Eagles-Cowboys Preview: No Romo No Wins in Big D
The last time the Dallas Cowboys won a game, it was Week 2 in Philadelphia. The Eagles gained a season-low 226 total yards, including 7 yards rushing in that 20-10 loss. Now the Eagles travel to Dallas for the rematch. Will the outcome be the same, even though Dallas QB Tony Romo is still out after being injured in the first game?
Sadly enough, the 3-4 Eagles and 2-5 Cowboys are still in the hunt for the NFC East Division championship and the playoff berth that goes along with it. The division-leading Giants (4-4) aren't scaring anybody, so the winner of this game will be right there with a chance to win it. The Eagles just don't want to get swept by a division opponent, especially when beating the Cowboys could put one more nail in their coffin, with Romo out until Week 11. Let's take a look at the matchup.
NFC East Standings
New York Giants
Eagles Offense Versus Cowboys Defense
The Eagles offense is surprisingly ranked 12th in the NFL (353.1 yards per game). I say surprisingly because QB Sam Bradford has been horrible. He's thrown a league-worst 10 INTs and his 76.4 quarterback rating is even worse than his mediocre career average of 78.9. Bradford completed 23 of 37 passes for 224 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs in the first matchup, but the Cowboys defense has gotten healthier since then.
The biggest addition to the Cowboys defense is pass-rushing DE Greg Hardy, who has returned from his suspension for being a bad human being. The Cowboys seem to excel at having bad human beings who are good players over the years, don't they? Anyway, Bradford is at his worst when he is uncomfortable in the pocket. It's obvious that he still doesn't trust his twice-repaired knee and isn't fully stepping into his throws whenever there is the slightest bit of pressure. To make matters worse, LT Jason Peters isn't practicing with a bad back and is doubtful for Sunday's game. It looks like the Eagles are going to slide RT Lane Johnson over to LT on Sunday. Sure, Johnson was the No. 4 overall pick in the draft, with an eye towards him eventually moving to LT, but getting his first start there against Hardy is not good news for Bradford and the Eagles offense.
The only good thing about the Eagles passing game is that Bradford doesn't really need that much time to get rid of the ball. That's because he never throws the ball downfield, opting instead to check down to his RBs and TEs most of the time. The bad news there for the Eagles is that Cowboys rookie safety Byron Jones is excellent in coverage. He'll be on TE Zach Ertz most of the time. And when Dallas brings in an extra DB, Jones can actually move into the slot to cover Jordan Matthews, who can't seem to catch the football this season. The Dallas CBs are not that good, but neither are the Eagles WRs. The Eagles have 18 dropped passes as a team, which helps explain why they are the 29th ranked team in converting 3rd downs. The Eagles RBs are all fine receivers out of the backfield, especially Darren Sproles, but the Cowboys have some fast LBs, led by Sean Lee. Bradford remembers Lee as his intended target in the endzone in Week 2. Or at least it sure seemed like Bradford was throwing the ball right to Lee.
The Eagles rushing offense has gotten much better in recent weeks, but it certainly couldn't have gotten any worse than it was in the first game. RB DeMarco Murray had 5 catches for 53 yards against Dallas in Week 2, but his old team held him to 2 yards rushing on 13 carries. He has to be able to do better than that in his Dallas homecoming, right? The Cowboys are not a flashy defense, as they don't force many turnovers, but they can stop the run (ranked 13th) and they limit the big plays. If the Eagles insist on feeding the ball to Murray, instead of Ryan Matthews who looks like a better fit in the offense and has outperformed Murray, then it's going to be a long day in JerryWorld.
