Eagles Turn The Corner In Dominant Win Over Cowboys by Matt Lombardo

Behind back-to-back career games by LeSean McCoy, and strong play from Michael Vick, the Eagles have re-established themselves as a favorite in the NFC East and appear to be hitting their stride after a 1-4 start. 

The most optimistic of fans and even some players believed that the Eagles had found themselves in the second half of a week five loss to the Buffalo Bills. Any lingering doubts that the Eagles had turned a corner were put to rest in Sunday night’s 34-7 win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Philadelphia has now won two in a row, both in pivotal NFC East division games, giving a renewed sense that this team can contend for a division title. It isn’t simply that they won those games, but the way in which they dismantled the Redskins and Cowboys with surgical precision that gives the impression that the Birds have salvaged their season after a woeful 1-4 start.

On Sunday night the Eagles played at a Super Bowl caliber level on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Offensively, it was RB LeSean McCoy and QB Michael Vick that led the way.

For the second consecutive game, McCoy set a career-high in carries, toting the rock 28 times against the Redskins two weeks ago and 30 on Sunday night against Dallas. Sunday very well may have been the national coming out party for McCoy who has emerged as one of the premier running backs in the league. The Eagles workhorse finished with 30 carries for 185 yards and two touchdowns against the Cowboys.

“He’s a beast,” Jeremy Maclin said of McCoy. “He’s definitely one of the premier backs in this league. He does great things with the ball in his hands. I think today we had a great balance of run and pass and think if we do that and we can maintain that, we’re going to be pretty tough to beat.”

Perhaps most impressive about McCoy’s performance in recent weeks is his ability not only to convert in short yardage situations, but his vast improvement in pass blocking.

“This week Shady sat in on a meeting with the centers and guards to go over protections in the passing game with Howard Mudd,” Eagles Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “As impressive as he is as a runner, it has been great to see him improve that aspect of his game as well.”

It appears that Head Coach Andy Reid has seen the light and realizes that in McCoy, he has a back at his disposal that not only can catch the ball out of the backfield, but is a game changer that can more than handle a sizeable workload. Through eight weeks McCoy is just 44 yards behind Adrian Peterson for the league lead in rushing yards with 754. He leads the league in rushes of 10 yards or more and is averaging nearly 7 yards per carry. Monster McCoy games look good on the Eagles who are 5-1 when he carries the ball 20 or more times.

Then, there was Vick on Sunday Night.

Regardless of what the numbers say, (21-28 for 279 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions), Sunday night against the Cowboys marks Vick’s highwater mark as an Eagle. No. 7 was terrific pre-snap against a Cowboys defense that likes to use deception by walking linebackers up to the line and disguising their looks before the play. Not only was Vick able to recognize those looks but also audibile into the perfect play to beat the defense as it developed. On Philadelphia’s first touchdown of the game, the Cowboys showed a max blitz before the snap and Vick astutely checked into a pass to Maclin which ended up with seven points on the board.

“They brought the blitz,” Vick said of his audible on the Maclin touchdown pass. . “I thought we had a pretty good play on, but I just didn’t like it and I wanted to get out of it and was able to check at the very last minute. It was great communication and I give a lot of credit to the guys for putting themselves in a position to score and make the play.

Later, the Cowboys initially showed Blitz but then dropped their linebackers back in a zone read and again, Vick audibled, this time into a McCoy run for six yards.

Overall, the Eagles offensive game plan was masterful. Not only did they committ to the run game early, but in the passing game called for more shotgun snaps and three step drops which got the ball out of Vick’s hands quicker, limiting the chances for tipped balls at the line of scrimmage. Many of those pass plays were on intermediate routes rather than the lower percentage deep balls that the Birds have relied on so often. That game plan and Vick’s poise in the pocket also snapped a 13-game turnover streak, including the playoffs.

With McCoy’s dominance and a game plan tailored to get the most out of Vick, the Eagles are going to coninue to be one of the more difficult teams in the league to defend.

Defensively, the Eagles are hitting their stride.

In the last two weeks the Eagles have allowed a combined 127 yards rushing thanks in large part to much improved linebacker play.

“I think when you go back and watch the film, watching the way our linebackers played, they’ve upped their game,” defensive end Jason Babin said after picking up two more sacks on Tony Romo. “They’re coming down hill, hitting people and I see some attitude and swagger out of them. Chaney’s taking control of the huddle, and our secondary’s really starting to mesh back there.”

Jamar Chaney seems to be finding his groove back at middle linebacker. He finished with a team high seven tackles against the Cowboys and has played at a consistently higher level since his fourth quarter interception against the Bills in week five.

“We saw that in the second Buffalo game,” Reid said of Chaney’s continued improvement. “He made that interception and some of the things he was doing in there leadership-wise were important. I can almost use that interception as the point at which his game changed and he felt more comfortable in there.”

Because of the lockout, it seems that defenses across the league have taken much longer to take a foothold. The Eagles certainly are no different, but many players talked about gaining confidence in each other and Juan Castillo’s scheme in recent weeks. It appears that the Eagles defensive coordinator is also gaining some instincts on game day.

“Every game’s differen’t. If you have to blitz, you blitz,” Castillo said Sunday night. “If you don’t have to blitz, you don’t blitz. If you ask some of the guys, Jim Johnson and I had some blitzes that Jim would have liked, but we don’t always have to use them. Whatever you have to do to win on that night you do.”

Make no mistake, the Eagles are nowhere near where they need to be to be considered legitimate Super Bowl or playoff contenders at this point, at 3-4. However, They are playing at a much higher level in recent weeks and in a mediocre division there is plenty of reason to believe that this team has recovered from it’s sluggish start. The Eagles host Chicago on Monday Night Football next week, and if they can continue to play dominant football on both sides of the ball, then they are going to be a team to be reckoned with down the stretch.

Eagles linebacker Brian Rolle talks about the Eagles win over the Cowboys and biggest keys to the team’s turnaround in recent weeks.

 

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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