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Eagles-Cowboys Preview: "Beasts" of the NFC Least
The Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys are strangely similar teams this season.
Both teams are 3-3 and both have lost to Denver, Kansas City and San Diego. Both teams have beaten the Giants and Redskins. Both teams changed defenses, the Eagles from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and the Cowboys from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Both teams have explosive offenses and terrible defenses. The Cowboys are ranked 30th overall defensively and the Eagles are ranked dead last in overall defense in the NFL. And neither team was expected to challenge for the NFC East Division crown.
Yet here we are heading into Week 7 of the NFL season and these two flawed teams are battling for the top spot in the division. Tallest midgets in the circus jokes aside, that's pretty amazing. Let's take a look at the matchup.
Eagles Offense versus Cowboys Defense
Michael Vick ruled himself out for Sunday's game with that hamstring
injury, so the reigning NFC Player of the Week, Nick Foles, gets his
second start of the season. Foles has been great so far this season
with six touchdown passes, no interceptions and another rushing
touchdown. As a matter of fact, Foles has only thrown 2 INTS in his
last 248 pass attempts. He has also been able to turn red zone chances
into touchdowns, instead of settling for field goals, which was a
problem with Vick running the show.
Normally, facing the Cowboys would be a problem for an opposing QB, but injuries have ravaged the Dallas defensive line. Anthony Spencer is out for the season, DeMarcus Ware is out for at least this game and Jerry Jones let things get personal with Eagle-killer Jay Ratliff and he released his talented, yet injured, defensive tackle. Ware is an elite pass-rusher and Ratliff absolutely abused Eagles center Jason Kelce every time these teams met in the past. Without those three, the Eagles offensive line should be able to protect Foles and give him time to find his receivers. If you don't believe me then stop me when you've heard of any of these guys. George Selvie, Jason Hatcher, Nick Hayden and Kyle Wilber. Yeah, that's the starting defensive line for the cowboys these days.
Obviously, when talking about the Eagles receivers you start with DeSean Jackson, who leads the NFL in receiving with 589 yards. Jackson had the first two-TD receiving game of his career last week with Foles starting, so obviously his game won't suffer with the "backup" QB. Plus, the Cowboys are ranked a lowly 30th in the NFL in pass defense and that was with their best pass rusher, Ware in the lineup. Dallas CB Morris Claiborne lost his starting job, so Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr work the outside, while Claiborne is the nickel back. Granted, the Eagles other receivers, Riley Cooper and Jason Avant, won't scare anybody, but it appears that with Foles throwing the passes to his receiver in stride even those guys are decent. The last thing to consider is that the Cowboys give up the second most receiving yardage to opposing tight ends and running backs in the NFL. That's good news for Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and especially LeSean McCoy.
Speaking of McCoy, he's still the leading rusher in the NFL and although the Cowboys are a respectable 14th against the run, expect the Eagles to feed their best player the ball all game long. The Eagles aren't the No. 1 ranked rushing team in the NFL because they get pass happy. That act moved onto Kansas City. Plus, McCoy's 84.8 rushing yards per game against the Cowboys is his highest mark against any NFC East opponent.
Cowboys Offense versus Eagles Defense
On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys have the 13th ranked offense overall, but that's only because they can't run the football. What they can do is pass it and score.
Quarterback Tony Romo leads the 2nd highest scoring offense in the NFL (30.2 points per game) against the Eagles 30th ranked scoring defense (29.8 points per game). Romo is completing 70.2 percent of his passes for 1,693 yards and 14 touchdowns. But unlike previous seasons where Romo put up impressive yardage only to literally throw it all away with costly interceptions, he has only thrown three interceptions this season. And his 108.6 QB Rating is third in the NFL behind only Peyton Manning and, surprisingly, Philip Rivers. Romo threw for 470 yards and 5 TDs against the Broncos and he could equal or better that against this putrid Eagles defensive secondary.
Safety Patrick Chung may miss another game, but even with him, the Eagles field the worst safeties in the NFL. Nate Allen stinks and Earl Wolff is a rookie. The cornerbacks, Bradley letcher and Cary Williams, are only slightly better than the safeties and now they have to try to cover the 6-foot-2, 222 pound Dez Bryant. Bryant is only 14th in the NFL with 459 receiving yards, but he's tied for third with 6 TDs. The Eagles will double him and he'll still burn them all game. That will open up room for rookie Terrence Williams and even Miles Austin, if he's ealthy. And then there is notorious Eagle-killer, tight end Jason Witten. Witten has been Romo's security blanket for 11 seasons and the Eagles don't have the linebackers to cover him. That means nickel corner Brandon Boykin might have to try to cover the much larger Witten. That won't end well for the Eagles.
Of course, the best way to slow down Romo is to put some pressure on him and force him into mistakes. Unfortunately, the Eagles pass rush is almost non-existent. The Eagles rank 24th with only 13 sacks in six games. They can't get pressure without blitzing multiple defenders, and if they blitz, their suspect secondary is sure to get burned. Plus, there is the little fact that the Eagles blitzing linebackers stink. Trent Cole has all of three sacks in his last 22 games.
Another way to keep pressure off a quarterback is with a good running game. Unfortunately for Romo, the Cowboys rank a lowly 24th in rushing and now they'll be with DeMarco Murray after he sprained his MCL last week. All of the other running backs on the Cowboys roster have accumulated just 58 yards and no TDs this season. I expect the Cowboys to only run the ball as a change of pace, due to how bad the Eagles secondary is.
Once again, the Eagles have a decided disadvantage on Special Teams. The Eagles don't cover kicks or punts well and don't have a threat on the return side, as Demaris Johnson looks tentative. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have a dangerous return man in Dwayne Harris. Harris outgained the entire Dallas offense last week with his returns against the Redskins (222 to 213 yards). He had an 86-yard punt return touchdown and a 90-yard kickoff return that set up another score. This is very bad news for Eagles fans.
Jason Garrett seems to be on the hot seat every season, but with Jerry Jones as the owner/GM of the Cowboys, no coach would be safe. Conversely, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is the darling of the media and fans. He has made his share of rookie mistakes, but his offense is No. 3 in the NFL in yardage and No. 4 in scoring. It is also important to point out that Monte Kiffin is the Cowboys' defensive coordinator and he runs a lot of the "Tampa 2" defense (You know, because he invented it) that Foles shredded last week in Tamp Bay.
Who is the Best Team in the NFL's Worst Division
The game is going to be a shoot-out. Both teams have high-powered offenses and Swiss cheese defenses. The Eagles haven't won a home game in over a calendar year, but the Cowboys come in without a few of their star players. Something has to give here. I'll go with the Eagles based solely on the injuries to Dallas.
Eagles 41 - Cowboys 38