THE EAGLES' offense might have something of an advantage in Saturday's matchup at Dallas, in that this is the third game in a row against a 3-4 defense, all with similar roots. In fact, it is the second week in a row against a "Ryan brothers" defense, Jets head coach Rex last weekend, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob this weekend.
"They're definitely similar. They've got some of the same blitzes, same formations, same personnel," Eagles tight end Clay Harbor said yesterday. "Really, the last 3 weeks, we've had a lot of similarities in the defenses. You don't have to make as many adjustments going from week to week. We can stick with some of the same rules we had in last week."
Quarterback Michael Vick didn't seem to see any advantage, even though the Birds' top two scoring games have come against the Cowboys (34 points on Oct. 30) and the Jets (45 on Sunday): "Two complicated, tough defenses back to back. We've just got our work cut out for us," said Vick, who didn't delve too deeply into anything after yesterday's brief practice. The Birds usually are off on Tuesday, but with a Saturday game, the schedule is moved up.
"I think both of them have the same mindset, but their personnel is totally different," wideout Jason Avant said.
That, of course, makes a big difference in the way a defense looks and plays. Even if Rex and Rob are twins, the Jets don't have DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff up front. The Cowboys, ranked 19th against the pass (the Jets are seventh), don't have Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie on the corners.
From a tight end's perspective, Harbor said, "The other guys we played against were good players. This week, we know we've got great players. [But] we know their tendencies better. Ware and [Anthony] Spencer are more likely to pass rush than some of the [Dolphins' and Jets'] outside linebackers."
Personnel differences do change things, Harbor said, "but just on what your man is going to do, not on the defensive scheme."
Fellow tight end Brent Celek said: "They're pretty similar. Rex' defense, they might move around a little bit more, but pretty much the same concepts."
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was asked about the Eagles and the back-to-back Ryans in yesterday's conference call with Philadelphia-area reporters.
"There are probably some similarities, but there are some similarities with what we do and a lot of defenses around the league," Garrett said. "There are a lot of defenses that come from kind of the same family. That happens on your schedule, probably a few times throughout the year. We're who we are; the Jets are who they are."
Eagles center Jason Kelce said the offensive line made some changes in how it attacks a 3-4 front, after struggling through the Miami victory. Kelce said of offensive-line coach Howard Mudd, "when things aren't working, he knows how to get 'em fixed . . . He was very disappointed in the offense in general [after Miami], in how we attacked the run game . . . Everything that happened in the Miami game was really correctable mistakes. I think we did a good job of correcting most of them for the New York Jets game, and we saw improvement."
LeSean McCoy went from 27 carries for 38 yards against Miami to 18 carries for 102 yards against the Jets.
"The Jets are more similar to the Cowboys, than the Dolphins were similar to the Jets," said Kelce, who noted the personnel differences. "I think the Ryan brothers are very similar in their defensive strategies."
Avant said Rex Ryan's personnel leads him to play more man-to-man coverage than Rob usually employs. Maybe the outside receivers won't have Revis to worry about, but for a slot guy like Avant, the presence of safety Gerald Sensabaugh makes the Cowboys' secondary formidable - maybe more formidable than the Jets were Sunday, without injured safety Jim Leonhard.
"Both of those guys like to play a lot of 'single high,' like to create confusion up front," wideout Jeremy Maclin said. "They are different. The Cowboys, whenever they play us, have a tendency to try to throw things at us we haven't seen, try to throw us off yet . . . I think we'll get similar to what we saw [last time], with them probably trying to bring a little more pressure."
McCoy gained a career-high 185 yards on 30 carries in the previous meeting.
"You don't want to say that it will carry over, because I think they'll probably do some things defensively to make sure that it doesn't happen, on their part," Kelce said. "But it's definitely a confidence booster knowing that you've already done it once."
The Eagles could get a boost from the Giants-Jets game that should be concluding as they take the field Christmas Eve in Dallas. Or they could learn that they have been eliminated from the playoff race, with a Giants victory.
Either way, the Eagles' focus has to be the Cowboys, quarterback Michael Vick said yesterday, echoing coach Andy Reid.
"You keep an eye [on what's happening], but you try to stay away from watching it. You've got to take care of your responsibilities," Vick said as the Birds began preparations for Dallas. The Eagles' slim hopes of winning the NFC East - their only path to the playoffs now - rest on the Jets beating the Giants, the Eagles winning in Dallas, then the Giants beating Dallas the final weekend of the season while the Eagles beat the Redskins.
Eagles rookie Curtis Marsh has been involved in two punt-team disasters the past 2 weeks, his fumble against the Dolphins after a lateral from DeSean Jackson and the ball that took a weird bounce and hit his shoulder against the Jets, then was recovered by New York. Both times, the Eagles' defense got the ball back right away, on a fumble and an interception, respectively.
"I guess my boys got my back," Marsh said yesterday. "It's always unfortunate when you cost your team like that . . . What are the odds?"
Marsh, engaged blocking a Jet, didn't hear Jackson's warning to clear out and that the punt was short.
"I know that I could have been looking at DeSean . . . I need to look at DeSean and see the hand signal," Marsh said.