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Eagles-Cowboys Preview: Stuffing Some Football into your Thanksgiving

Updated on November 25, 2014

Eagles-Cowboys is always special, but this year it takes on added meaning.

Not only are both teams tied for the lead in the NFC East at 8-3, but the game is also on Thanksgiving. Plus this is the 25th anniversary of the famous Bounty Bowl game, when Philadelphia Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan was rumored to have placed bounties on the heads of certain Dallas players as payback for former Cowboys coach Tom Landry using his regular players against Eagles replacement players two years earlier. The sight of reserve LB Jesse Small taking a run at kicker Luis Zendejas was priceless. So was listening to former Dallas head coach / current jackass Jimmy Johnson complain about it. Ah, memories.

Jimmy Johnson Discusses the Bounty Bowl

Anyway, let's take a look at the matchup as the teams meet to see who gets a drumstick.....I mean leg up in the division.

The Cowboys are on a two game home losing streak, but they've won their last two on the road and the Eagles have lost three of their last four road games this season. However, JerryWorld hasn't exactly been much of a home-field advantage for the Cowboys.

Eagles Offense Versus Cowboys Defense

Mark Sanchez will start again for the Eagles and that is not a good thing for the visitors. It doesn't matter that Sanchez has thrown for over 300 yards in each of his three starts this season, because he has also turned the ball over 8 times in his 15 quarters of play (6 INTs and 2 lost fumbles). That is outrageously bad, but it's also exactly what you would expect from a guy who has thrown as many INTs as TDs during his career. It is important to note that the Cowboys are undefeated in 2014 when they win the turnover battle.

The Cowboys defense is average, but everybody thinks they are playing great because the expectations before the season were that they would be historically bad. They are ranked 16th in the NFL, while giving up 355 yards per game. The Eagles offense is ranked 4th overall (411.8 ypg) and 4th in passing (293.1 ypg). Sanchez is contributing to those nice stats, but just barely. The Cowboys don't get much pressure on the QB, as their 18 sacks rank them 28th in the NFL. Conversely, the Eagles are giving up the 7th fewest sacks in the NFL (17). After a season filled with injuries on the offensive line, the Eagles are finally getting healthy and starting to perform like the elite unit they were all of last season. The Cowboys will try to rotate players on the defensive front to try to keep up with the Eagles' fast pace, but since they don't have any impact defensive linemen, it won't matter.

Jeremy Maclin is having a career year with 63 catches for 980 yards (7th in the NFL) and 9 TDs (4th in the NFL), but he hasn't been Sanchez's favorite target. That distinction belongs to rookie slot receiver Jordan Matthews, who has 18 of his 50 receptions in Sanchez's three starts. Matthews will be covered by Sterling Moore, who is five inches shorter than Matthews. That's something the Eagles should look to exploit. The Cowboys' outside CBs are Orlando Scandrick, who stinks and Brandon Carr, who has given up 4 TDs. Unfortunately, at least one of them will be on the receiving end of a nice easy throw from Sanchez at some point during the game.

Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy
Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy

What the Eagles need to do more of in this game, and in every game with the erratic Sanchez at QB, is run the football. Eagles coach Chip Kelly seems to have forgotten that he had the NFL's top rushing attack and the top rusher in LeSean McCoy last season. McCoy gained 130 yards on 21 carries last week against the pitiful Titans, but he should have gotten more carries in a game the Eagles controlled from the opening kickoff. In spite of using seven different starting combinations along the offensive line this season, the Eagles are still ranked 12th in the NFL in rushing (118.7 ypg). That ranking is improving by the week now that center Jason Kelce and Pro Bowl LG Evan Mathis are back. Plus, the Cowboys aren't nearly as good as their run defense's No. 13 ranking (107.2 ypg) might make it seem. The only team that fully committed to running the ball against the Cowboys was Houston and they racked up 176 yards on 31 carries. The Eagles could easily top both of those figures and absolutely should if they want to have any chance of winning the game. The Eagles will need to pay special attention to MLB Rolando McClain who has become the leader of the Dallas defense. On the bright side, the Eagles have played better against 4-3 defenses, like the Cowboys run, this season.

NFC East Standings

 
Wins
Losses
 
Philadelphia Eagles
8
3
 
Dallas Cowboys
8
3
 
New York Giants
3
8
 
Washington Redskins
3
8
 

Cowboys Offense Versus Eagles Defense

Tony Romo is coming off of offseason back surgery and is having, quite possibly, his best season ever. He has thrown 22 TDs and only 6 INTS for 2,519 yards and a QB rating of 111.4, which is the second best figure in the NFL. He is first in yards per attempt (8.54) and second in completion percentage (68.8). If it weren't for the Dallas running game and that Discount Double Check guy in Green Bay, people might just be talking about Romo's MVP credentials this season. But as with every season for Romo, this is right around the time he turns into a pumpkin (pie).

The big difference so far this season is that Romo is playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. The young line has only allowed Romo to be sacked more than two times in a game just once in the last eight games and have allowed the 11th fewest sacks (21) in the NFL. That's a good thing for Romo, since the Eagles defense has the second most sacks in the NFL (38). Years of drafting offensive linemen is finally paying off for Jerry Jones, much in the same way it did during the glory years in Dallas in the 1990s. Connor Barwin leads the NFC with 12 1/2 sacks and he'll be facing the veteran of the Dallas offensive line, RT Doug Free. Expect Barwin to get "free" and bring Romo down a time or two on Thursday.

