(SportsNetwork.com) - There should be no shortage of points when the Dallas
Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles battle for sole possession of first place in
the NFC East Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Cowboys and Eagles have proven they can score, but they also have trouble
keeping opponents off the board. Dallas is second in the NFL with an average
of 30.5 points per game and Philadelphia is fourth with 27.2 ppg.
On the contrary, the Eagles are 29th in points allowed (29.8) and Dallas is
21st (25.3). Defense should be at a minimum between these NFC East rivals,
especially for the Eagles, who are 31st against the pass (314.5) and dead last
in total yards allowed (420.2).
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is probably chomping at the bit to get after the
Eagles' secondary. Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said his unit must
be aggressive in disrupting Romo and Dallas' offensive game plan.
"When you study him on film, he's either really hot or really off, and
sometimes it's through the course of one single game," Davis said. "He can be
hot in the first half and second half cold, and vice versa. You've got to play
him all the way through four quarters. You've got to challenge the receivers
and challenge him to find the opening, and keep moving in on him. I think
he'll make some plays and I think that he'll make some mistakes."
Romo wasn't at his best his last time out, a 31-16 win over the division-rival
Washington Redskins Sunday night. He had his lowest rating of the season at
72.9 and completed 18-of-30 passes for a season-low 170 yards with a touchdown
pass and an interception. Romo, of course, was coming off a record performance
in a heart-breaking 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos in which he threw for a
franchise-record 506 yards and five TDs. However, his interception late in the
game enabled the Broncos to march into scoring position for the win.
The reason why the Cowboys are in first place is because of Romo, who is tied
for second in the NFL with 14 TD passes. But besides scoring points, the
Cowboys' offense still needs some work. The Cowboys are 11th in passing yards
(265.0), so Romo has to be more consistent there, and 13th in total yards
(349.8). The Cowboys have three pass catchers with more than 300 yards
receiving in Dez Bryant (459 yards, 6 TD), tight end Jason Witten (340 yards,
3 TD) and Terrance Williams (309 yards, 2 TD).
It's good to have threats across the field, but a running game is necessary to
keep defenses honest. DeMaro Murray was doing that through the first six games
until a sprained left knee versus the Redskins ended his night. Murray, who
has 428 yards rushing and three touchdowns, is expected to miss Sunday's game
in south Philly.
"We'll miss him certainly this coming week," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said,
according to the team's website. "But we'll see from there."
Murray, though, didn't rule himself out.
"I'm preparing like I'm playing this week, the way I'm preparing mentally in
the classroom, physically on the field," Murray said. "We haven't said which
way, what we're going to do yet. It all depends on how comfortable I am. We
were able to do some things today, and I felt good."
If Murray does miss the game, rookie Joseph Randle will most likely handle the
load in the backfield. Randle posted 17 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in
relief of Murray against the Redskins.
The Eagles are allowing 105.7 rushing yards per game, and defending
the run is actually their calling card on defense. But don't count on them for
much else. They are struggling to get to the quarterback as evidenced by 13
sacks through six games and have just six interceptions.
In a 31-20 victory at Tampa Bay last weekend, Philadelphia allowed 351 yards
to the Buccaneers and recorded an interception. The Eagles were almost beaten
by a rookie quarterback in Mike Glennon, who passed for 272 yards and a pair
of touchdowns to keep it close until Tampa Bay allowed 10 points in the
decisive fourth quarter. Bucs running back Doug Martin was held to 67 yards on
16 carries and wide receiver Vincent Jackson was the lone bright spot with 114
yards and two TDs on nine receptions.
Still, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly was pleased with the defense.
"Our defense did a really good job," Kelly said. "They got pressure on the
quarterback. There were a couple of third and longs there that I think we
would want back, but overall we were around the ball. We kept the ball in
front of us. We're getting better each week and we'll take this one and we'll
grow from it and we'll go from there."
Tampa Bay was 6-of-15 on third down, while the Eagles were 7-of-14.