Cowboys Offense Versus Eagles Defense
The reason the cowboys have lost their last 5 games in a row since beating the Eagles is simple. No Tony Romo equals no wins. Eagles fans don't want to hear this, but Romo is a very good QB....in the regular season, at least. The Eagles allowed Brandon Weeden to complete 7-of-7 passes in leading the Cowboys to that Week 2 win after Romo got hurt, but since then he was so bad that he got benched for Matt Cassel. Cassel has only 1 TD and 3 INTs in his two starts and completed only 13 passes for 97 yards in last week's loss to Seattle. The one thing to keep an eye on though, is that Cassel is mobile enough to gain a few yards on the ground.
The good news for Cassel is that Dallas' offensive line is one of the best in the business. Led by center Travis Frederick and LT Tyron Smith, they are good at pass blocking and run blocking, which has helped Dallas become the 8th ranked offense (337 ypg) in the NFL. If only they could run the ball through the holes they create and throw and catch the passes. They can't. But they are going to be a handful for Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton in the trenches.
More good news for the Cowboys is that Dez Bryant returned from injury last week. The bad news is that he only caught 2 passes for 12 yards against the Seahawks. The problem there for the Eagles is that they wasted huge money signing former Seattle CB Byron Maxwell, who isn't even in the same class as Richard Sherman, who shut down Bryant. That means that whoever covers Bryant will most certainly have safety help over the top on almost every single play. And whichever safety has the deep responsibility, the other one will most likely be covering TE Jason Witten, who has 38 receptions for 360 yards and 2 TDs. Luckily for the Eagles, safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Walter Thurmond have been outstanding this season. They will need to be on top of their game again on Sunday.
The Dallas run game is nowhere near as good as it was last year, when Murray led the NFL in rushing. They are still ranked 6th (127.9 ypg), but have already released their season-opening starter, Joseph Randle. Now, Darren "Run DMC" McFadden carries the load for the Cowboys and he looked good last week against a tough Seattle run D. The Eagles 17th ranking against the run (109.9 ypg) is deceiving due to the Carolina Panthers gaining over 200 yards on the ground against them before the bye. Still, the Cowboys will definitely try to establish the run early and often to keep the pressure off Cassel. The Eagles front seven will need to be stout if they have any chance of winning the game.
How many turnovers will the Eagles defense get against the Cowboys?
he Eagles special teams are still among the very best in the NFL in coverage, but with teams kicking away from Sproles constantly, they aren't producing TDs like they did last season. Kicker Caleb Sturgis has been reliable since he was signed to replace the injured Cody Parkey and Donnie Jones has been great at limiting punt return yardage again this season. Lance Dunbar and Cole Beasley can be dangerous returning kicks and punts respectively, but the Eagles should be able to contain them with their superior coverage units. Dallas kicker Dan Bailey is have a fine year and accounted for all of the offense for the Cowboys last week against Seattle, with 4 FGs.
Dallas head coach Jason Garrett isn't mentioned among the best coaches in the NFL, with good reason, but he did lead the Cowboys to a 12-4 record, NFC East title and a playoff win last season. Considering that most Cowboys fans probably can't even remember the last playoff win by the team before that, you have to give him some credit there. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is no longer considered an innovative "genius" with his up-tempo offense. That's because it took NFL defensive coordinators only one offseason to figure out his gimmicky college offense, that hasn't looked good the last two seasons.
The Eagles are coming off a bye, but Kelly has never shown the ability to make changes. He believes in his system and his "culture" over everything else. He thinks that the players just need to execute the plays better and that will lead to wins. Unfortunately for him, that's not exactly how things work in the NFL, so coming off the bye week probably isn't an advantage for the Eagles in this game.
What is an advantage is that Tony Romo is still out. Matt Cassel is not very good and Brandon Weeden wasn't any better. That explains the Cowboys' 5-game losing streak since Romo was injured against the Eagles. Add that to the fact that the Eagles lead the NFL with 19 takeaways and the pieces start to fall into place on a prediction.
Finally, the Eagles have won 4 of their last 5 games in Dallas and the Cowboys have lost their last 4 home games. Add it all up and it looks like an Eagles win.
Eagles 27 - Cowboys 20