Despite Nick Foles’ near-flawless game, LeSean McCoy’s 170 yards from scrimmage, DeSean Jackson’s two touchdowns and Riley Cooper’s career game, the Eagles beat the Bucs by only 11 and were ahead by only one point midway through the fourth quarter on Sunday. The better team won, but there were sweaty palm moments as Tampa and its rookie quarterback drove 90 yards on the Eagles defense in the fourth quarter. Mike Glennon made a few off target throws and the Bucs settled for a field goal, but I can’t imagine most offenses failing to convert in that situation.
So what’s the point of rehashing last week’s game, you may be asking? Well, I just can’t see Foles being as near-perfect – considering the law of averages – and Tony Romo not lighting up a suspect Eagles defense given a similar opportunity. Foles isn’t going to lay an egg – Chip Kelly’s offense is too potent and Dallas’ defense too average for that happen – but his offense won’t be able to outscore the Cowboys.
Romo is putting up career numbers. It seems he does that every season. But he also continues to struggle in big moments. The winner here will stand atop the NFC East, but an October matchup between division rivals doesn’t quite qualify as a big moment and I don’t think the score will be close enough late for Romo’s issues to surface. Dez Bryant has been his primary target, catching 34 catches for 459 yards and six touchdowns. Cary Williams will see Bryant on his right side for most of the game and that is a mismatch. Bryant does a lot of his damage over the middle.
If Bryant was the Cowboys’ only receiving weapon, the Eagles defense might stand a chance, but tight end Jason Witten (31 catches for 340 yards and three TDs) remains a force. Bucs tight end Tim Wright (who?) gave Eagles linebackers and safeties problems for most of Sunday’s game. While Miles Austin has been quiet this season, rookie receiver Terrance Williams has complemented Bryant as a downfield threat.
Dallas is expected to be without running back DeMarco Murray, so it will fall upon rookie Joseph Randle to keep the Eagles honest up front. Cedric Thornton has been a disruptive force against the run this season and Fletcher Cox has improved as a run stopper over the last two games. His forte is still pass rushing, as he showed in Tampa, but he needs help from outside linebackers Trent Cole and Connor Barwin.
The Cowboys defense will be without lynchpin DeMarcus Ware, or at least that’s been the spin all week. There was a report earlier today that the defensive end will travel to Philly even though there had been reports earlier this week that a quadriceps injury could sideline him for up to four weeks. I asked Todd Herremans what he thought about a Dallas defense without Ware and the skeptical guard said, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.” Ware has never missed a game in his NFL career.
If he’s out, the Cowboys still have talent up front. Defensive lineman Jason Hatcher (five sacks to Ware’s four) may be off to better start. Dallas isn’t as strong in the back seven, though. Middle linebacker Sean Lee is always around the ball and impressive cornerback Brandon Carr could shadow Jackson all game. But linebacker Bruce Carter is a liability in coverage and cornerback Morris Claiborne has struggled all season.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is famous for his Tampa 2 zone, but he likes to mix up his coverages with the Cowboys. He probably doesn’t have the horses to go man-to-man for very long, though. The Eagles have had issues when defenses have gone man with a single high safety, but there should be enough zone looks for Kelly to run his collection of run-pass option package plays. If Foles can keep the offense churning with screens – and, of course, McCoy on the ground – then the Eagles may be able to keep Romo off the field for long stretches.
If Foles is forced to throw downfield too often it could spell trouble for the Eagles offense. I don’t think the Cowboys have enough to keep the Eagles offense in check, but I worry about turnovers. The Eagles have committed only one in the last three games. The law of averages suggests they can’t keep up that pace.
Prediction: Cowboys 37, Eagles 30
What goes right: Eagles tight end Zach Ertz has his breakout game.
What goes wrong: Dangerous Dallas returner Dwayne Harris takes back a long one on the Birds.
The winner of this game will, in fact, claim first place in the NFC East. Then again, it’s not even November yet. That story makes for a good narrative, but at this point, it’s an important game because it’s the next game and it’s a division game. There’s much that will happen in the next two months that will sway the season one way or the other. What happens Sunday will contribute to the team’s eventual fate, but it won’t determine it.
Of greater significance to the Eagles than the NFC East standings in mid-October is the performance of the quarterback. Because how Nick Foles does could dictate what happens the rest of the season.
I think Foles has another impressive performance. It might not match last week’s game, but he’ll accumulate yards and the team will score points. The question is turnovers. Can Foles go 2 ½ games without a turnover? I’m not convinced of it, but that will be the big test. Dallas’ offense is too dangerous to give them free possessions. Foles needs to play mistake-free for the second consecutive week.
The Eagles will be able to run the ball again. LeSean McCoy will combine for more than 150 total yards. Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee is an outstanding player, and defensive lineman Jason Hatcher has had a very strong season. But the Eagles’ running game is sophisticated and successful this season, and I don’t see that changing.
In the passing game, pay attention to the DeSean Jackson vs. Brandon Carr matchup. Riley Cooper needs to be relevant again, too. Zach Ertz looks better each week, and his big game is coming.
The Eagles will score. They just won’t outscore Dallas.
That’s because Tony Romo is poised for a big day against this Eagles defense. The Eagles aren’t generating enough pass rush this season to flummox Romo, and the defensive backfield will struggle against Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. The other player who pops out on film is rookie Terrance Williams. He has good size, he moves well, and he catches what comes his way. Williams has caught 18 of 21 targets this season. The Eagles must account for him, too.
The wild card is the Cowboys’ running game without DeMarco Murray. When David Wilson left the Giants game, the Eagles focused on stopping the Giants’ passing game and were able to force turnovers and get to the quarterback. If the Cowboys’ backup running backs don’t pose a threat – there will be a big burden on fifth-round pick Joseph Randle – then the Eagles defense might be in better shape.
Still, opposing quarterbacks have been able to pass the ball on the Eagles this year. Mike Glennon had a good game, and he’s a rookie. I can see Romo having another big afternoon to continue a strong season.
It will be a close game and it will be a high-scoring game. The Eagles win if they avoid turnovers and limit Romo. I don’t see that happening, although a good game for Foles puts the onus on Chip Kelly entering a rematch with the Giants next week.
Prediction: Cowboys 38, Eagles 34
What goes right: Foles tops 300 yards passing. McCoy tops 100 yards rushing.
What goes wrong: Tony Romo tops 400 yards passing. The Eagles commit a costly turnover.