Eagles cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher, who had an interception Sunday, and Cary
Williams have a difficult chore in trying to slow down Romo and the Cowboys'
offense. Bryant has emerged as one of the more dynamic wideouts in the game
and Witten can still cause problems despite losing a step. Tackling,
collapsing the pocket and safety play have always been an issue with the
Eagles and they hope to improve on that this week.
Safety Patrick Chung is hoping his shoulder issue is in the past and he left
Sunday's win against the Bucs with the same problem. Rookie Earl Wolff will
step in again if Chung can't go.
"Pat will be limited," Kelly said Wednesday. "He ran around a little bit
yesterday. It really just depends on how he can handle his shoulder and what
he can do from a function standpoint."
The Cowboys, who are 2-0 in the NFC East and 3-0 in the conference, won both
meetings against the Eagles last season by a combined score of 76-56. The
Eagle are also 2-0 in division play and 3-0 against the NFC, and have lost six
of the previous nine matchups with Dallas. The Cowboys are 61-47 in the
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
It appears Eagles quarterback Nick Foles will make his second start of the
season because Michael Vick is still nursing a hamstring injury. Vick said the
injury, which occurred a few weeks ago against the Giants, is worse than what
he thought and will keep him from playing.
"I'm not playing this week," Vick said. "Every day I'm just working and trying
to get better. I just can't rush it."
Foles, though, made his first start of the season last week in Tampa Bay and
earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week for completing 22-of-31 passes for 296
yards and three touchdowns, including two to DeSean Jackson. Foles also rushed
for a score in the victory.
The offense has continued to click under Foles, who's taller than Vick and
gets rid of the ball faster, too. While Vick struggles to read defenses and
find an open receiver, Foles' height enables him to look around and hit his
targets across the field. Philadelphia hasn't missed a beat without Vick, a
dangerous weapon in the ground attack, and is third in total yards (449.8) and
fourth in points scored (27.2).
Foles will try to exploit a weak Dallas secondary, which is 30th in both
defending the pass (308.2) and yards allowed (413.2). Jackson is second in the
NFL with 589 receiving yards and has three TDs in the last two games. The
Cowboys will try to take Jackson out of his game with safety help up top.
The Eagles are the top rushing team in the NFL thanks to Vick and running back
LeSean McCoy. Dallas is 14th against the run, allowing 105.0 yards per game on
the ground, and should expect a heavy load of McCoy, who was able to penetrate
the Bucs' tough run defense for 116 yards on 25 carries. He has three 100-yard
games this season and leads the NFL with 630 rushing yards and 871 yards from
scrimmage. McCoy and the Eagles offense are hoping tackle Jason Peters is
healthy enough to play after injuring his shoulder against the Buccaneers.
Dallas allowed 433 yards (216 rushing) to the Redskins and could also be
without star linebacker DeMarcus Ware because of a thigh injury. The durable
Ware, who has never missed a game, tweaked his leg on a rush against the
Redskins Sunday night. Cowboys defensive tackle and sack leader Jason Hatcher
knows his responsibility will rise if Ware is unable to shake his leg issue.
"I'm the leader of this D-line now with D-Ware gone," Hatcher said. "I've got
to hold these guys accountable to play the game the right way and play their
butts off and don't approach the game like they're backups. I talked to them
after the game and said, 'You guys are starters, so prepare like a starter
this week.' I've got to do my job as a leader to get these boys ready."
Kyle Wilber's role will increase, too, on the defensive line. Wilber had a
strip sack and fumble last week.
The Eagles have lost eight in a row at home, last prevailing at the Linc on
Sept. 30 versus the Giants in 2012. The Cowboys are winless in their last
three games outside of Big D. Something has to give there and Philadelphia
will give their frenzy faithful something to cheer about with a big win to
take over sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
Not that the Philly fans need an incentive for rowdiness with Dallas in town,
but it's been a while since they witnessed a win at home. Expect a back-and-
forth battle between a pair of rivals with mediocre defenses and another
efficient outing from Foles. Romo will get his numbers as well.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 34, Cowboys 26
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