Doesn't it seem like we were just here? Preparing for a first-place showdown between the Eagles and their old, hated rivals, the Dallas Cowboys. It was, in fact, just over two weeks ago that the 8-3 Eagles were preparing for a Thanksgiving trip to Dallas to play the 8-3 Cowboys. We know how that game went, the Eagles romped to a 33-10 victory, and yet, by virtue of the Eagles' loss to Seattle and the Cowboys' victory over Chicago, we're back in basically the same place. The Eagles and Cowboys share 9-4 records and first place atop the NFC East (though the Eagles do hold the tiebreaker advantage thanks to a superior division record), and with three games left, Sunday night's showdown takes on even more added importance. With a win, the Eagles will all but lock up a second consecutive division crown. A loss, though, would all of a sudden leave the Eagles needing help just in order to move on to the postseason.
Of course, when it's Eagles-Cowboys, neither team really needs any extra motivation. On the field, the most important questions will be answered along the line of scrimmage. For the Eagles offense, the template for success was laid two weeks ago, when Mark Sanchez threw the Eagles into the lead in the first half before the running game ran rampant in the second half. But after LeSean McCoy and co. were relatively slowed by the Seahawks last week, the challenge will be to get back to what worked against the Cowboys. On the other side of the ball, the marquee matchup once again pits the vaunted Cowboys offensive line against the Eagles' underrated three-man front and the four linebackers behind them. Two weeks ago, Fletcher Cox nearly won that matchup single-handedly as the Eagles held DeMarco Murray to season lows in rushing yards and yards per carry. Of course, the flow of that game was affected because of the Eagles' large lead. To be sure, the likes of Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Jeremy Maclin will affect the outcome Sunday night, but if the Eagles are to grab hold of the division, they'll look to do it in the trenches . After a wildly successful home slate to date (6-1), the Eagles will no doubt be fired up to close out the regular season Lincoln Financial Field schedule in style.
- Bo Wulf
Last Time They Met At Lincoln Financial Field:
October 20, 2013 – Cowboys 17, Eagles 3
The last time the Cowboys came north to South Philly, they won handily thanks to an ugly day on offense for the good guys. Nick Foles was flummoxed to the tune of 11-of-29 passing for just 80 yards before leaving with a concussion. We know how Foles rebounded when he returned to the lineup in Oakland, but the matchup with Dallas was an ugly on. LeSean McCoy managed just 55 yards on the ground as the Eagles were shut out until a fourth-quarter Alex Henery field goal pulled them within 10-3. But the Cowboys would score on the ensuing possession thanks to a 9-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Terrance Williams that would drop the Eagles to 3-4 on the season. The Eagles and Cowboys have split the last 10 meetings in Philadelphia.
- Bo Wulf
When The Eagles Have The Ball
In the first meeting of these two teams, when the Eagles had the ball, everything was smooth sailing for the boys in white jerseys and green pants.
The Eagles piled up 464 yards of offense, running the ball at will and throwing the ball with no fear. Running back LeSean McCoy had his best game of the season, breaking off a number of big runs and finishing the Bird Day battle with 159 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The Cowboys have given up 14 rushing touchdowns this season, sixth most in the league, and the Eagles were able to exploit that in the first matchup. Fourteen of the Eagles' 33 points came on the ground, and if they have anything to say about it, they will likely look there for production once again.
McCoy, who had a quieter game against a sturdy Seattle front seven, will be looking to get back into a groove against a Dallas defense allowing 4.4 yards per attempt, 21st in the league. On Thanksgiving, McCoy ran that number up to 6.4 yards per attempt on 25 carries, his second-best mark of the season. The newly minted Eagles' all-time leading rusher will be looking to replicate his success from the earlier in the season come Sunday.
