Sunday, December 28, 2014

Eagles vs. Cowboys predictions

JEFF MCLANE Record, 2-6.

Eagles vs. Cowboys predictions

Jason Babin slams into Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, forcing him out of the game. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Jason Babin slams into Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, forcing him out of the game. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

JEFF MCLANE
Record, 2-6.

Week 10: I thought for a second about picking the Eagles, but then I wrote down the Eagles’ starting offensive line – from left to right: Demetress Bell, Evan Mathis, Dallas Reynolds, Dennis Kelly, King Dunlap – and realized how ridiculous that would be.

That being said, Sunday’s Eagles-Cowboys game should be a close one because neither team can really score. The Birds are averaging just 16.6 points a game while the Cowboys have managed only 18.8. They have been mirror-images of one another in many other ways – teams with high expectations heading into the season, but were derailed by sloppiness, poor quarterback play and injuries in the first half of the season.

There are differences, of course. The Cowboys have struggled running the ball, partly because DeMarco Murry has been sidelined with a foot injury and partly because Jason Garrett has passalotis – the disease that also afflicts Andy Reid. Tony Romo can throw the football downfield as well as any quarterback in the league, but he’s still a poor decision-maker and has tossed a league-high 13 interceptions this season.

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I’m not sure if the Eagles can rattle Romo like they did in both games last season – in the second they knocked him out. The defensive line just hasn’t been the same and I don’t think that ship is ever coming in. So it’s going to be up to the Eagles secondary to force Romo to hitch his throw a few times. Cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have regressed the last few weeks. The Eagles do get safety Nate Allen back, which should help some. I’m not sure who the Eagles plan on assigning to cover tight end Jason Witten. Asomugha did a fine job on him last season, but I think he stays outside in this one.

The Cowboys defense has been above average, but suffered a blow when linebacker Sean Lee was lost. He was their centerpiece because he could equally defend the run and cover. Dan Connor is a downgrade, and if he can’t go because of a neck injury then the fall off is steep with Ernie Sims. If it’s Sims, the Eagles should go right at him.

The big question, of course, is will Michael Vick have enough time to throw the ball. The DeMarcus Ware-Bell matchup is a frightening one. Bell will probably get lots of help from various sources and in various ways (chip blocks, etc.). It’s so obvious that the Eagles should slant the play-calling to the run. But they have to keep the Cowboys honest or they’ll stack the box all game and force Vick to drop back behind that line more than the Eagles would like.

I think it’s going to be an ugly close one that will end with another round of “Fire Andy!” chants.

Prediction: Cowboys 17, Eagles 13.

What goes right: The Eagles secondary is able to keep Cowboys receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant in check.

What goes wrong: Bell.

ZACH BERMAN
Record, 4-4.

Week 10: This might be the most difficult game to predict this season. Both teams are confounding, with the ability to generate yards but struggles to score. Because of that, I'm compelled to go with the team that's better positioned to win ugly. That's the Cowboys, who have a superior defense.

Dallas spent the offseason upgrading their cornerbacks, and the additions of Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr have made a noticeable difference. The Cowboys are allowing only 229 passing yards per game, and when you combine the coverage with their pass rushers, it's tough on opposing quarterbacks. Then consider the Eagles' offensive line issues, and it's likely Vick will struggle with time.

The wild card is whether the Eagles run the ball. Simply said, they need to give LeSean McCoy the ball. Dallas is allowing more than 100 rushing yards per game, and the Eagles' offensive line is better at run blocking than pass protection at this point. The only way to create time to throw downfield will be through play-action, and the best way to effectively sell the play-action is by actually running the ball.

The track record of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and Reid does not suggest they'll commit to the run. The score and situation has much to do with it, and the Eagles cannot afford to play from behind for the second consecutive week.

I expect the Eagles to score between 17-24 points this weekend, and I don't know if that will be enough. Romo has proven he can move the ball this season and the Eagles struggle against tight ends. That's bad news when playing Witten. Yet the Cowboys' rushing offense slows without Murray, and he's not expected to play. If the Eagles can bottle the run and avoid penalties, they'll be able to force turnovers and force Dallas into third-and-long situations.

This game could go either way. Both teams are so similar with their struggles and their injuries. But looking at their seasons, I'm going with the Cowboys. 

Prediction: Cowboys 21, Eagles 20

What goes right: Tackling won't be an issue this week, and the defense will play a much better game. If the Eagles run the ball, McCoy tops 100 yards and keeps the Eagles in the game.

What goes wrong: Vick continues to get beat up because of a struggling offensive line. Jason Witten has a big game.

Jeff McLane Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog
Birds' Eye View is the Inquirer's blog covering all things Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL.

Jeff McLane Inquirer Staff Writer
Zach Berman Inquirer Staff Writer
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