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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles: A Surprising Battle for First





by: Ryan Waldis
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UPDATE: Michael Vick will not be the emergency third quarterback; he has been listed as inactive.

UPDATE: DeMarcus Ware has been listed as inactive.

Photo Courtesy: stadium.dallascowboys.com
Back in April, when the Eagles schedule was released, this game against the Cowboys wasn't supposed to mean anything. It was just supposed to be one of the two games the Eagles would play against their rival this season. The Eagles were supposed to be light-years behind the Cowboys in the NFC East race by week seven. Things don't always happen the way they are supposed too, though.

So, because things didn't happen the way they were supposed to happen, the Eagles find themselves in a deadlock with the Cowboys at the top of the NFC East entering their first match-up of the season. The NFC East has been horrendous this season, so for this game to have as much as impact as it does on the rest of the season is nothing short of a miracle.

Once again, Michael Vick will be on the sidelines barring injuries to both Nick Foles and Matt Barkley. The Eagles turned in perhaps their best performance of the season last Sunday against the Buccaneers, but will they show up against the Cowboys?




The Last Time They Met: December 2nd, 2012- Eagles 33, Cowboys 38
The 'Boys bested the 'Birds twice last season.
Photo Courtesy: philly.com

The score of this game doesn't really do it justice. Both teams had chances to win in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys (barely) came out on top. Alex Henery gave the Eagles a 27-24 lead with 9:51 to play, but the Eagles defense couldn't hold it. Romo proceeded to throw a six yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant with 5:35 to go. On the Eagles next possession, Bryce Brown had a costly fumble that was returned by Morris Claiborne for a 50 yard TD. The return extended the Cowboys lead to 11 and, despite an improbable 98 yard punt return by Damaris Johnson with 31 seconds to play, it was too little, too late for the Eagles.

Nick Foles had a fairly decent game, completing 22 of his 34 pass attempts for 251 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions. Bryce Brown, with the exception of his fumble, had another big game, rushing for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. The Eagles leading receiver was Jason Avant, who caught four passes for 79 yards.

Tony Romo had an excellent day, completing 22 of his 27 passes for 303 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. DeMarco Murray didn't have as big of a game as Brown, but he still contributed 83 yards and a touchdown. Romo's leading receivers were Jason Witten, who hauled in six passes for 108 yards, and Dez Bryant, who had two TD receptions.

Who Holds the Edge?
Regardless of the Denver game, Romo is having
a career year.
Photo Courtesy: businessinsider.com

Offense: Tony Romo is having one of the best (if not the best) seasons in his career. Through six games, Romo has completed 153 of his 218 attempts for 1,693 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. Just two weeks ago against Denver, Romo passed for 506 yards and five touchdowns. Last season against the Eagles, Romo completed 77.4 percent of his passes to go along with 512 yards, five TDs and zero interceptions. He should have a decent day against the Birds barring an exceptional day by their defense. DeMarco Murray is their leading rusher with 428 yards and two touchdowns, but he'll be on the sidelines for today's game due to an injury suffered last week against the Redskins. Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle will  most likely handle the rushing duties. Their leading WR, of course, is Dez Bryant. Bryant has hauled in 34 passes for 459 yards and six touchdowns. The Cowboys also have Jason Witten, who has 31 receptions for 340 yards and three touchdowns.

Foles has performed well thus far.
Photo Courtesy: Bleacher Report
Nick Foles is coming off of an impressive performance against the Buccaneers in which he completed 22 of his 31 passes for 296 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He'll get a chance to show what he can do against the Cowboys. Foles completed 44 of his 68 attempts for 470 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in two games against the Cowboys last season. He should have a good day against a Dallas defense that has given up 400-plus passing yards and three-plus touchdowns on three occasions this season. The main weapon on offense, however, is LeSean McCoy. He leads the league with 630 rushing yards, and has shown no sign of stopping. DeSean Jackson is having a revival season of sorts; he's hauled in 34 passes for 589 yards and five touchdowns.