And quarterback Mark Sanchez, who was held to 96 passing yards against the Seahawks, will also be looking at this weekend's contest as one in which he can rediscover his rhythm. Dallas has a penchant for allowing a lot of passing yards; as of Week 14, the Cowboys have allowed 251.9 passing yards per game, 25th in the NFL. While Sanchez didn't need to rack up outlandish numbers against Dallas in Week 13, throwing for 217 yards, he essentially had his way with his targets. Sanchez completed 20 of 29 passes and threw one touchdown, avoiding turnovers altogether and cranking out a game so efficient that he finished the afternoon with a quarterback rating of 102.2.
His performance against the Cowboys in Week 13 was the first time in five games that Dallas didn't finish the game with at least one interception. This past week Dallas intercepted Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, making Sanchez the only quarterback the Cowboys didn't intercept in their past six games. He threw one interception against the Seahawks, a result of a solid pass rush and a throw that Sanchez admitted he wishes he had back. But he can avoid being flushed out of the pocket like that if the opposing defense has to respect the run in a big way.
If McCoy can get going again, like he did on Thanksgiving, Sanchez should feel the effects and, in turn, have more time to make those precise throws against Dallas' secondary. Wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Jordan Matthews showed in the first meeting of the season that they're more than capable of beating the Cowboys' secondary, combining for 159 yards. If Sanchez gets the time he needs, the Eagles' offense should be back to clicking on all cylinders in this Sunday's rematch.
- Adam Hermann
When The Cowboys Have The Ball
When the Cowboys had the ball on Thanksgiving, quarterback Tony Romo and his surrounding weapons couldn't seem to find much traction against a consistently solid Eagles defense.
Defensive coordinator Bill Davis' unit was able to squelch the league's leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, limiting him to 73 yards on 23 carries. It remains the only time so far this season that Murray was held to under 100 yards when Romo was the team's starting quarterback, and after another strong performance against Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, the Eagles' defensive line should feel like it can repeat its success from Week 13. Defensive end Fletcher Cox recorded 11 tackles and was a dominant force along the line, getting good penetration and consistently releasing from blocks against the Seahawks. He led the Eagles' defense in keeping Lynch to just 3.7 yards per carry on 23 attempts, an impressive effort despite the loss.
And if the Eagles can stop the Cowboys' run game once again, they should be in for a pleasant afternoon. Dallas's offense is predicated on being able to run the ball, and run it often. Through 14 weeks the Cowboys have the fifth-most rush attempts in the NFL, compared to the fourth-fewest passing attempts. They know what they like to do, and it's run with DeMarco Murray, as evidenced by his almost unfathomable 24.6 attempts per game. No other running back is averaging 20 attempts per game. McCoy is second in the league with 19.9 attempts per game.
If the Eagles' defense can force Dallas into the air, of course, they'll face Romo, who, despite throwing a pair of interceptions against the Eagles in Week 13, is still playing the best football of his career. The veteran gunslinger is playing efficient, smart football, a result of the decline in pass attempts thanks to the Cowboys' success on the ground. Romo has tossed 25 touchdowns to just eight interceptions in 12 games this year, and his 108.8 quarterback rating is the highest of his career.
A large part of Romo's success, however, has come because of Murray's success. If the Eagles' defense can stop the run game first and force Dallas into a one-dimensional attack, as they showed they can do on Thanksgiving, then Romo's effectiveness slips. The Eagles limited him to 199 yards in the air and no touchdowns, intercepted him twice, and limited star wide receiver Dez Bryant to 73 yards, his lowest output in the Cowboys' last four games.
It's no coincidence that Romo and Bryant both had some of their least productive games in a game where Murray was unable to get going for the entire game. If the Eagles' front seven dials it up early on, look for the defense to have the same amount of success it did in Dallas and Lincoln Financial Field to get rowdy all night long.
- Adam Hermann
Since this is the rematch and these two teams just met on Thanksgiving, let's revisit the key matchups from the first meeting and see how they played out then and what to expect Sunday night ...
1. RB LeSean McCoy vs. LB Rolando McClain
What Happened: McCoy rushed for a season-high 159 yards and scored a touchdown against the Cowboys. McCoy scored on a 38-yard touchdown scamper. He also had runs of 36 and 19 yards in the game.
