Jason Garrett is in his fourth season as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys and presiding over a competitive team that resembles the Philadelphia Eagles in more ways than just having an identical 3-3 record.
Aside from defenses that switched schemes in the offseason (Eagles from 4-3 to 3-4 and Cowboys from 3-4 to 4-3) and have had to traverse the accompanying growing pains, the strength for both teams rests in their explosive offenses. The Eagles and Cowboys boast top-five scoring offenses, and everyone expects Sunday's game to be a shootout that lights up the scoreboard. The Cowboys are, as usual, led by quarterback Tony Romo, who is in the midst of one of his finest seasons to date. He's completing 70.2 percent of his passes for 1,693 yards with 14 touchdowns against three interceptions for a 108.6 quarterback rating that ranks third in the NFL.
"I think Tony's had a really good start to the season," Garrett said. "He's made a lot of plays for us and hasn't made that many mistakes. The best indicator of that is the interception total to the touchdown total has been very positive for us. But Tony makes a lot of other plays that are not as recognizable, and I think he's done that consistently throughout the first six games. He's running our offense well, he has a comfort level with it, and I think he's playing very efficiently. I'm not really one to compare players or quarterbacks with other guys around the league because there are a lot of great quarterbacks in this league, and we're happy to have Tony Romo as our quarterback."
Michael Vick is still recovering from his hamstring injury and, as he announced Thursday to the media, will not play on Sunday against the Cowboys. Nick Foles, therefore, will get his second start at quarterback for the Eagles after a magnificent performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Garrett saw Foles twice last season and feels the young signal caller has only continued to evolve.
"I just think he's an impressive player. Quarterback is a hard position to play, and to step in as a rookie like he did last year and play as much as he did and as well as he did was impressive," said Garrett, a former quarterback for the Cowboys. "I think he's just continued his growth. It's a different offensive scheme, but you can tell he's a pretty darn good football player. He understands what they're trying to get accomplished there. He can stand in the pocket and make a lot of big throws for them. He's played very efficiently."
In addition to Foles and the Eagles passing attack, the Cowboys defense will have to contend with the NFL's top-ranked rushing offense and leading rusher in LeSean McCoy, who has burned them in the past.
"He's a fantastic football player, he really is, and he'd be pretty darn good in any scheme," Garrett said. "Anybody would admit that and recognize that. He's been a heck of a player since they drafted him, a very challenging guy to defend and certainly this scheme fits him well. They spread people out, he gets a chance to get in space, both as a runner and as a receiver and they're not afraid to hand him the football. He's certainly a dynamic player, and they do a great job with him."
A popular storyline throughout the week has been how Chip Kelly will attack Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's scheme, against which he had a tremendous amount of success when the two coached at Oregon and Southern California, respectively.
"Well, I think a lot of defenses struggled against Chip's offense in college," Garrett said. "They racked up historic numbers there at Oregon, and they were just fantastic. He's doing a lot of the same kinds of things with the Eagles and they've been very productive. They're the number one rushing team in the National Football League and they've made a ton of plays in the passing game, so they challenge you in a lot of different ways. We see that on tape and we're trying to prepare as best we can to play our best football on Sunday."
Garrett referred numerous times to how much Kelly's offense "challenges" the defense with its rapid tempo, spread-out nature and multiplicity. Kelly has, to this point, successfully implemented the tenets that made his Oregon offense so dangerous while also adopting pro passing concepts that stretch the field and incorporating specific plays run by other teams.
"I think what they did at Oregon, they're trying to bring to Philadelphia," Garrett said. "Just the base concepts of playing fast, being in spread-type offenses and formations and running the football. You saw that in college, it was very effective for them. They ran a ton of plays up there. They played with a great tempo and they're doing the same thing there in Philadelphia. Again, a lot of spread-out formations, run the football, as good a running team as there is in the league right now. Then there's a lot of stuff off the run, whether it's a quarterback run or some kind of run-action pass or a naked (bootleg), they're really good at it and challenge you in a lot of ways.
"They've got some dynamic playmakers outside. Tying that into what they're doing with the running game, they can make a lot of plays with the short and intermediate passing game. You see that all the time, and you see them making plays down the field when they take their shots. Again, it's a very challenging offense, and you see that on tape through the first six ball games."
The Cowboys have experienced a multitude of injuries to key players – starting with defensive end Anthony Spencer, who is out for the season – and it is possible that defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who is officially listed as doubtful, could miss the first game of his career with a quadriceps injury. On offense, DeMarco Murray is doubtful with an MCL sprain and Miles Austin has been battling a nagging hamstring ailment that kept him out of two games. As a result, the Cowboys have had to rely on many of their rookies to step up and make immediate impacts, which they have.
"That's the nature of this league," Garrett said. "You draft these guys and you have to give them a chance to come in. I think it's a real tribute to those guys, their preparation at the college level and since they've been here to get themselves game-ready to play. We have a center in Travis Frederick who has been a starter for us since day one. Gavin Escobar is playing tight end for us, Terrance Williams is playing receiver for us, J.J. Wilcox is involved. Some other guys, if they're not starters on offense or defense, they're playing a significant role on special teams and they're spot players on either side of the ball. That's the nature of the NFL right now, you have to coach them quick and get them ready to play and I think our guys have responded well."
With Murray likely out, the Eagles defense will be able to key in on Jason Witten and Dez Bryant. Witten has always been a thorn in the Eagles side, and Bryant has done damage as well in four career games (18 receptions, 275 yards, three touchdowns). As Bryant has emerged over the past two seasons as a dynamic, superstar wide receiver, teams have begun to devote extra attention to him in coverage. He is a near impossible matchup one-on-one, and the Eagles defense figures to do the same.
"They've done a variety of things to him," Garrett said of the coverages Bryant has seen from other defenses. "He's had some big games already for us. He's a guy who can be a mismatch player, and teams will try to attack him different ways. Some put their best corner on him, some want to roll the coverage to him or give him some kind of extra attention on the back end with two defenders. That's part of the reality that he's going to live with really throughout his career. He just has to keep working through it, and he's done a real nice job continuing to make plays for us given all that attention he's getting."
Despite the Eagles ranking in the bottom of the NFL in yards and points allowed per game, Garrett knows that, just as with his own defense, it is coming along and has made strides in recent weeks. He praised the unit and individual players and knows they will be hungry to prove to the football world that they can stop a prolific offense.
"Their front is very good," Garrett said. "We've been competing against Trent Cole for a long, long time. He's an outstanding football player, a great pass rusher. (Connor) Barwin on the other side has been a great addition for them coming off the edge. They have good interior defensive linemen. Their linebackers are very active, and, again, they're good in the secondary like we talked about earlier. They've got a lot of good players on defense and there are a lot of guys that you want to highlight and challenge your players to step up and play well against because they have a lot of them on defense."
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