Eagles Keys To Beating Dallas: Stopping The Run by Matt Lombardo

On Sunday night the Eagles host the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC East game that is immensely important to both teams in the division race. As this heated rivalry is renewed, Taking It To The House will highlight one key to the Eagles winning the game each day until Sunday. Today how the Eagles will stop the Cowboys run game and limit rookie DeMarco Murray is put into focus.

Two weeks ago in Washington the Eagles defense played inspired football, as if a collective sense of pride kicked in and they grew tired of the headlines from a 1-4 start. Combined with a renewed attitude were slight tweaks by Defensive Coordinator Juan Castillo and Defensive Line Coach Jim Washburn, such as tightening the gaps created by the defensive ends on most first and second down situations.

The result of Castillo’s adjustments was an improved rush defense that allowed just 42 yards on 12 carries. However, the Redskins were in a 20-3 hole in the first half and without the starting right side of their offensive line by the third quarter, not exactly ideal conditions to remain dedicated to the run game. Dallas though, presents the challenge of an offense capable of both pounding the run game and spraying the ball all over the field through the air.

The new look Eagles rush defense will be put to the test against the Cowboys and rookie back DeMarco Murray on Sunday night. In his first career start Murray gashed the Rams for 253 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, setting a Cowboys rushing record in the process.

As a team, the Cowboys average 120 yards per game and keep it on the ground roughly 27 times per game. Against the Eagles defense though, Jason Garrett and company will likely attempt more run plays at the very least to set up the big play down after pulling an extra linebacker or safety closer to the line of scrimmage in run support.

Stopping the run has been far from the Eagles forte in the season’s first six games. The Birds at one point ranked 30th in the league against the run, and allow an average of 124 yards per game, good enough for 24th most efficient in the league.

So far this year Frank Gore, Fred Jackson, and Michael Turner all rushed for 100 yards or more against this team. The Birds hope that Murray doesn’t end up the next name on this list.

In recent weeks after much shuffling it appears as if with Moises Fokou, Jamar Chaney and Brian Rolle on the field, the Eagles have finally found the right combination of linebackers to slow down the run game. However, against the Cowboys who boast a stellar offensive line and the hard running Murray, they will be put to the test this week.

At first glance the best way to slow down the Cowboys rushing attack is to replicate the game plan against Washington by closing the wide nine along the defensive front, thus closing the rush lanes. However, by doing so the pass rush from ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole is sacrificed. It is a double edged sword that Washburn and Castillo must balance when devising their scheme for Sunday night.

Unlike the Redskins who trotted out Rex Grossman and John Beck who took turns turning the ball over against the Eagles, Tony Romo is capable of beating this team if given time in the pocket. With weapons such as Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Miles Austin at his disposal, Romo captains an offense that is far from one dimensional.

Stopping the run is crucial for the Eagles on Sunday night, but it cannot come at the expense of allowing Romo the time to find Witten over the middle of the field. The Cowboys’ All-Pro tight end has burned the Eagles for years and dedicating an extra linebacker in the box and creating open spaces for Witten to roam could spell doom. Needless to say, Castillo will earn his paycheck for finding the perfect balance to eliminate the run and limit Witten’s opportunities in the process.

Matt Lombardo is the Philadelphia Eagles beat  reporter and host for 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City, NJ. Matt can be reached on Twitter @MattLombardoPHL or by Email at MDLombardo@yahoo.com


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