Gunslinger vs Machine Gun
The Dallas Cowboys visiting the Philadelphia Eagles
1:00 PM at Lincoln Financial Field
Dallas: 3-3 (2-0) Philadelphia: 3-3 (2-0)
With both teams sitting at 3 and 3, this game is for the lead of the NFC East. Each team comes in with great offenses with the Cowboys 2nd in the lead in scoring and the Eagles 4th in the league. Both teams also have two of the worst scoring defenses in the league and neither has a truly signature win on their schedules. Nick Foles gets the start for the Eagles against a banged up Cowboys defense that should be without DeMarcus Ware. On the other side, Tony Romo has been the second best quarterback, statistically, in the league. He will have to be that good to offset the loss of DeMarco Murray. Look for this game to be high scoring with big play threats such as DeSean Jackson, Jason Witten, LeSean McCoy, and Dez Bryant roaming the field. This is a fantasy football owner’s dream come true. Special teams could be a factor with Cowboys’ returner Dwayne Harris and Eagles kicker Alex Henery. The prediction for one of Sunday’s marquee showdowns is below.
The Thunder Preview
How They Got Here
The Dallas Cowboys come into Philadelphia after rebounding from their loss against Denver with a solid win against the hapless Redskins on Sunday Night Football. On the other side, the Eagles are riding a two game winning streak albeit both the teams they beat are still winless.
Each has lost to the same three teams, the Chargers, the Chiefs, and the Broncos, who have a combined record of 15-3. And each has beaten the teams they were supposed to beat as both took down the Giants and the Redskins. The Cowboys did beat the inconsistent Rams while the Eagles beat up on the turmoil-filled Buccaneers. Rookie head coach Chip Kelly gets his first taste of the rivalry while Jason Garrett looks to get off the hot seat with a key divisional victory.
Breaking down the Numbers
Statistics help tell the story and both of these teams are statistical monsters on offense. The Eagles have the third ranked offense with 449.8 yards for game. The Cowboys come in averaging exactly 100 yards less per game but they are 2nd in the league in scoring at 30.5 ppg. The Eagles though sit at 4th with 27.7 ppg.
It is important to dive into each offense to see just where their strengths lie. You can’t talk Eagles football without mentioning the running attack. Remember, Chip Kelly was known for a great running offense at Oregon and he is showing that in Philly so far. The Eagles are the top-ranked rushing attack in the league at 178.5 yards per game. And LeSean “Shady” McCoy has a lot to do with that. He has electrifying, Barry-Sanders-esque moves and can turn a sure loss into a 20-yard gain in the blink of the eye. He leads the National Football League with 630 yards on the ground. But in the last two games the Eagles have only managed 139 yards per game. Why? Michael Vick has been sidelined by a hamstring injury. McCoy has been less effective since Vick’s injury but don’t be fooled, he is still a Top-5 back in this league.
The Cowboys on the other hand have the 25th ranked rushing attack with 84.8 ypg. And of their 509 total yards on the ground, 428 of it came from DeMarco Murray, who will not play due to a sprained MCL in his left knee. That leaves the rookie Joseph Randle from Oklahoma State to try to provide some production. But the Cowboys aren’t too worried about running the ball, not when you have Tony Romo and the 3rd ranked passing attack in the league. With 308.2 yards per game, Romo is completing 70.2% of his passes and finding Dez Bryant and breakout rookie Terrance Williams easily.
But the Eagles can match Dallas through the air. They are 2nd in the league with 314.5 ypg and Nick Foles has picked up right where Vick left off. Last week he was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week throwing for 296 yards and 3 TDs against the underrated Bucs defense and Darrelle Revis. The big time weapon is DeSean Jackson who is second in the league with 589 passing yards. The big plays have been there as the Birds lead the league with 34 receptions for 20+ yards and 8 receptions for 40+ yards. Moral of the story, both of these teams can move the football on offense.
