BTB - The offensive line is playing better, some of that is Romo and some of that is just them. The Dallas starting line this year was made up of a LT coming back from an ACL, a free agent LG, a backup center/guard taking over as the starting center, a holdover RG, and a RT who is a free agent from the middle of last year starting for the first time after years of recovering from injury. That's not a group that has logged a lot of time playing together. During the early part of the season, they definitely had their struggles. a lot of the time from mental mistakes in the protection schemes. Add in the immobile Drew Bledsoe, and it just didn't work. But as the season has gone on, they've gotten better as a unit and are much better in handling blitzes. Add in Romo's mobility, but just as important his quick release and quick reads, and it the whole thing is working very well.
BGN - As an outsider that has only seen a few Dallas games this year... I have to ask. Why is Julius Jones the feature back? Maybe it's because I've only seen a few games, but it appears to me that Marion Barber is the superior player.
BTB - This is a very popular subject among the Cowboy faithful, I've written several articles on it myself. Jones was supposed to be the feature back to start the season based on his phenomenal rookie year. Last year, he suffered a high ankle sprain and ran behind a bad line in the last half of the season, so it was a lost year for him. At the beginning of this year, he was very good, he compiled good enough numbers that he has 1,000 yards even though he's slumped in the last month. So he's definitely done a good job this year. Early on Barber was used mostly on 3rd downs and short yardage situations, especially at the goal line, and even then we could see how well he was running. As the year progressed, Barber got more time in the offense to where he's now sharing touches with Jones evenly. Parcells considers Barber as "the closer", he wants him fresh to pound a team in the 4th quarter and eat up the clock while protecting a lead. Parcells is operating under the "don't fix it if it ain't broke" theory. But don't be fooled, Barber is getting a lot more time, even earlier in games, and you'll see him often enough on Monday.
BGN - Certainly a massive reason the Eagles were able to beat the Cowboys early in the year was that they repeatedly took advantage of their safeties. Roy Williams and the different guys they used opposite him were victimized all night. Has the safety play in Dallas improved since then?
BTB - Maybe it's improved a little, but it is still the most vulnerable area on our defense. Rookie Pat Watkins, who got torched by the Eagles at FS, was benched for a while by Parcells, but he played him in the last game against Atlanta and he looked better. The Cowboys signed free agent veteran Tony Parrish from San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, and he might see some time in this game for the first time as a Cowboy. We've also taken Nate Jones, who was our 5th corner, and started playing him at FS in the nickel. All of these moves show you just how desperate Dallas is to fix this area. With Roy Williams, you live with his blown coverages to get his turnovers and big hits on defense. But if you want to attack the Cowboys on defense, safety is the spot to do it.
BGN - A reason the Cowboys nearly beat the Eagles earlier this year was Greg Ellis. How is the front 7 of Dallas faring without him?
BTB - Against the run, we haven't suffered that much. Veteran backup Al Singleton was always good against the run, he's just not a dynamic player in the pass rush. Rookie Bobby Carpenter had his first good game last week since becoming the primary backup to Singleton. He's getting better at playing the run and may be able to contribute in the pass rush soon. But without Ellis, teams are doubling and tripling DeMarcus Ware, who is "the player" in the pass rush now for Dallas. He's still causing havoc, but he really has to work at it. But overall in getting pressure on the QB, the Cowboys aren't as consistent as they were with Ellis in there. Watch for rookie defensive end Jason Hatcher on the nickel defense, he's shown he can get pressure.
BGN - I'll steal your question here. What is your gameplan to win this game and capture the NFC East?
BTB - On offense, we'll come out in the first half mixing the run with the pass. Since the Eagles have been vulnerable to the run lately, I expect us to run a little more than usual in the first half and try to grab a lead. In the second half, Dallas will try to pound the Eagles' defense with Barber and break their spirit. Romo will get his chances, but if things go according to plan Dallas would love to win this game on the ground.
On defense, they need to push the linebackers and the secondary forward and take away the short passing game from Garcia. I would play tight coverage until Garcia shows he can beat Dallas over the top. Dallas should force him to throw passes outside the hash-marks and deeper than he wants to. I also don't want him getting outside the pocket, so they need a disciplined pass rush and use timing blitzes to get pressure. Oh yeah, one other thing, tackle Westbrook, he always scares me.