Eagles vs. Cowboys: Full Preview, Predictions and Analysis for Sunday Night
Sunday Night Football features two of the NFC's most disappointing teams as the Philadelphia Eagles travel to "Jerry World" to take on the Dallas Cowboys.
The Eagles (3-8) must have spent so much time sizing their Super Bowl rings the past two offseasons that they forgot to prepare to play actual football. Big-name free-agent signings and national headlines haven't equaled wins for the Eagles, whose lack of depth and quality coaching have been on display in 2012.
The Cowboys (5-6) haven't done their part since Jerry Jones built his multi-billion dollar shrine in Arlington (with taxpayer dollars, of course).
Tony Romo has absorbed much of the criticism, as usual. But protection issues, wide receiver drama, coaching errors and an unreliable defense have all contributed to the problems the Cowboys have had this season.
So, which team wins on Sunday night? Or, rather, which team manages not to lose?
Key Storyline: Which Teams Clean House, and When?
Normally, I would come up with a top storyline for each team, but with these NFC East rivals, the same question needs to be asked: Will ownership have the guts to shake things up, and when?
The Eagles have been atrocious for a while. Yes, the last two seasons have highlighted their comedy of errors. But Andy Reid has had this team underachieving long before Vince Young started making stupid predictions. Reid has shuffled the deck chairs on the Titanic long enough. It's time to realize the ship is going down.
In the same regard, the Cowboys have not played up to their talent level during Jason Garrett's tenure. Once considered a top offensive mind, Garrett's offense is last in the NFL in rushing, and Dallas' record is proof that being one-dimensional isn't a path to success.
Many of the Cowboys' problems relate directly to personnel matters. But Jones isn't about to fire himself, and someone needs to be held accountable.
Think of it this way: The Cowboys were 3-5 and coming off of two straight losses when the NFL schedule-makers gave them a gift, a four-game stretch against Philadelphia, Cleveland, Washington and Philadelphia. The Cowboys blew their chance against the Redskins' terrible pass defense and let Cleveland take them to overtime.
If the 'Boys can't beat Philadelphia a second time and finish that stretch 2-2, someone needs to be held accountable. Either way, a finish against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, New Orleans and Washington could erase any warm feelings the four games before might have offered.
Keys for the Philadelphia Eagles
If the Eagles are going to score against the Cowboys, it's going to be on the ground.
Eventually, the Eagles have to realize that Reid's offensive philosophy is bunk. It worked with an elite athlete under center, but Michael Vick's physical tools are diminishing, and Nick Foles never had any to begin with.
Which Team Wins on Sunday Night?
Against the Panthers, the Eagles looked ready to run the ball. But against the Panthers' terrible defensive tackle tandem, that's a given. Considering that, the Eagles still didn't run the ball nearly as much as they should have and continued to fail at imposing their will against a team they should have soundly beat on paper.
On defense, the Eagles have to hope and pray that miscues between Romo and his receivers let them hang around. A couple of Dez Bryant drops and a Romo interception may be too much to ask, but the Eagles need to force similar errors by creating pressure (not exactly a hard task against the Cowboys this season).
If the Eagles don't get to Romo early and often, he's going to tear their secondary apart.
Keys for the Dallas Cowboys
As usual, the Cowboys match up well with an opponent but continue to be their own worst enemy. The best chance the Eagles have is if the Cowboys let them stick around.
A good way to minimize those mistakes through the air is to establish the ground game against the Eagles' 18th-ranked rushing defense. Of course, the Cowboys haven't done that all season and probably won't have DeMarco Murray, so that may be too much to ask.
Through the air, the Cowboys need to go right after Nnamdi Asomugha and the rest of that terrible secondary. There is little reason to attack the short-to-intermediate routes when the Eagles are so weak downfield. This is a dream matchup for Bryant if he can keep his head on straight.
Defensively, it should be as easy as lining up and beating a team that is vastly overmatched from a talent perspective. Jay Ratliff is doubtful, but whoever lines up inside against Philadelphia's interior offensive line should be able to win that matchup. Forcing Foles outside of the pocket and making him beat you is a straight path to success.
Bold Prediction: Kyle Orton Will See Mop-Up Duty
Honestly, as much as both of these teams deserve to be ragged on, the Cowboys are merely disappointing and poorly coached while the Eagles are downright awful and might have one of the most dysfunctional coaching situations in the league.
The Cowboys can make their usual mental errors in this one, because the Eagles are destined to give the ball right back each and every time. Eventually, the Cowboys offense is going to put up enough points that Foles will be forced to put this team on his shoulders.
By midway through the fourth quarter, there will be little reason to send Romo out there, and Kyle Orton will get his chance to embarrass the Eagles defense.
Player of the Game Prediction: Tony Romo
Three hundred yards passing and a couple of touchdowns should be a given, but Romo and the rest of his offense never likes to make things easy on themselves. Look for Romo to have his success deep, where the Eagles suffer in space.
Final Score Prediction: Cowboys 34, Eagles 18
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."
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