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Eagles-Cowboys Preview: The Cowboys are Short on Horses
Everybody figured the NFC East would come down to either the Dallas Cowboys or the Philadelphia Eagles. Well, they meet in Philly on Sunday in a game that will go a long ways towards deciding who wins the division.
The Cowboys are coming off a last second win thanks to the dumbest quarterback in NFL history, Eli Manning, while the Eagles lost a game late to the Falcons due to their big name free agent not being able to cover anybody.
The teams split last season, with both teams winning on the road. That doesn't bode well for the Eagles, but these two teams are completely different this season, due to free agency and injuries. Let's take a look at the matchup.
Eagles Offense Versus Cowboys Defense
During the first half last week in Atlanta, QB Sam Bradford looked like a guy who hadn't played a real game in almost two years. Of course, he looked much better in the second half, so which QB is he? The truth is that we don't really know, because Andy Reid, I mean Chip Kelly threw the ball almost every down in Atlanta. I would expect Chipper to stay pass-heavy again against the Cowboys porous pass D, but I don't see another 52 pass attempts. The Cowboys pass D was terrible last season (26th in NFL) and they lost their best CB, Orlando Scandrick. They will most likely play their nickel defense most of the game against the Eagles 1RB, 1TE, 3 WR formation they used 91% of the time in Atlanta. That will match WR Jordan Matthews up against CB Tyler Patmon, where Matthews will have a big height advantage. And TE Zach Ertz might be lined up against rookie Byron Jones. Expect Bradford to exploit those matchups early and often.
I expect Bradford to have time to find his receivers because the Eagles offensive line shouldn't have any trouble in pass protection against the Cowboys pass rush. Dallas ranked 28th in sacks last season and they will be without DE Randy Gregory (injury) and DE Greg Hardy (suspension). The new guards, Barbre and Gardner couldn't open any holes in the run game, but the Eagles didn't allow any sacks last week in spite of throwing it on almost every snap.
Speaking of the running game, I would expect that Kelly will give ex-Cowboy DeMarco Murray more than a handful of carries this week against his old team. I know Kelly doesn't want to wear out Murray after last season's 392 carries, but the Eagles ran for a season-high 256 yards against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving last season. And the Cowboys allowed the Giants to run for an average of 4.1 yards per carry in Week 1. They do have their best run-defender, LB Sean Lee back this season, but he can't be everywhere. Ryan Matthews will also get a few touches and Darren Sproles will be used on delay draws and screen passes again since he is matchup nightmare against opposing LBs.
Cowboys Offense Versus Eagles Defense
Eagles fans don't want to give Dallas QB Tony Romo any credit, but the truth is, he puts up numbers. He doesn't win playoff games, but he puts up numbers in the regular season. Without Murray this season, you expect Romo to have to throw the ball more. The problem with that is that the Cowboys best player, WR Dez Bryant broke his foot last week and will be out at least 6 weeks. Everybody remembers how Bryant and Romo torched the Eagles in Week 15 last year, but it's not going to be a cake-walk without Bryant. Romo completed 10 of 11 passes for 137 yards last week against the Giants after Bryant left the game. And anybody who saw the Eagles defensive backs in Week 1 look as bad as last year's pass defense that ranked 31st in the NFL, can't be feeling too good. Terrance Williams is talented and Cole Beasley is a Wes Welker-type who somehow seems to get open, but they aren't close to Bryant. Of course, CB Byron Maxwell didn't look like a No.1 CB last week and Nolan Carroll is just a guy. Romo will most likely lean on TE Jason Witten, as usual. The Eagles have the LBs to cover him in Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonzo, but Witten will find ways to get open.
The Cowboys running game simply can't be the same without Murray. Yes, they have one of the best offensive lines in the league, but you still need a good back to hit those holes. The Cowboys do not have a good RB. Darren McFadden has been a bust in the NFL. Joseph Randle is the very definition of average. And Lance Dunbar is a Sproles-type RB. The Cowboys only rushed for 81 yards against a Giants defense that isn't anywhere close to as good as this Eagles defensive front. The Cowboys will try to run the football, but it won't work, as the Eagles stay in their base defense more often than the normal defense so they can stop the run.
All of that depends on what happens in the trenches though. Dallas has three Pro Bowlers on their O-line, T Tyron Smith, G Zach Martin and C Travis Frederick. The good news for the Eagles here is that LG Ronald Leary is doubtful for the game. The Eagles D-line of DEs Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton and NT Bennie Logan are very good at stopping the run. The Eagles were 2nd in the NFL in sacks last season, but only got to Matt Ryan once last week. Romo is more mobile, so it will be important for OLBs Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin to keep contain while also trying to sack the QB. Expect Barwin to get back to his Pro Bowl form against RT Doug Free this week.
Will Byron Maxwell touch a football against the Cowboys?
The Eagles coverage and return teams were second to none last season and looked good in Week 1 this season. Sproles is always a threat to take one to the house on a return. But the Eagles might be in trouble with Cody Parkey. Parkey missed a 44-yard FG last week in a dome and he had a shaky preseason that included a missed FG and missed extra point due to a leg injury. On the other side, Dallas kicker Dan Bailey is the 2nd most accurate kicker in NFL history (89.9%). They replaced returner Dwayne Harris with PR Cole Beasley and KR Lance Dunbar, but it's too soon to tell how good they are.
Jason Garrett led the Cowboys to the division title last season, a year after Chip Kelly led the Eagles to the division crown in his rookie year. Neither coach won a playoff game though, so it's not like either of these guys belongs in Canton quite yet. Last year was the first time Garrett committed to running the football, but now his big-time RB is playing for the other team. Kelly normally likes to run the football, but occasionally gets pass-happy in losing efforts, like last week. It's also beginning to look like Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis is not very good at his job.
The injuries for the Cowboys are devastating. Without Bryant, their offense simply isn't the same. Combined with the loss of Murray in the offseason, the Cowboys offense just isn't scary anymore. On the defensive side of the ball, their best pass rushers are out due to injury and suspension, which will give Bradford a comfortable pocket to find his receivers. Of course, this being Eagles-Cowboys, the actual matchups almost don't matter. Anything can happen, but I tend to think the Eagles have the advantage as they have won 10 of their last 12 regular season games at home. They are also desperate to not start the season in a 0-2 hole. Ultimately, the Cowboys simply won't have the horses to keep up with the Eagles
Eagles 31 - Cowboys 20