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Eagles Look For Strong Close

Posted Dec 23, 2013

The week has arrived for the Eagles to finish a season and close out a division title by winning a road game against an arch-rival. It is the next step, perhaps arriving faster than anticipated, in the Chip Kelly Era ...

Dallas is next, on Sunday night, in the final game of the regular season. It is a game that the Eagles must tie or win to capture their first NFC East title since 2010, and it's the start of the playoff season for a team that has matured so wonderfully through the course of this year.

How do the Eagles handle the moment? How do they avenge an October loss to Dallas in which the offense was stifled and quarterback Nick Foles was shut down and then injured with a concussion? And how does the Eagles defense maintain the intensity and execution it showed against Chicago with the reports on Monday that Dallas quarterback Tony Romo has a herniated disk and won't play, replaced by veteran Kyle Orton? Is the memory of what Matt Cassel and the Vikings did a couple of games ago fresh enough in the Eagles' minds?

Understand this: No matter who plays quarterback for Dallas, the Cowboys know the season is on the line and they are going to play that way. It's not about being the best team, but about being the best team on Sunday night. The team that plays the best game is going to win the NFC East.

We're early in the week and the preparations for Dallas have just started, but there are clearly major issues on the table to discuss. So let's do it ...

  • The Romo is a shocker and if it's true, it's a tough blow for a Dallas team that has absorbed a tremendous number of injuries on both sides of the ball this season. If Romo plays, and head coach Jason Garrett has labeled Romo "day to day," he's going to be limited. If the reports are true and Romo is out, then the Cowboys lose the skill he has to leave the pocket and make plays down the field. Say what you want about Romo, but Dallas is an explosive offense when he's on the field. Orton is a veteran, a solid quarterback and a good thrower from the pocket. He isn't going to make plays with his legs, though, and Orton has thrown just 22 passes since the start of the 2012 season.

  • Regardless of who plays quarterback for Dallas, a smart approach would be to try to shorten the game and work the running game with DeMarco Murray. He's a complete running back who can gain yards inside and outside, and the Eagles have to win the line of scrimmage and tackle well. Would it surprise anyone if Dallas tries to play move-the-chains offense with screen passes, a short passing game and a steady diet of Murray, who became the first Dallas running back since 2006 (Julius Jones) to reach 1,000 yards rushing in a season.

  • Dallas played a lot of single-high safety in the October win over the Eagles, bringing an extra safety into the box to slow the running game. The cornerbacks played a lot of press coverage against the Eagles' receivers. Foles had a bad game. The offense got nothing going. This time? How much does the offensive game plan change? How can the Eagles get LeSean McCoy, the league's top rusher, into the flow early in the game?

  • Dallas linebacker Sean Lee (neck) may not play, which would be another setback for a Dallas defense that allows 4.8 yards per rushing attempt, 418.6 yards per game and a completion percentage of 64.8 to opposing quarterbacks. Dallas has generated just 29 quarterback sacks through 15 games.

  • Some league rankings for the Eagles: they are second in total offense, first in rushing and 9th in passing, and they are 30th in total defense, 12th against the run and 30th against the pass. Most important offensive statistic: The Eagles are second in the league in points per game. And here's a key number for the defense, if you believe in numbers like this: The Eagles rank third in the NFL in average yards allowed per rushing attempt, 3.8 yards. This team battles against the run.

  • Turnover differential is a key statistic, and the Eagles have improved greatly in this category. They are at plus 10, tied for sixth in the league. The teams leading the way in the league? Seattle, Kansas City, Carolina and Indianapolis.

  • A huge key for Sunday night is the play in the red zone. The Eagles rank 12th in the league defensively inside their 20-yard line, while the Cowboys' offense is third-best in the NFL with a 69.4-percent touchdown percentage.

  • Sorry for all of the stats, but some really jump out at me. McCoy's season, for example, is one for the ages. He's 37 yards away from setting a franchise mark for most rushing yards in a single season, and you look at some of his individual games and it's amazing. He's had games of 217 yards (Detroit), 184 yards (Washington), 158 yards (Kansas City), 155 yards (Green Bay), 133 yards (Chicago) and 116 yards (Tampa Bay). What an incredible season for McCoy.

  • Bryce Brown looked great on Sunday night against Chicago with his 65-yard touchdown run part of a 115-yard night on only 9 carries. When he runs downhill, Brown is extremely productive. He needs more work, more refining, but the talent is there. It's going to be interesting to see if the Eagles use Brown a bit more to help wear down the Cowboys on Sunday night.

  • No matter the quarterback, the Eagles have their hands full with wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten. Bryant has 85 receptions, 1,134 yards and 12 touchdowns while Witten has 61 catches, 716 yards and 8 scores. As impressive as the secondary was against Chicago, the challenge becomes even greater in this all-important game.

  • We have not seen a player as versatile as cornerback Brandon Boykin in some time. He's a great -- flat-out great -- gunner in kick coverage -- and he may be the best slot corner playing in the league right now. Boykin is also a fine kickoff return man and would probably help any offense if given the chance. Superb young player.

  • How about, finally, a shout out to Donnie Jones, who has a 44.7-yard gross average on punts, a 40.2-yard net average and a team-record 32 punts inside the 20-yard line. The special teams really stepped up against Devin Hester. My concern: The punt return game is struggling. DeSean Jackson must stop trying to hit a home run on every return, and Damaris Johnson must be more aggressive and confident catching the punt. 

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