EDGE: Eagles

Lee is the leader of the Cowboys defense.
Photo Courtesy: dallascowboysnation.com
Defense: The Cowboys defense is ranked 30th in the league. They may be without stud d-lineman/OLB DeMarcus Ware. Despite this, the Eagles can't overlook their defense. The Cowboys d-line may be one of the better ones in the league (when Ware is playing at least). Through six games, the d-line has accounted for 12 of the team's 15 sacks. DT Jason Hatcher leads the team with five; Ware is second with four. Their linebackers aren't bad either. Sean Lee has emerged as one of the best MLB's in the game. He leads the Cowboys with 60 total tackles; he also a 52 yard INT return for a TD and a fumble recovery. Weakside linebacker Bruce Carter is third on the team with 37 tackles, while strongside linebacker Justin Durant is 12th with 13 tackles and a forced fumble. The secondary would probably be their weakest area due to their inconsistencies. CBs Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne aren't bad; they have 21 and 16 tackles respectively and each have one INT. The safeties aren't terrible either; Barry Church has 47 tackles, two forced fumbles and a TD while J.J. Wilcox has 20 tackles. Regardless, their defense is a work in progress, just like the Eagles is.

Yup. He's improving.
Photo Courtesy: sportstalkflorida.com
The Eagles defense, on the other hand, is ranked dead last in the league. They've actually improved each week (with the exception of that terrible Denver game), and have started to build a strong chemistry. Cedric Thornton has been one of the better players on the defense thus far; he doesn't usually make mistakes and he's seventh on the team with 23 tackles. He's also accumulated one sack and an interception. The NT position has been pretty weak, with Issac Sopoaga and Bennie Logan combining for just 14 tackles. Fletcher Cox has some room to improve but overall he's been fine. The LB corps of Connor Barwin, DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Trent Cole have continued to grow together as a group. They account for four of the top 11 tacklers on the team; they've also combined for four sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Even the secondary has improved. Cary Williams is fourth on the team with 31 tackles; he also leads the team in INT's with two. Nate Allen is second on the team with 43 tackles, and he's been playing much better of late. Bradley Fletcher is starting to show why the Eagles signed him; he has one interception and, like Allen, has performed better of late. Patrick Chung has been injured for much of the season, so Earl Wolff has taken over for him. The rookie has done well; he fifth on the team with 29 tackles. It's a work in progress, but the defense is getting better.

EDGE: Even

Rule number one: Keep the ball away from him.
Photo Courtesy: dallas.sbnation.com
Special Teams: The Cowboys have perhaps on of the most dangerous returners in the league in Dwayne Harris. He's returned nine kickoffs for 312 yards, with a long of 90 yards. He's also returned eight punts for 189 yards and a touchdown, with a long of 86. The Eagles will need to kick the ball away from him all day, or he will hurt them. Dan Bailey has converted 10 of his 12 field goal attempts with a long of 53, and Chris Jones' punts travel an average of 46 yards. 17 of his 25 punts have been returned.

The Eagles have a returner of Harris' ability, they just don't utilize him. DeSean Jackson has had just one opportunity all season, and that came on a kickoff which he returned 10 yards. They seem content to use Damaris Johnson, who still makes bad decisions, like attempting to return a kickoff that went nine yards deep in the endzone. Alex Henery has rebounded, and has converted 13 of his 16 field goal attempts, with a long of 48. Donnie Jones' punts have traveled an average of 45.1 yards, but 12 have landed inside the 20. 11 of his 28 punts have been returned.

EDGE: Cowboys

Score Prediction: Eagles 38, Cowboys 34

The game will be closer than most people would like. I think Nick Foles will have a big day, and if he does indeed do enough to beat the Cowboys, I think he'll be the new starting QB. LeSean McCoy will once again rush for over 100 yards, and I see DeSean Jackson having a big game. Tony Romo will perform very well too, and he'll keep his team in the game. Ultimately, however, the Cowboys defense will perform worse than the Eagles defense. If things go the way they're supposed to, this will end up being a shootout. Things don't always happen the way they're supposed too though.

Ryan's Player of the Game: Nick Foles

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