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo
Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo

The Cowboys offense is ranked 6th overall (387.3 ypg) and 17th in passing (237.2 ypg). They should improve both of those numbers after facing the Eagles 26th ranked defense (375.3 ypg) and 30th ranked pass defense (266.3 ypg). Dez Bryant is an elite receiver and he will have his way with whichever stiff CB, Bradley Fletcher or Cary Williams, the Eagles try to put on him. Terrence Williams is inconsistent, but that just means he'll score a long TD against the defense that has given up league-high 49 pass plays of 20-plus yards and a league-high 14 plays of 40-plus yards. Safety Nate Allen will be involved in that ugliness in some way, as well. The other problem for the Eagles is that while they have done a decent job of covering TEs this season, Dallas THE Jason Witten has absolutely owned them throughout his career. Romo's security blanket is going to cause havoc against the Eagles defense because they won't be able to use their nickel or dime defense as often as they would like to prevent a LB from having to try to cover Witten.

That's because the Cowboys have the 2nd best rushing offense in the NFL (150.1 ypg), led by the NFL's leading rusher, DeMarco Murray. Murray has 1,354 yards rushing (5.1 average) and has topped 100 yards in 10 of Dallas' 11 games this season. The Cowboys like to run stretch plays, so the Eagles defensive linemen, Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton will have to play disciplined gap football. Murray has always been a talented runner, but he's managed to stay healthy for the first time in his career. The Eagles are ranked 16th against the run (109 ypg), but they've been playing better lately. Over their last six games, the Eagles have held opponents to 3.6 yard per carry, which is the 8th best total in the NFL since Week 5. As dangerous as Romo and Bryant are, the key to this game for the Eagles will be "stuffing" Murray.

Dallas Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray
Dallas Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray

Special Teams

The Eagles' league-leading special teams just keep getting better. Josh Huff scored on a 107-yard kickoff return on the first play of the game last week against the Titans, which was the second kick return for a TD this season for the Eagles. Darren Sproles also has two punt return TDs and the Eagles' coverage units are among the best in the league. They may not get many chances against the Cowboys though. Dallas punter Chris Jones has only had 17 of his 39 punts returned and kicker Dan Bailey has a 80.6 touchback percentage on his kickoffs indoors this season. Bailey is also one of the NFL's most accurate kickers. Meanwhile, Eagles rookie kicker Cody Parkey has made 33 of 35 field goals, including 4-for-4 from 50+ yards. He also has a 75.0 touchback percentage in domes. And while punter Donnie Jones has a terrible overall net average, he excels at pinning the opposition inside the 20. Dwayne Harris is a dangerous returner for Dallas, though.

Coaches

Eagles coach Chip Kelly is irritating me beyond belief this season, as he seems more interested in proving he's a genius, rather than simply pounding the football at inferior teams when he's got them down. Sooner or later Chipper will realize you don't need to try to run up the score in the pros like you do in college. If he doesn't, he won't be in the pros for very long. I mean, eventually even Arthur Carlson realized that Turkeys can't fly, so Chip should eventually figure out he needs to run the ball with that Turkey Sanchez at QB, right? Dallas coach Jason Garrett has been on the hot seat for years, since he seemingly always finishes with an 8-8 record. While the Cowboys 8-3 record this season would suggest that the Cowboys should finish with a winning record for a change, it is also worth noting that the Cowboys regularly fade late in the season under Garrett. His owner isn't exactly the most patient guy, either. To his credit, Garrett has finally committed to the run and it is paying off for the Cowboys.

"As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly"

The Prediction

Being the home team on a short week is a huge advantage for the Cowboys. So is that fact that they are used to playing on Thanksgiving every year, as they are 29-16-1 all-time on Turkey day. Neither team can be considered among the league's elite, in spite of their 8-3 records. Both teams have a losing record against teams on their schedule with a winning record. Plus, neither team is very good on defense. But they are tied for the lead in the NFC East and the winner of this game will have the upper hand going into the stretch run of the season. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Mark Sanchez and his turnover-prone ways are leading the team and the Cowboys have gotten an INT in each of their last four games. That is not a good sign.

If Nick Foles was playing for the Eagles, they would have a fair shot at beating the Cowboys. But with a turkey like Sanchez at quarterback, the Eagles don't stand a chance.

Cowboys 34 - Eagles 30

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    • Paul Edmondson profile image

      Paul Edmondson 2 years ago from Burlingame, CA

      If Sanchez can take care of the ball against the Hawks, I'd ride him the rest of the year. This is his opportunity to show he can against an elite defense.

    • Bob Whalon profile image
      Author

      Bob Whalon 2 years ago from Souderton, PA

      I still don't trust Sanchez not to turn the ball over multiple times a game. Nick Foles needs to heal as fast as possible or else it will be a short playoff run for the Eagles. And yes, Larry, the Cowboys are totally overrated by the media. Always have been, always will be.

    • Paul Edmondson profile image

      Paul Edmondson 2 years ago from Burlingame, CA

      Sanchez is a strange bird. He seems to have a very short memory, which is good for a qb. I like the Eagles here on out. Next week against the Hawks is the big test.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Great read.

      Thanksgiving was a good day of football. The Cowboys showed me what I suspected. Their defense has been playing above itself and really isn't that great.