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Cowboys-Eagles: What To Watch

Posted Nov 10, 2012

When The Eagles Have The Ball

The big question facing the Eagles offense is how will they matchup against the Cowboys' pass rush.

From the start of the season to now, the offensive line has had to be radically overhauled due to injury with the most recent being Todd Herremans' season-ending foot injury. The line for this Sunday's game will feature Demetress Bell at left tackle and King Dunlap at right tackle. The other spot in question is right guard as Dennis Kelly is set to start his third straight game with Danny Watkins still battling an injured ankle.

The Cowboys have one of the league's most dominant pass rushers in linebacker DeMarcus Ware. He's had 15.5 sacks in his career against the Eagles, more than any other team. He had a career-high four sacks in the blowout win for the Eagles last season at Lincoln Financial Field. And it's not like Ware just lines up in one position. Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan moves Ware all over the formation to get the best matchup. Ware is tied for second in the league with 9.0 sacks already and one more will give him 10-or-more sacks for the seventh straight season.

Ware's counterpart at outside linebacker is former first-round pick Anthony Spencer, who has three sacks which is good for second on the team. Spencer is also a sound player against the run.

The Eagles had their way with the Dallas defense last season. Running back LeSean McCoy had a career-high 185 rushing yards in the last meeting in Philadelphia. Michael Vick had four touchdown passes, no interceptions and a passer rating of 118.2 against Dallas last season.

Where the Eagles can look to take advantage is in the run game where the Cowboys rank 15th in rushing defense. Dallas also may not have Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff who is battling an ankle injury. In the middle of the 3-4 linebacking corps for Dallas is Bruce Carter, who in his second year has 55 tackles and a team-high six of them for a loss. Dallas lost a key figure to the defense when linebacker Sean Lee was lost for the year with a toe injury. He still leads the team with 77 tackles despite missing the past two games. Dan Connor is the starter inside along with Carter, but he has been limited with a neck injury. Former Eagle Ernie Sims could start in his place.

The Cowboys drastically upgraded in the secondary this past offseason splurging on free agent cornerback Brandon Carr and moving up in the first round of the draft to select Morris Claiborne. Orlando Scandrick is the team's slot corner and former starter Mike Jenkins, who missed Thursday's practice with a back injury, is the dime corner. Carr is versatile as he will play safety in the team's dime sets. At safety, the Cowboys have Gerald Sensabaugh and Danny McCray.

It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys attack the Eagles' offensive line. With Ryan likely to blitz, can the Eagles burn the Cowboys for a big play or two? Will the Eagles try to run the ball down Dallas' throat?

Eagles Projected Starting Lineup
Offense Defense
QB Michael Vick LDE Jason Babin
RB LeSean McCoy LDT Cullen Jenkins
FB Stanley Havili RDT Fletcher Cox
WR Jeremy Maclin RDE Trent Cole
LT Demetress Bell WILL LB Akeem Jordan
LG Evan Mathis MIKE LB DeMeco Ryans
C Dallas Reynolds SAM LB Mychal Kendricks
RG Dennis Kelly LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
RT King Dunlap RCB Nnamdi Asomugha
TE Brent Celek SS Nate Allen
WR DeSean Jackson FS Kurt Coleman

When The Cowboys Have The Ball

As mentioned above, there are many similarities between the Eagles offense and the Cowboys offense and what has plagued both teams through the first half of the season. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo leads the league in interceptions and the Cowboys and Eagles are tied for the most team turnovers in the NFC. As a result, both teams have a large disparity between their NFL rankings in total yardage and points scored. The Cowboys are sixth in total offense but rank 26th with only 18.8 points per game. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the Eagles are 10th in total offense but are tied for 29th with 16.6 points per game. So it won’t shock you to find out that, like the Eagles, the Cowboys have had some problems with an uneven offensive line.

Last year's top-10 pick Tyron Smith moved from right tackle to left tackle in the offseason and he’s continued to be the team’s best offensive lineman, though not quite as dominant as he was during his rookie season. Right tackle Doug Free is dependable, if not superlative. The Cowboys’ biggest issues along the line have come from the interior, where free agent imports Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings have been forgettable at the two guard spots. The Cowboys traded for center Ryan Cook prior to the start of the season, and he, too, has been just OK. For an Eagles pass rush that had struggled to create the kind of pressure it did last season, there might be an opportunity up the middle to be exploited by guys like Fletcher Cox and Cullen Jenkins, not to mention the possibilities of 'A' gap blitzes.