The Weak Links
If you love good, no, decent defense, do not tune in to this game. The Eagles have the league’s worst scoring defense, giving up 29.8 ppg and the Cowboys aren’t far behind at 25.3 ppg. Neither get great pressure on the quarterback and their secondaries are subpar at best. To get a perspective on the struggles of this defense read this article from Monday Morning Quarterback on SI.com by Greg Bedard. In it, the idea of pressure points is explained. Amazingly, both Fletcher Cox of the Eagles and Jason Hatcher of the Cowboys are amongst the top interior rushers in the game. Only Ndamukung Suh has more points than Hatcher. But as whole teams, Dallas only puts pressure on the quarterback 25.1% of the time and the Eagles are even worse at 22.7%. Compare that to the Kansas City Chiefs (35.3%) and the Seattle Seahawks (34.8%) and you can see why both defenses are in the bottom half of the league. What doesn’t help is that Philly is putting 4-3 defensive scheme parts into a 3-4 defense. Trent Cole is yet to record a sack. And the Cowboys have been without Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer, two of their best pass rushers, all season. With Ware out this week, things may only get worse. So expect a lot of offense in Philly come Sunday.
- 1. Sean Lee against LeSean McCoy – Lee is one of the league’s best interior linebackers with a nose for the football and great tackling ability. He has 60 tackles already and three straight games in double digits. He faces his hardest test yet (sorry Jamaal Charles) as Shady McCoy, the league’s leading rusher, will see upwards of 20 carries. Something has to give here and as good as Lee is, I’m not sure anyone can really corral McCoy. Advantage – Eagles
- 2. Jason Witten vs Nate Allen/Earl Wolfe – As usual, the Eagles are again awful against tight ends. In week 2, Antonio Gates had 8 receptions for 124 yards. And last week the unknown Tim Wright went for 91 yards on 7 receptions. There is a good chance a linebacker such as Mychal Kendricks or Connor Barwin could shadow Witten all night. But it is going to fall to the young safeties to contain the seam routes. Witten is a tough player who is hard to bring down. The Eagles safety play has been poor and that’s being nice. The key for Philly to win this battle is to force Witten into being an extra blocker. If not, well it could be a big day for Jason. Advantage – Cowboys
- 3. Jason Hatcher battles Mathis, Kelce, and Herremans – This is going to be a crucial matchup. With the rest of Dallas’s line dinged up, Hatcher is going to be THE guy. Evan Mathis continues to excel and is one of the game’s best. And Kelce has bounced back nice from injury. Herremans’ play has been a little shaky but he is a veteran and should rebound. The lucky break for the Eagles is that DeMarcus Ware won’t be lining up over rookie Lane Johnson, who is experiencing growing pains at right tackle. Jason Peters is probable with an ankle injury but he will be facing George Selvie who shouldn’t pose much of an issue. It comes down to Hatcher and whether or not he can penetrate for both the run and pass situations. I think this interior is good enough to hold up and get to the second level. Advantage – Eagles
- 4. Carey Williams vs Dez Bryant and Brandon Carr vs DeSean Jackson – Why group these together? Because each is easy to predict. Both of these teams are awful against the pass and while these corners aren’t to blame completely, each has struggled. Advantage – Receivers as a whole
- 5. Dwayne Harris against the Eagles special teams – Harris has been electrifying, just look at last week’s Washington game. The Eagles have been pretty porous on special teams. So yeah this could go early. If you want to sound knowledgeable Sunday, watch for Colt Anderson, the Eagles blonde haired safety. If he can make plays on Harris and the return game, good things will happen. Advantage – Cowboys
Who are the x-factors come Sunday? For the Cowboys it is rookie wide receiver Terrance Williams. In the last 3 weeks Williams took advantage of the absence of Mile Austin for the tune of 13 receptions for 249 yards and 2 TDs including some great sideline catches. If he can step it up, along with Bryant, Austin, and Witten, the Eagles will be blown out of the building..
For the Eagles, Zach Ertz is the guy. All the talent in the world, just needs the opportunity. The Eagles have struggled in the redzone, although Foles has helped them improve. But for the Eagles to be really dangerous they need to add a big target and Ertz is just that. The Cowboys aren’t particularly strong at safety or outside linebacker and this is a game for Ertz to shine.
In one of the most entertaining games of the weekend, the Eagles will take sole possession of 1st place in the NFC East with a wild finish against the Cowboys. In his true statement game, Nick Foles will throw 3 TD passes (2 to Zach Ertz) and McCoy will run for another as he tops 100 yards against a weakened Cowboys defense. DeMarcus Ware won’t play due to injury and Romo will have a great game, until a costly pick that lands in the hands of Brandon Boykin late in the fourth. Foles, down by 5, will drive down and hit DeSean Jackson for the game winning score, cementing his spot as the starting quarterback.
Eagles 37 Cowboys 35