Eagles vs. Cowboys: Keys for Dallas to Salvage Season in NFC East Showdown
It seems like the 2012 Dallas Cowboys are in a perpetual struggle to salvage their season week to week, and the scenario is no different in Sunday night's matchup with the shockingly last-place rival Eagles.
If the Cowboys are considered to be in disarray, there's no telling what the Eagles could be labeled as.
But with the playoffs still a realistic possibility for the 5-6 home team, Dallas must buck some of its bad habits and implement a similar game plan to the one it had to beat the Eagles 38-23 at Lincoln Financial Field just a few weeks ago.
Here are the keys for the Cowboys to save their season and, likely, the jobs of many prominent people involved. Again.
Bottle up Bryce Brown
If defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was given the pure choice of focusing on shutting down a third-round rookie as opposed to a seventh-round rookie, the decision would be easy.
Not in the Eagles' case. Brown, who had an underwhelming college career, to say the least, after being so highly recruited, exploded for 178 yards and two touchdowns on Monday Night Football in Week 12.
Although QB Nick Foles played decently in relief duty of concussed starter Michael Vick, the Eagles' potential future under center has now had two rough outings in his maiden NFL starts. Ryan and Co. have game tape on him and will have a better understanding of how to stop him.
The complexity of Ryan's 3-4 scheme has resulted in some confusion for his defense and blown assignments as a result.
But it should confuse Foles even more, especially with DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer flying after him on most of his dropbacks.
In other words, the Cowboys can focus on thwarting Brown's momentum from his breakout performance. Without nose tackle Jay Ratliff—who is doubtful for Sunday's game (h/t ESPN)—the task will be made more difficult.
Better balance on offense
Dallas QB Tony Romo takes plenty of flack for the team's misfortunes. Some of it is exaggerated by the "America's Team" theme the Cowboys have proudly continued to promote, which magnifies the criticism. That especially applies to the most criticized position in sports—quarterback.
Some of the criticism on Romo is warranted, though. His 15 interceptions on the year is probably the most glaringly obvious example.
That said, it's hard to pin all the blame on Romo for this year's team, simply because he hasn't had any support from the running game. DeMarco Murray broke out in 2011 to emerge as the No. 1 back but has been out of the lineup for much of the year.
Oft-injured first-round pick Felix Jones has shown flashes of brilliance, but he can't stay healthy either. Both are questionable this week, but RB Phillip Tanner or Lance Dunbar will have to step up if the top two backs can't go.
In the Cowboys' Thanksgiving Day disappointment against Washington, Romo flung 62 passes. Dallas had to overcome a massive deficit, but that's no excuse for that type of imbalance.
There's no way Big D can even dream of being a playoff team if they can't figure out a way to manufacture a running game.
Cut the unforced errors
Typically reserved for tennis statistics, this is something that has defined the Cowboys for a number of years. Whether it's a silly decision by Romo, an untimely penalty to cost the team a victory or a complete defensive breakdown, Dallas has ultimately had trouble with execution.
With such a perceptibly talented roster, there aren't a laundry list of excuses to attribute to the team missing out on the postseason the past two years.
According to TeamRankings.com, the Cowboys are averaging 8.3 penalties per game, which is second-worst in the league.
It's hard to judge the merit of an NFL head coach, but Jason Garrett clearly needs to clean up his team's act, because Dallas is repeatedly shooting itself in the foot.
Speaking of which, these are the two most turnover-prone teams in the NFC, with the Eagles giving the ball away 24 times to the Cowboys' 23. That's unacceptable, especially since neither has been able to make plays on defense.
As a result, Philly has a minus-14 turnover margin and Dallas has a minus-11.
In other words, the Cowboys are very likely to get multiple opportunities to take the ball away from Foles and the Eagles offense and give their talented offensive unit short fields to work with.
That's why it's so important for Romo to have some sort of running game to keep the defense honest. Otherwise, he will force the ball into tight windows, and this winnable contest will turn into a sloppily executed game that the Cowboys will have to grind out just to keep the season alive.
If Dallas can just avoid hitting the self-destruct button against a similarly imploding team, America's team can possibly claw back into the NFC East and conference wild-card races.
In the context of the Cowboys we've come to know, though, that's easier said than done.
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