On the outside, the Cowboys have two tremendously talented wide receivers in Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Bryant has been a bit of an enigma this year, and truth be told he probably gets a bad rap when it comes to his on-field production. Yes, he’s occasionally unreliable when it comes to route adjustments and he’s had his share of drops on the year, but he’s also one of the most explosive and unique physical talents in the league. But the Cowboys actually have three players on pace to top 1,000 yards receiving on the year and Bryant ranks third on the list behind Austin and tight end Jason Witten. The Eagles have done a good job limiting tight ends in the passing game over the past two years, but after Jimmy Graham led the Saints in catches and receiving yards last week, there will be a renewed focus on containing Witten (that is likely to be helped by the expected return of Nate Allen to the starting lineup).

The Cowboys’ running game, meanwhile, has been the least productive part of the offense. The Cowboys rank 29th in rushing yards per game and 30th in rushing yards per play, and they’ve been without starter DeMarco Murray for the past several weeks. Murray is close to returning, but Felix Jones will remain the running back at least for another week. Jones has a history of big plays against the Eagles, but he hasn’t been too explosive in 2012, as he’s averaging 3.6 yards per carry. But the Cowboys’ limited success in the running game doesn’t guarantee that the Eagles will maintain an advantage there after the team allowed 140 yards rushing on 5.6 yards per carry last week to a Saints offense that had been last in the league in rushing. The onus will then be on the Eagles defense to regain their tackling form from early in the season to help get the Eagles back on track. It’s also worth noting that the Cowboys’ rank of 26th in red zone offense should mesh well with the Eagles’ ranking of fourth in red zone defense. In a game where points may be hard to come by, keeping the Cowboys out of the end zone will be paramount.

Cowboys Projected Starting Lineup
Offense Defense
WR Dez Bryant DT Kenyon Coleman
LT Tyron Smith NT Jay Ratliff
LG Nate Livings DT Jason Hatcher
C Ryan Cook SLB Anthony Spencer
RG Mackenzy Bernadeau MLB Bruce Carter
RT Doug Free WLB Ernie Sims
TE Jason Witten JLB DeMarcus Ware
WR Miles Austin LCB Brandon Carr
QB Tony Romo RCB Morris Claiborne
FB Lawrence Vickers FS Gerald Sensabaugh
RB Felix Jones SS Danny McCray

Key Matchups

DT Fletcher Cox vs. C Ryan Cook

Through eight games, rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has been everything the coaches were hoping he would be when they moved up to nab him in April’s draft. His rare blend of athleticism and power allows him to fight through double teams while still having the speed to be an effective pass rusher. Cox made his first career start against the Falcons, and he backed up the team's confidence by making a career-high 11 tackles.

With Dallas’ starting center Phil Costa likely out with an ankle injury, Cox will be opposed by journeyman Ryan Cook. A former second-round pick of the Vikings in 2006, Cook has started at both center and guard. Cook spent last season in Miami before being traded to the Cowboys before the start of the 2012 season. The Cowboys’ offensive line was expected to be the team’s biggest weakness, but through eight games Tony Romo is the sixth least-sacked quarterback in the NFL. The Eagles’ defensive line has had trouble getting to the quarterback, but this matchup is one that the Eagles’ rookie can take advantage of.

LB DeMarcus Ware vs. Eagles Offensive Line

Few players in the NFL command as much respect as linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Eight years into his Hall of Fame career, Ware’s 108.5 sacks rank 19th on the list of all-time list. Ware has 15.5 sacks in his career against the Eagles in the regular season, including six last season. Ware has shown no signs of slowing down this season, and has 37 tackles, 9.0 sacks (tied for second in NFL) and four forced fumbles through eight games. With the Eagles’ struggles along the offensive line, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will move Ware around to create the best matchup for his linebacker. Ware is as disruptive as they come, so the Eagles must account for him on every play.

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