Here's a comparative position by position review of the Eagles and Cowboys:
Nick Foles has played well in his 1.5 games of action, but Tony Romo has absolutely lit it up so far. Here is where Romo ranks among NFL QBs this year:
- QB Rating - 3rd (108.6)
- Yards per game - 11th (282)
- TD passes - Tied for 2nd (14)
- Completion % - 3rd (70.2%)
- Yards per attempt - 9th (7.77)
Plus, Romo has only thrown 3 interceptions, although one was at a very Romo-esque inopportune time late in their shootout against the Broncos.
Well, let's see here... The Eagles have the NFL's leading rusher in LeSean McCoy, and the next closest player who has played the same number of games (Arian Foster) trails him by 99 yards. The Cowboys, meanwhile, are missing starting RB DeMarco Murray, as well as their #2, Lance Dunbar. 5th round rookie RB Joseph Randle will get the start.
Although DeSean Jackson has better numbers so far this season, Dez Bryant is probably the best WR in the NFC East. The Cowboys also have a promising young rookie deep threat in Terrance Williams, who has caught 13 passes for 249 yards and 2 TDs over the last 3 games. Both Bryant (6'2, 222) and Williams (6'2, 200) have good size. Miles "Hamstrings" Austin is clearly on the downside of his career. Riley Cooper was among the most unproductive WRs in the league before having his best game of the season last week, while Jason Avant remains a chain-mover from the slot.
Both the Eagles and Cowboys used 2nd round picks on tight ends this past draft. The Eagles took Zach Ertz 35th overall, and the Cowboys took Gavin Escobar 47th overall. In case you're wondering, here are Ertz's and Escobar's numbers so far:
- Ertz: 10 catches, 163 yards, 0 TD
- Escobar: 4 catches, 65 yards, 1 TD
The 2013 draft was the first draft in NFL history in which the first 3 TEs to come off the board had a last name beginning with the letter "E." They were Tyler Eifert, Ertz, and Escobar. OK, I don't know if that's actually a factual statement or not, but let's just assume it is.
The two rookies aside, Jason Witten is clearly a better player than Brent Celek.
For years, the Cowboys' offensive line has been their biggest weakness. This year they're playing a lot better. The run game is opening up more holes, and Tony Romo has had more time to throw.
Still, the athleticism of the Eagles' offensive line has paved the way for the LeSean McCoy, often opening up enormous holes, and the results are there. The Eagles lead the league in rushing yards, yards per carry, rushing first downs, and rushing first down %. Also, when the Eagles' OL isn't blocking for a QB who holds onto the ball for an eternity, they have protected the QB well. In 6 quarters, Nick Foles has only been sacked twice.
Defensive Front 7
Since the Eagles run a 3-4 and Cowboys run a 4-3, we won't compare a 3-man DL to a 4-man DL, and a 4-LB set to a 3-LB set.
The best player on either of these front sevens who will play on Sunday is Penn State product Sean Lee. Lee is a highly athletic player, who has the ability to drop into the deep zone of the Tampa 2 defense, and gobble up tackles in run support. Beyond Lee, the Cowboys are decimated by injuries. They are missing 3 starters along their defensive line (one was just cut), and are playing guys they picked up off the street is those spots. Jason Hatcher has been very good at DT for the Cowboys this year, but LB Bruce Carter seems to have taken a step back in the new scheme.
That's not to say that the Eagles really hold a true advantage here, as they have struggled to get any kind of consistent pass rush this season. They have, however, done a good job against the run, giving up just 4.0 yards per carry.
Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton are both playing very well for the Eagles, but again, the Eagles only get the nod here because the Cowboys are rolling into this game incredibly banged up in the trenches.
Yeah, I said it. The Eagles CBs are playing better right now. Brandon Carr will be the best CB on the field on Sunday, but we're not talking about a lockdown kind of guy there. Meanwhile, 2nd year pro Morris Claiborne was already benched once this year, and Brandon Boykin has a clear edge over Cowboys slot corner Orlando Scandrick. Boykin is developing into one of the best slot CBs in the NFL. Meanwhile, Bradley Fletcher is tied for 2nd in the NFL in passes defensed, with 10. According to ProFootballFocus (which admittedly is a little iffy on things like picking out which player on defense should by considered the "target"), here are the passer ratings of opposing QBs who have targeted the Eagles' corners this season:
- Cary Williams: 82.4
- Bradley Fletcher: 78.8
- Brandon Boykin: 64.2
By contrast, here are Dallas' corners in the same metric:
- Morris Claiborne: 92.6
- Orlando Scandrick: 90.8
- Brandon Carr: 75.8
The Cowboys invested heavily in their CBs, but this group is overrated, while the Eagles' CBs have been underrated. Both teams have have given up a boatload of passing yards this season (the Eagles give up 6 more passing yards per game than the Cowboys), but the Eagles' corners have not been the biggest culprits of those struggles.
Big advantage here for the Cowboys, who have gotten competent play from their safeties, while the Eagles... have not. Not including Earl Thomas (who played one extra game), Barry Church is 2nd in the NFL in tackles from the safety position.
Return units: Cowboys