Pass-first Cowboys present huge challenge
The pocket collapses and the play breaks down. That's the exact moment Tony Romo goes to work, and when he's at his most dangerous.
Last year, the Cowboys quarterback threw for 505 yards outside the pocket, to go along with a league-best seven touchdown tosses. Last week, he brushed aside a Redskins blitz and found Terrance Williams in the corner of the end zone for an easy six points. He's not quite Houdini, but he can be as elusive as a magician outside the pocket.
"It's very important that we finish plays and not get caught up with him running around," said Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans. "He's going to run around and throw the ball, and we definitely have to stay in our coverage and stay keyed on our man."
The key, as Ryans pointed out, is staying in coverage. The minute a defensive back gambles against Romo is the minute the ref is raising his hand to signal six points.
"Tony will see the field," said defensive coordinator Billy Davis. "He's got vision of the whole field and he'll find the guy that just [you] drift off of and we can't drift off our coverage."
Of course, sometimes Romo's great elusiveness can get him into trouble. One of the knocks on him is that he throws into traffic too often.
"When you study him over time, he's either really hot or really off," Davis said. "He may be first-half hot, second-half cold, and vice versa. You have to play him all the way through four quarters."
Romo holds the third-best passer rating in all of football, at 108.6.
"He's a good player. He's a top quarterback in this league, and he shows it on film," Ryans said.
And the Eagles' defense will have its hands full, not only with Romo, but with all the playmakers around him. The Cowboys enter Sunday's game ranked No. 7 in passing yards (1,590), No. 2 in points (30.5) and No. 6 in first downs (126). With all that Texas gun-slinging going on, the focus will be on stopping the aerial attack. Still, the Birds need to guard against the tiniest threat of a running game.
"They're a pass-first team, so we have to focus on the pass first," Ryans said. "But, we can't completely forget about the run because they do have a solid offensive line that does a good job of protecting and run-blocking, so we still have to be protective of the run."