This Time: Between the Eagles' tempo and the Mark Sanchez's effective use of the zone-read, the Cowboys didn't have an answer for McCoy in the first matchup. Dallas could look at what Seattle did last week to slow down McCoy (50 yards rushing on 17 carries), but as McCoy said this week the Seahawks have the horses to execute the defense. McCoy also admitted that the tragic passing of his cousin weighed heavily on him and his mindset is right for Sunday night.
McCoy has also been flat-out dominant on Sunday Night Football. He has rushed for 100 yards or more in six-straight Sunday night games. Since 2010 on Sunday night against Dallas, McCoy has 465 yards rushing and three total touchdowns.
Could Dallas sell out to stop the run? If they do, then ...
2. WR Jeremy Maclin vs. CB Brandon Carr
What Happened: Maclin had eight catches for 108 yards including a 58-yard catch-and-run.
This Time: According to Stats Inc., Carr has allowed 715 yards receiving and five touchdowns this season. Per Pro Football Focus, Carr was penciled in as responsible for two touchdowns receptions in the Cowboys' last game against Chicago.
Maclin, on the other hand, was able to haul in a touchdown against the Seahawks last week. It was the first touchdown allowed by Seattle in three games. He has four 100-yard receiving games and over 1,100 yards receiving for the season.
If the Cowboys key in on McCoy, Maclin could make them pay.
3. LB Trent Cole vs. T Tyron Smith
What Happened: Defensive end Fletcher Cox is very much a part of battling the Cowboys' Pro Bowl tackle as well. Cole had four tackles. Cox had a sack, although it did not come against Smith. The Eagles were able to get quarterback Tony Romo on the ground four times, but again Smith was not responsible. From a run standpoint, running back DeMarco Murray was held to a season-low 73 yards in this game.
This Time: When it comes to Smith, it's not just pass pro - which will be important as Romo is battling the back problem - but the run game as well with DeMarco Murray. The Cowboys have run a league-high 84 plays behind the left tackle this season. They've gained an average of 6.04 yards per carry, the second-highest mark in the league.
The Cowboys need Murray to carry the offense. Romo has not attempted 30 passes in a game since October 12 against Seattle. He's had 20 or more completions just twice in six games since that win over the Seahawks. By comparison, Sanchez had completed at least 20 passes in four-straight games until last Sunday.
- Chris McPherson
Players To Watch
RB Darren Sproles
The numbers from the first Dallas game won't pop out at you. He had four total touches for 32 yards. But three of those touches proved vital. On the game's opening drive, one that ended with a 2-yard touchdown run by Sanchez, Sproles converted two third-down opportunities. He converted another third down later in the first half as the Eagles tacked on a Cody Parkey field goal. If the Cowboys try to bottle up McCoy, don't be surprised if Sproles is unleashed on the Cowboys.
LB Mychal Kendricks
Kendricks had nine tackles in the win over Dallas as the Eagles held Murray to a season-low output in terms of yards rushing. Kendricks also had a key tackle of Murray in the open field on a pass completion. Kendricks followed that performance up with a career-high 16 tackles against Seattle. Kendricks is playing his best football providing a playmaking, energetic spark to the defense.
WR Dez Bryant
Wide receiver Dez Bryant called the Eagles "kinda cheap" after the first matchup. It seemed like he was already looking ahead to this battle. The Eagles' success in the ground game allowed them to put the clamps down on Bryant in the first meeting. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis knew the Cowboys' tendencies and the ways they gameplanned Bryant open and the Eagles had an answer for everything Dallas threw at them. How will Bryant and the Cowboys respond in the rematch?
DT Henry Melton
The Cowboys' leader in sacks is defensive tackle Henry Melton, a free agent addition from the Chicago Bears who tore his ACL last September. Melton is regaining the disruptive form that made him so good in Chicago. After recording 1.5 sacks in the first half of the season, Melton has come on strong of late which is to be expected with the ACL injury. The Eagles will certainly look to keep Sanchez clean in the pocket and making sure Melton is contained will give the quarterback room to step up and make his throws.
- Chris McPherson