Eagles Keys To Beating Dallas: Limiting Jason Witten 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, the Eagles ability to limit Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is put into focus. 

In recent years there hasn’t been one Dallas Cowboy player more apt at having big games against the Eagles than Jason Witten. Against an Eagles defense that seems built to choose whether to rush the passer effectively or stop the run, while not succeeding yet this season at doing both simultaneously, there may not be a more important player on the field Sunday night than Jason Witten. Slowing him down could make or break the Eagles efforts on defense.

Witten has basically played an entire season against the Eagles in his nine year career, and the numbers are staggering. In 15 games against Philadelphia, the Cowboys tight end has accumulated 87 catches for 911 yards and 7 touchdowns. That means Witten averages nearly six catches for 61 yards against this team in his career.

Needless to say, coordinator Juan Castillo and the Eagles defense better have a plan to eliminate Witten on Sunday night.

Because the Cowboys are so effective running the football, the Eagles brittle linebackers must walk a fine line between crowding the line of scrimmage in run support and dedicating either Moises Fokou or Brian Rolle to covering Witten. It is also possible that Castillo will choose to isolate Nnamdi Asomugha on Jason Witten, but that strategy would leave the likes of Dez Bryant and Miles Austin up against the gambling Asante Samuel or inconsistent Dominique Rodgers-Chromartie.

So far this season the eagles have struggled against the tight end. Tony Gonzalez was the centerpiece of the Falcons offensive attack in week two, grabbing seven catches for 83 yards and two scores. In week four, Vernon Davis snuck through the Eagles defense for forty five yards and a late touchdown. Even two weeks ago against the Redskins, Fred Davis led all Washington receivers with six catches for 95 years.

In a sense, the Eagles defensive scheme hinges on the success of each of its facets. If the Birds keep the wide nine alignment to better utilize Jason Babin and a healthy Trent Cole on the defensive line, they wil have a better chance of rattling Tony Romo and forcing him into mistakes. However, if the pass rush fails or the Cowboys come out running the football early, it will be much easier for Dallas to dictate the pace of the game both with rookie back DeMarco Murray and through the air with Witten in the middle of the Eagles defense.

In the last 15 games against the Cowboys the Eagles have rarely found the formula to eliminating Witten, but on Sunday that must be of paramount concern if the Eagles look to succeed in this must win NFC East game.

 

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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