Commentary

Red zone performance will be a huge factor

Gary Horton knows what to pay attention to during the Eagles-Cowboys MNF game.

Originally Published: September 12, 2008
By Gary Horton | Scouts Inc.

This week's second "Monday Night Football" game (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET) features the Eagles on the road versus the Cowboys. Scouts Inc. has all the story lines to watch in this NFC East matchup.


3-4 is a possibility
Although the Eagles stay true to their 4-3 defensive front with a lot of blitz schemes behind it, don't be shocked to see some 3-4 this week to mix things up. They have a group of athletic defensive ends that have enough movement skills to play outside linebacker in the 3-4 look. This would give them a wider edge rush and could give the huge and talented Cowboys offensive linemen some challenges in their pass-protection adjustments.

Capitalize on Cowboys' aggressiveness
The Cowboys are quick on defense, but they tend to over-pursue and the Eagles may be able to take advantage of it, especially with RB Brian Westbrook. They will move him outside, put him in motion, run counter plays or reverses and even use some misdirection to capitalize on the Cowboys' aggressiveness. Also, look for some screen passes to keep the Cowboys on their toes.

Trickery in the red zone
The Eagles love the shovel pass in the red zone and they have scored a lot of touchdowns off it with Westbrook. QB Donovan McNabb will look like he is rolling out or even running an option while his interior linemen try to get kickoff blocks to the outside before the little shovel pass goes to Westbrook. Don't be surprised if the Eagles bring this play out near the goal line versus the Cowboys.

McNabb on the move
Look for McNabb to increase his rushing efforts this week versus a Cowboys defense that could be a little vulnerable at inside linebacker. He only had one rush last week versus St. Louis, but he is healthy and he loves to run the quarterback draw or roll out on bootlegs, where he can throw or run. Plus, when he gets out of the pocket he really puts pressure on defenses to maintain their coverage.


Red zone options
When you break the Cowboys down on film, you have to really like their red zone package. RB Marion Barber does the heavy lifting inside behind a huge offensive line that gets a big push, and he is pretty good at leaping over the pile. However, QB Tony Romo is also good at faking the ball to Barber on play-action, giving himself several options to score. His first look will be to WR Terrell Owens on the fade, which is a great size mismatch versus a smaller corner. Second, he can look for TE Jason Witten over the middle or on a quick out. Third, he can look for WR Patrick Crayton, who will be single-covered. And if no receivers are open, Romo can keep the ball and make the play with his feet. Those are a lot of possibilities for the Eagles to prepare for.

Scary running back duo
Before this year's draft, it looked like the Cowboys would ask Barber to handle the load full-time in the run game, which would have been unfamiliar to him. He shared the load in college and for the first three years in Dallas. However, now that Felix Jones is in the mix, Barber doesn't have to carry the load by himself, which seems to suit him perfectly. He is a physical back who can pound defenses early and finish a game, while Jones is an explosive open-field runner with big-play capabilities. These two playing behind a great offensive line may develop into the best running back tandem in the league.

Romo can't have happy feet
Romo worked hard in the offseason to make improvements in his game, and a big part of his concentration was on his footwork. Last year he got in to a bad habit of shuffling his feet and sliding up in the pocket, which put him closer to the inside rush. Therefore, if the pocket started to collapse, he was quickly in trouble. Now Romo is sitting back in the pocket while avoiding happy feet; versus Cleveland last week he set up deep in the pocket and was barely touched.

Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm, The War Room.

Gary Horton spent 10 years in the NFL as a scout and another 10 years at the college level as an assistant coach and recruiter. He is the founder and most seasoned member of the Scouts Inc. staff, and his extensive experience at all levels of football make him an excellent talent evaluator.