JEFF MCLANE Record, 4-7.
Week 13: The Eagles have won two straight in Dallas heading into Sunday night’s game. So beating the Cowboys at Jerry World isn’t some Herculean task. They had the Cowboys on the ropes three weeks ago until Tony Romo Houdini’d his way out of a sack and the Eagles imploded. And you can never count any team out of a NFC East matchup.
But the Eagles are one battered team, literally and figuratively. Dallas at least as an outside shot at the playoffs. The Birds have little to play for, well, except for pride and their jobs.
The offense is a shell of itself. Tight end Brent Celek and left guard Evan Mathis are the only two on offense to start every game this season. Mathis, though, will likely have to move to center with Dallas Reynolds sidelined with an ankle sprain. Mathis has never played center in the NFL. Not only will he have to contend with snapping the football and calling out protections, he’ll have nose tackle Jay Ratliff in his mug for much of the game.
The Cowboys lost another inside linebacker when Bruce Carter dislocated his elbow on Thanksgiving. They were already without Sean Lee. So Dallas isn’t exactly healthy coming in either. But DeMarcus Ware is fine and the specter of the outside linebacker going up against left tackle King Dunlap for most of the game is a scary one.
The Eagles are likely to employ another simplified game plan for rookie quarterback Nick Foles. If Bryce Brown can run as well as he did last week, Foles won’t need to win the game on his own. The Cowboys have more film on the fumble-prone Brown, though, and the running back can sure defenders will be gunning for the ball all game.
As poor as the defense has played in the last five games, the Eagles gave their best effort against the Cowboys on Nov. 11. But for the most part, Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator has been a disaster. The secondary is a mess. Miscommunication has been one issue, but mostly the Eagles just don’t have the right personnel, especially at safety with Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen.
Romo could have a field day -- as long as he has time. Dumping Jason Babin was a good move in the locker room. As sad as it might sound, though, he was still the Eagles’ best pass rusher. Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry have to get into the backfield.
The Cowboys will be aided by the return of running back DeMarco Murray (foot sprain). Dallas has the worst run offense in the NFL, but they did manage to move the ball on the ground against the Eagles with their patented delay draws. If the Eagles can’t get defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (bruised tailbone) back in time for the game, his absence could hinder a run defense that has been scattershot for most of the season.
Prediction: Cowboys 28, Eagles 13.
What goes right: Brown continues to dazzle as a runner.
What goes wrong: With DeSean Jackson out, Foles will have trouble finding open receivers.
Week 13: For the second consecutive week, I’m sticking to a simple rule: Until the Eagles prove they can win, I’m not expecting them to win. And their chances are even slimmer on Sunday, when they play the Cowboys without Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, Jackson and with an offense live so jumbled it doesn’t even resemble its initial incarnation.
This game will be crucial in the ongoing evaluation of Foles. He’s had two uneven starts. This is his third appearance, and it comes against a defense he’s already seen and in a hostile environment. Without elite personnel around, expectations must be tempered. But Foles needs to at least manage the game and avoid mistakes such as throwing the ball into dangerous coverages. I’m not convinced he’ll do it, and Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will try to flummox the rookie.
Brown should have another strong game, too. He’s a natural rusher, although he’ll be less aggressive about fighting for extra yards and more cognizant about covering the ball.
On defense, Curry and Graham will be important to watch. If they can pressure Romo, it will be an encouraging sign about their ability moving forward. It will also be worthwhile to wonder why it took so long to get them on the field.
Don’t be surprised to see David Sims get playing time. He’s likely not a starting safety on this team going forward, but the Eagles are in a position in which they must evaluate everyone.
The Cowboys still have aspirations of the postseason, so they’ll have an inspired effort. Within the Eagles locker room, there’s more of an understanding of their current plight than at any point of the season. So look for an easy Dallas victory, yet it is one step closer to a Top 5 pick and one game closer to changes within the organization.
Prediction: Cowboys 24, Eagles 14.
What goes right: Another strong effort from Brown. Curry continues to show promise. Alex Henery continues his field-goal streak.
What goes wrong: Foles offers another uneven performance. The Eagles offensive line struggles to pass protect.