Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Eagles-Cowboys scouting report

Eagles LeSean McCoy and Cowboys Felix Jones lead their teams´ rushing attacks. (Staff and AP Photos)
Eagles LeSean McCoy and Cowboys Felix Jones lead their teams' rushing attacks. (Staff and AP Photos)
Recent history: The Cowboys defeated the Eagles three times last season, including a 34-14 playoff rout. Dallas leads the series, 58-44.

OFFENSE

Eagles: 400.7 yards per game (1st)

Cowboys: 365.9 yards per game (8th)

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  • Quarterback

    Eagles: Michael Vick notched his sixth 250-yard passing game and his fifth 100-plus passer rating last week vs. Houston. His ability to extend plays with his legs puts extraordinary pressure on secondaries. He's second in the league in yards per attempt (8.37) and also is averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

    Cowboys: Jon Kitna has benefited greatly from the Cowboys' re-emphasis on the run game. He's thrown more than 30 passes just once in the last five games, but has completed 68 percent of his attempts and has averaged 7.89 yards per attempt in those games. Likes to utilize tight ends and running backs.

    Pick: Eagles

    Running back

    Eagles: LeSean McCoy is sixth in the NFC in rushing and leads NFL backs in receptions with 67. He's been extremely effective on screens, helping keep opposing pass rushes off-balance. He's been most effective out of one-back sets. In the last six games, he's averaged 5.3 yards per carry out of one-back sets.

    Cowboys: The Cowboys have recommitted themselves to running the ball in the last month. They've averaged 34 carries per game the last four games after averaging just 21 in the first eight. Felix Jones and Tashard Choice combined for 183 rushing yards in last week's win over the Colts.

    Pick: Eagles

    Receiving

    Eagles: TE Brent Celek has re-emerged in the passing game. After catching just 23 passes in the first 10 games, he has been targeted 15 times the last 2 weeks and had 50 or more receiving yards in each game. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin both are on pace for 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

    Cowboys: TE Jason Witten has become Jon Kitna's go-to guy of late. He's been targeted 20 times in the last three games and caught 19 of those balls. Loss of WR Dez Bryant was a big blow. Miles Austin has just 13 receptions in the last five games, and Roy Williams hasn't had a TD catch since Week 5.

    Pick: Eagles

    Offensive line

    Eagles: Michael Vick's mobility has covered up a lot of blocking sins. But for the most part, this unit is generally playing better now than 2 months ago. C Mike McGlynn continues to improve and should be a better matchup vs. NT Jay Ratliff than Nick Cole was last January in those two ugly defeats.

    Cowboys: Cowboys have averaged almost 150 rushing yards in the last four games. They've also only allowed five sacks in those games. Sixty of the Cowboys' 84 rushing first downs have been on runs to the left or middle behind LT Doug Free, LG Kyle Kosier and C Andre Gurode. Eleven of their 19 negative runs have been to the right.

    Pick: Cowboys

    DEFENSE

    Eagles: 326.1 yards per game (12th)

    Cowboys: 361.9 yards per game (23rd)

    Defensive line

    Eagles: Rookie DE Brandon Graham looked like a guy who might be hitting the rookie wall last week as Texans RT Eric Winston easily handled him. He and the pass rush will benefit from the return of Juqua Parker. Cowboys have been most successful running left, so RE Trent Cole and RDT Antonio Dixon need to be productive.

    Cowboys: NT Jay Ratliff is one of the most active interior linemen in the league. He had 13 1/2 sacks over the last two seasons, but has only 2 1/2 through 12 games. Igor Olshansky and Marcus Spears both are solid 3-4 ends. They have a good blend of size, strength and athleticism.

    Pick: Even

    Linebacker

    Eagles: Jon Kitna relies heavily on his TE and RBs in the passing game, so this unit must cover and tackle well. MLB Stewart Bradley continues to be inconsistent in coverage. Eagles have held opponents to 3.8 yards per carry in the eight games since Moise Fokou was moved to SLB.

    Cowboys: This was supposed to be Anthony Spencer's breakout season, but it hasn't happened. While DeMarcus Ware is having another Pro Bowl-caliber season on the other side (9 1/2 sacks), Spencer is not. After recording six sacks in the last five games in '09, he's got just three this season.

    Pick: Cowboys

    Secondary

    Eagles: Eagles already have given up 24 TD passes, including 18 in the red zone. With CB Asante Samuel out with a knee injury the last two games, Eagles gave up six TD passes, had just one interception and were gashed to the tune of 10.2 yards per attempt. Cowboys' size at WR will present problems for the undersized secondary.

    Cowboys: This unit has been the defense's Achilles' heel. Former first-round CB Mike Jenkins has had a poor year and has been worked over mercilessly. The Cowboys' other corner, Orlando Scandrick, suffered a concussion last week and his status is uncertain. S Alan Ball has been a major coverage liability.

    Pick: Eagles

    Special teams

    Eagles: But for a pair of breakdowns on KO coverage 2 weeks ago vs. Bears, the coverage teams have been pretty solid the last six or seven games. Eagles haven't gotten a lot from their return game lately. KR Jorrick Calvin is averaging just 22.8 per return, and PR DeSean Jackson has had just two returns longer than 12 yards.

    Cowboys: Cowboys' return game suffered a major blow last week with the season-ending injury to PR Dez Bryant. He had been averaging 14.3 yards per return, with two TDs. P Mat McBriar is first in the league in both gross and net average. Cowboys' punt-coverage unit is ranked second in the league.

    Pick: Even

    MATCHUPS TO WATCH

    1. Eagles RDE Trent Cole vs. Cowboys LT Doug Free: Free, in his first season as the starting LT, has played pretty well. Cole is on the verge of notching his third double-digit sack season in the last 4 years. Advantage: Eagles

    2. Eagles WRs DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin vs. Cowboys CBs Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick: Cowboys have given up 25 TD passes and have a 98.4 opponent passer rating. Advantage: Eagles

    3. Eagles MLB Stewart Bradley vs. Cowboys TE Jason Witten: Bradley still isn't all the way back from his ACL injury. Witten has been targeted 20 times in the last three games and has 19 receptions, but is playing on a tender ankle. Advantage: Cowboys

    Hot and Not

    HOT

    Eagles: RB LeSean McCoy. Is averaging 5.8 yards per carry and 8.7 yards per catch, and has three TDs, in last three games.

    Cowboys: RB Tashard Choice. After getting just 14 carries in the first 11 games, Choice rushed for 100 yards on 19 carries vs. Colts.

    NOT

    Eagles: Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. His unit has given up 24 TD passes and is last in the league in red-zone defense.

    Cowboys: LB Anthony Spencer. Has just three sacks this season, only one in the last seven games.

    DOMOWITCH'S PREDICTION: Eagles 38, Cowboys 28

    by Paul Domowitch
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