughout game and not letting it turn into another 49ers second-half disaster.
The first drive told the story. The Cowboys started out with great field position with the ball on their own 45-yard line. On that first drive the Eagles recorded two sacks with left defensive end Jason Babin getting to Tony Romo and right defensive end Trent Cole assisting. On third down, Trevor Laws came up with a big sack to force the Cowboys to punt.
The key to the sacks was the fact that the secondary forced Romo to hang onto the football. He didn’t have an open receiver to throw to, so he had to pull the ball down and that’s when the guys upfront got to him.
The D-line accounted for four sacks in the game including two by Babin. The defensive end contributed to an overall defensive effort that gave up just under 130 yards through the air until Romo was able to connect with wide-out Laurent Robinson for a 4th quarter touchdown. Up until that point the D-line gave Romo almost no time to throw ball as he spent most of the game scrambling out of the pocket and rushing throws that just weren’t there.
Defensive end Trent Cole also returned to the lineup in this one after missing the two previous games. Cole made his presence known in this one registering a sack in the game as well as adding to the pressure inflicted on Romo. The tandem of Cole and Babin is arguably the best 1-2 punch of defensive ends in the league.
“They both feed off of each other,” defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said. Feed off of each other is exactly what they did as the two combined for three sacks in the game. “I said earlier that there’s 100 percent, and then there’s Jason-Babin and Trent-Cole percent. They’re special. They’re trying to beat each other to see who has more sacks, it’s relentless. I think what happens is when one of them looks over at the other one, they give each other, if that’s possible to say, they give each other more energy.”
It is proven that when the former Cincinnati Bearcat is in the lineup that the defense produces a much higher output of quarterback hits. On the season the Eagles have a mere three sacks without Cole in the lineup. The end is a proven impact as soon as he steps on the field. With the return of Cole, along with a well-rested d-line following the bye week, defensive line coach Washburn had a versatile rotation of lineman to work with along with giving certain playmakers time to rest in the process.
With the defensive line setting the stage, the linebackers and secondary followed. While clogging up running lanes, Romo was forced to bring his team back into the game through the air. The QB had minimal luck in this regard as the corners blanketed Cowboys receivers holding wide-out Dez Bryant and all-pro tight end Jason Witten to a combined 7 receptions for 56 yards and no touchdowns.
Containment of the tight ends and running backs have been the Achilles heel on the Eagles defense all season, but those positions were not at all a factor in the game as the Birds executed to near perfection.
Cornerback Nhamdi Asoumugha called the performance of the defense a team effort that was consisted of all the defensive players doing their jobs. With the overwhelming pass rush put on by the front four, Asomugha and his secondary-mates were able to mix up the coverages, then lock down the receivers they were covering. The Birds secondary played both zone and man-to-man defenses which kept Tony Romo off balanced in his reads.
resulted in the corner recording a pick in the game. He took yet another step forward in the progression that Castillo has been making in matching personnel to the coverages and defensive fronts.
Asomugha along with fellow Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel have been in talks with Castillo in their progression to play coverages which allow them to best use their skills. Asomugha understands that it is Castillo’s first time in this position as defensive coordinator and that there is a lot of pressure on him in balancing the attributes of major playmakers such as Jason Babin on the lin,e as well as the expertise of corners himself, Samuel and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie in the secondary.
The bottom-line for the players and coaches alike is to put a winning formula on the field. With both sides having this in mindset going into each week as they prepare for each opponent, they will be able to better put together a defensive game plan each week that gets the job done.