The Eagles and Cowboys meet for the second and last time in the regular season, and the game will impact who makes the playoffs in a division that is still up for grabs. This contest is a chance for the Eagles to put the nail in the Cowboys’ coffin, while the Cowboys hope to halt a five-game losing streak that started after their Week 2 win against the Eagles. The showdown between the Eagles and Cowboys is always one of the fiercest rivalries in the NFL, and, as such, this game should be a battle to the end.
Run/pass ratio: Both teams favor passing over running, but the Eagles have a much greater tendency to pass the ball than run. The Eagles currently pass the ball 59% of the time against 41% rushing while the Cowboys pass the ball 53% of the time against 47% rushing.
Pass Defense: Both defenses are relatively similar in overall passing yards allowed, but Dallas has given up 116 less yards through seven games: Dallas (1,638) and Philadelphia (1,754). The discrepancy, however, is in how many of those yards are allowed to wide receivers, and Dallas has the distinct advantage in that statistic. The Eagles have given up the 12th most yards to wide receivers (1,338), while Dallas has given up the third fewest (971). That gives the advantage to Dallas’ secondary; however, it also displays that the Cowboys have had difficulty covering receiving running backs as they have given up the 7th most receiving yards to running backs. In addition, the Eagles have the more opportunistic defense, with a league-leading 19 takeaways against 4 for Dallas.
Cowboys Quarterback: Matt Cassel is a severe downgrade from Tony Romo, who broke his clavicle in Week 2 against the Eagles when rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks sacked him. Romo is expected to come back for the Cowboys Week 11 matchup against the Miami Dolphins, but that may be too late to save the season if they don’t win Sunday, considering that Cowboys quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel have a combined 0-5 record in starts in his absence. Brandon Weeden was subpar in replacing Romo in every game except against the Eagles, and Matt Cassel does not seem to be a noticeable improvement. Last week, despite the defense giving him multiple opportunities to put up more than 12 points against Seattle, Cassel could not capitalize, and his final drive made him look like a rookie decision-maker. In two starts with the Cowboys, Cassel has one touchdown against three interceptions, and, last week, Cassel completed 13 of 26 passes (52%) for 97 scoreless yards for a team that currently ranks 24th in the league in passing yards. Against the Giants he threw for 227 yards, but his three interceptions took away what could have been a decent day. Strangely enough, though, Matt Cassel has thrown for over 300 yards once in the past three years, and that was against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. Regardless, Cassel should not be a major threat against the Eagles secondary as he appears to be severely struggling to pick up the Cowboys passing concepts currently.
Eagles Quarterback: Sam Bradford has continued his early-season struggles, and he seems to be laboring to find his identity as the quarterback on the team. Eagles receivers have been dropping a lot of his throws, sure, but Bradford has not really displayed the ability to overcome those obstacles, and his accuracy is rarely stunning. A recent analysis on him stated that one of the main causes of dropped balls comes from the fact that Bradford is throwing into areas where Eagles wide receivers fear they’ll take a hard hit, and this fear of ending up in a hospital bed causes them to flinch and drop the ball at the last moment. Even though the Eagles receivers have a league-high 25 dropped passes this season, Tom Brady dealt with 11 dropped passes in Week 7 alone and was still able to throw for 355 yards and two touchdowns. To ensure Bradford’s future success, the Eagles need to find a way to even out their tendency to pass the ball so much, ideally moving closer to a 50/50 share of run/pass, and maybe that can limit the mistakes Sam Bradford makes. Bradford has thrown nine touchdowns against ten interceptions and has more than one interception in four of seven games but multiple touchdowns in only two. If he can get the offense going in a solid rhythm following the bye week, though, he is still viewed as the favorable quarterback over Matt Cassel.
Cowboys Wide Receivers: Dez Bryant, despite starting last week for the first time since September 13th, played 80 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. However, even though his volume was plentiful, his production (2 receptions off 6 targets for 12 scoreless yards) was underwhelming. However, he will be more accustomed to playing with Matt Cassel and, as a result, presumably more of a threat to the Eagles. Bryant did not play in the first matchup against the Eagles, but he has a history of posting big numbers against the team. The last time he faced the Eagles, he had six receptions for 114 yards and three touchdowns; and, in the past three years, he has posted 35 receptions for 581 yards and 7 touchdowns in 6 games, matchups in which the Cowboys have won 4-2. Terrance Williams led the Cowboys with 4 receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown the last time the two teams met, but, even though he is a player whom the Eagles must watch, he does not play at the same talent level as Bryant. Thus, how the Eagles deal with Bryant, if he is fully healed, will be extremely important in determining the outcome of the game. The other factor to be considered, though, is that the Eagles secondary leads the league in takeaways, so, against a turnover-prone quarterback, they have an advantage.
