Heading into their Week 7 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys are coming off of a huge 31-16 victory over the Washington Redskins. The win sets up a battle between the NFC East’s leaders, albeit two teams with .500 records.
The Cowboys took down Philly twice last year, but this Eagles squad is a whole lot different. With former Oregon coach Chip Kelly in town, the Eagles are running a spread offense that’s a far cry from anything they used under Andy Reid.
The winner of this contest will take a substantial lead in the NFC East because, not only will they be one game up on the other, but they’ll also have a vital head-to-head win. In the event that both the Eagles and Cowboys finish with the same record, the duo’s two 2013 meetings will obviously be of the utmost importance.
With that said, let’s take a look around the division before digging into the matchup a little deeper.
As mentioned, the Eagles and Cowboys sit atop the NFC East, 1.5 games ahead of the Redskins. You never want to conclude that a team is finished just six weeks into the season, especially in a division in which the leaders are 3-3, but the Giants’ playoff chances are close to zero.
Both the Eagles and Cowboys are 2-0 in the division, although the Eagles might be in a better place moving forward. They’ve played only two home games, compared to four for Dallas. That means that six of the Cowboys’ final 10 games are on the road.
However, Dallas has clearly played better ball up until this point. That’s represented by the chart below.
New York Giants
Pythagorean Expectation is a team’s expected winning percentage given their points scored and allowed. Based solely on points, the Cowboys have clearly outperformed the Eagles. Actually, with 183 points scored and 152 points allowed, the Cowboys’ most likely record at this point in the season is 4-2.
You can see every team except the Eagles has a worse record than what we’d expect given their on-field play. That tells us more about how the teams have played in the past than how they’ll perform in the future, but it’s still interesting to know that Philly is just a hair worse than a “true” .500 team at this point.
RB DeMarco Murray
DE DeMarcus Ware
DE Edgar Jones
RB Lance Dunbar
The Cowboys saw two critical players get injured against the Redskins in running back DeMarco Murray and defensive end DeMarcus Ware. They’re so important to Dallas not only because of their own ability, but also because of what’s behind them. The Cowboys are really thin at both running back and defensive end, with Joseph Randle and Kyle Wilber being the next men up.
And things don’t look great for Ware. He’s going to miss the first game of his career and presumably a few more. There are conflicting reports on his potential absence with some saying he’ll miss 3-4 weeks and others claiming he might miss just one game. Either way, we’re about to see a whole lot more of Wilber.
Murray is going to be out this week, too, with a sprained MCL. There’s a decent chance that the injury could extend into Week 8 and beyond, which would be a crushing blow to Dallas.
What Must Improve: Pass Protection
So much can change in a week. After the Cowboys’ Week 5 loss at the hands of the Broncos, the offense was coming off of one of the premiere games for any team in NFL history, while the defense allowed 51 points.
Fast-forward seven days, and it’s the ‘Boys' defense and special teams that got them the victory over Washington on Sunday night. Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ top rusher was Murray with 29 yards and their top receiver was Cole Beasley with 44 yards. Yikes.
To fix the offense in Week 7, the Cowboys desperately need superior pass protection. The line allowed just one sack against the Redskins, but that’s really just because Romo got the ball out quickly and dodged trouble when it was near.
After allowing an average of 7.4 pressures in their first five games, the line yielded eight pressures on Sunday night. That’s a small increase, but let’s not forget Romo also had only 30 attempts. He was averaging 37.6 attempts coming into the game.
That means the pressure rate against Washington (26.7 percent) was higher than in Weeks 1 through 5 (19.7 percent). Here’s a breakdown of the Cowboys’ pressure rate by week.
You can see the Cowboys’ top offensive performances came in the two games—versus St. Louis and Denver—when they allowed the lowest pressure rates. That’s not a coincidence.
Against the Eagles, the Cowboys probably can’t focus on stopping just one player because the Philadelphia rushers are strong across the board. Starting outside linebackers Trent Cole and Connor Barwin have near the same pressure rate as defensive end Vinny Curry, with defensive end Cedric Thornton not far behind.
Surprisingly, though, it’s the Eagles backups who have been the most efficient. Outside linebackers Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham have dominated in limited action. Curry has seven pressures in 47 pass-rush snaps and Graham eight pressures in 69 snaps. Compare that to 11 pressures each for Barwin and Cole in 175 and 190 pass-rush snaps, respectively.
Matchup to Watch: RT Lane Johnson vs. DE George Selvie
With Ware out, there’s going to be a whole lot of pressure on Selvie to get pressure on whoever is playing quarterback for the Eagles. Lining up on the left side of the defense on the majority of his snaps, Selvie will face off with Eagles rookie right tackle Lane Johnson.
As I detailed last week, Selvie has the potential to be an elite player. He doesn’t have any sacks in the past two games, but Selvie has a great chance to get back on track this week.
In his 235 pass snaps, Johnson has allowed 18 pressures. That’s the seventh-most in the NFL. Further, the Eagles have been a much worse rushing team when running behind Johnson in 2013. Whereas they’re averaging 5.4 YPC on all runs, the Eagles have totaled only 4.2 YPC when running behind Johnson.
If Selvie can take advantage of the struggling rookie, it will go a long way in helping the Dallas defense contain Chip Kelly’s offense. If Selvie can’t capitalize, it could be a long day.