Mike McGlynn will face his toughest test this season.
For all the great matchups that this most recent Philadelphia Eagles-Dallas Cowboys showdown will feature -- DeMarcus Ware vs. Jason Peters, DeSean Jackson vs. the entire Cowboys' secondary, Jason Garrett vs. Sean McDermott, etc. -- there is one that will decide the outcome of the game, and it's not any just mentioned.
Instead, the matchup to watch will be Mike McGlynn and the guards against Jay Ratliff and the Cowboys inside linebackers.
Because the Cowboys run the 3-4, left guard Todd Herremans and whomever will be starting at right guard (Nick Cole or Max Jean-Gilles) will not have a guy directly across from them. They will be counted upon to make blocks on the second level all game long while McGlynn will be counted upon to move Ratliff.
Ratliff, although he is a nose tackle, does not play a two-gap style (meaning he attempts to control both 'A' gaps by creating a stalemate at the line) that most nose tackles play. Instead, he is usually shooting either gap in an attempt to create havoc in the backfield.
What this does is force the guard on either side to be aware of what Ratliff is doing. It's likely that both guys will crash down on Ratliff to help McGlynn move him off the line of scrimmage, then scrape off to the second level and leave the rest to McGlynn.
Because Ratliff will be shooting one gap or another, one guy won't be needed. But Eagles offensive line coach Juan Castillo will likely tell both guys to react to Ratliff first before heading to the linebacker.
If those three guys can work together, moving Ratliff should not be an issue. At only 303 pounds, he should not be too difficult to move for two guys who weigh, at a minimum, a combined 640 pounds.
The problem I see is going to be neutralizing Ratliff and then getting to the second level on time.
Herremans is a fairly athletic guy, so he should not have a hard time getting in front of either Bradie James or Keith Brooking.
Cole and Jean-Gilles, on the other hand, are a serious cause for concern. Neither guy is very quick, nor do they have great feet. Both seem competent at blocking guys who are right across from them, but getting down onto linebackers is going to be a challenge for them.
The concern has to be that in the running game there will be a guy roaming freely. Of course, moving Ratliff off the line is the first priority and doing that should allow LeSean McCoy three or four yards on every carry, but a linebacker moving freely is going to prevent the big gains we're used to out of McCoy.
The passing game also presents a problem. While McGlynn has been very good all year long, I'm not sure if he's ready to handle a guy like Ratliff one-on-one. And if the Cowboys are smart and blitz their inside linebackers, that's what he's going to be asked to do.
If the Cowboys bring both Brooking and James right at the guards, it's going to mean absolutely no help for McGlynn. And because Ratliff shoots a gap, it's going to leave the middle wide open unless the guard can step in and fill where McGlynn and Ratliff have vacated.
If it's Herremans who's being asked to step down, it's not a big deal. But if it's Cole or Jean-Gilles, the same problems arise as in the run game.
Because neither have good feet, they try to lunge at guys and are usually left either on the ground watching the blitzer hit Michael Vick or they're being flagged because they grabbed his jersey and held on for dear life.
Or, in other words, the Cowboys could do the exact same thing they did at the end of last season when they embarrassed the Eagles in consecutive weeks.
They disrupted Donovan McNabb's rhythm by bringing pressure right up the middle, which forced him to roll to either side rather than allowing him to step up into the pocket and make a throw.
Vick is obviously much quicker than McNabb (or anyone else), so it shouldn't be as much of a worry, but if he's caught in the pocket it could mean a lot of big hits.
If the interior of the offensive line can control the triangle (nose tackle and inside linebackers) of the Cowboys' defense, it should be a fairly easy win. The Cowboys don't match up well anywhere else (as far as Eagles offense vs. Cowboys defense is concerned) and should be easy to exploit.
That is, of course, assuming the three guys in the middle do their jobs.