Eagles Wide Receivers: The Eagles are still waiting for Nelson Agholor to have his breakout game, and the general hope in Philadelphia is that it occurs sooner rather than later. The 2015 first-round pick’s production this season (8 receptions, 108 yards, zero touchdowns) is at – or, even below – what an elite receiver produces in one game. Jordan Matthews has had two weeks to work on fixing dropped passes, so the Eagles hope he can become the No. 1 receiver that everyone projects him to be. Surprisingly, though, over the past two games, Miles Austin, the 31-year-old ex-Dallas Cowboy playing in his first year with the Eagles, leads the team in receiving yards (112) followed by tight end Zach Ertz (106). Jordan Matthews, in comparison, has 73 yards in the past two matchups, while Josh Huff and Darren Sproles have 24 and 34 yards, respectively. Riley Cooper did not play against the Panthers, but he had 76 yards against the Giants and the Eagles only touchdown in the past two games. The Eagles sorely need more touchdowns from their wide receivers. Deciding who will be the Eagles leading receiver in any game is a shot in the dark, but Ertz and Austin will be interesting players to watch going forward based on their success before the bye.
Advantage: Even (unless Dez Bryant looks healthier than last week)
Run Defense: The Eagles have allowed only one running back to rush for at least 100 yards: Jonathan Stewart in Week 7 with 125. Aside from that performance, the most yards produced by a running back against the Eagles was Atlanta Falcons’ now backup running back Tevin Coleman with 80 yards in Week 1. The Cowboys, as well, have allowed only one 100-yard rusher all season, and it was Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman in Week 3. The Cowboys defense, like the Eagles, has been stingy in every other game in between. Therefore, running the ball should be difficult for both teams.
Cowboys Running Backs: The Cowboys are averaging 127.9 rushing yards per game this season, ranking sixth in the league. They are now running the ball almost entirely with Darren McFadden over the past two weeks and just released Joseph Randle, who is second in the league in yards-per-rush (5.18) among running backs with at least 100 carries since 2014. Randle suffered an oblique strain and lost his starting position two weeks ago in the Giants game, and, recently, the team released him after he violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy. In his absence, they signed Trey Williams, a 2015 undrafted free agent from Texas A&M, off the Redskins practice squad. However, it is hard to see him, Christine Michael, or Rod Smith taking too many snaps away from McFadden. Regardless, Williams could be a surprise for the Eagles to keep an eye on in the backfield. McFadden had ten rushes for 31 yards when he played the Eagles in Week 2, but his role has changed drastically since then. He has had 49 attempts in the last two weeks compared to 37 in the first five games. He had a good performance against the Giants two weeks ago, with 152 rushing yards and a touchdown, but, last week, he was held to 64 scoreless yards by the Seahawks. Therefore, stopping the run will largely include stopping McFadden, and, if the Eagles can stop McFadden, it’s hard to imagine Cassel winning the game for the team.
Eagles Running Backs: The Eagles are averaging a 15th ranked 114.4 rushing yards per game this season, and their average run, 4.2 yards, is only slightly below Dallas’ 4.5. The discrepancy, however, lies in how the Eagles’ average yards vary between Ryan Matthews and DeMarco Murray. Matthews has 56 carries to Murray’s 88, but Matthews has 342 yards against Murray’s 307. Moreover, Matthews is averaging 6.1 yards per attempt to Murray’s 3.5, and, to put that into an even larger context, Matthew’s 6.1 average led the league heading into Week 7, slightly edging Todd Gurley (6.0 before his Week 8 matchup), who is becoming one of the best running backs in the league. Matthew’s production created a media storm following the Eagles into their bye week regarding whether Murray or Matthews should be the starter, and, in response, it’s difficult to tell who will be the lead back, but it will be one of the most interesting factors of the game to watch. Murray has become somewhat predictable with the runs on which he gains the most yards and has had difficulty running the outside zone. In fact, DeMarco Murray averages 2.7 yards per carry when running over tackles or around the edge but 4.5 yards running behind the guards or up the middle.
Final Analysis: The Eagles cannot lose a game after a bye week – with two weeks to prepare – for a backup quarterback. The Cowboys defense will keep the game close, but I believe Matt Cassel will not be able to bring his team to victory when the game becomes a shootout in the end.
Score Prediction: 20-14 Eagles win
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