When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys, there doesn’t need to be anything else on the line. Both the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles could have 0-15 records heading into the final game of the season, and it still might feel like the most important game on the schedule in Philadelphia.
But when the tilt is for sole possession of first place in the NFC East, even in October, Eagles-Cowboys is shaping up to be a potential classic.
The stage is set, and a resurgent Eagles franchise led by first-year head coach Chip Kelly is out to prove it is a legitimate postseason contender—not the rebuilding team it’s been portrayed as. The first step toward accomplishing that goal would be knocking off the Cowboys, the only apparent threat to a division title.
The other big storyline surrounding the Birds, of course, is the ongoing quarterback controversy, although it’s far from a crisis. Whether you’re pulling for Michael Vick or Nick Foles to be the guy, you have to admit neither signal-caller has looked bad this season. As problems go, it’s a good one to have.
The Eagles have to ignore all of that and focus on the task at hand. A win on Sunday puts Philly in the driver’s seat as we near the midway point. That would be mighty impressive, considering what expectations were back in August.
NFC East Standings
Dallas Cowboys (3-3)
We’re heading into Week 7, and I’m still trying to figure out what exactly the Cowboys do better than anyone else. Their offense and defense are slightly above middle-of-the-road whether that’s rushing, passing or overall. They do score plenty of points though—second-highest in the NFL at 30.5 per game.
Dallas may very well wind up winning the NFC East this year by default, but they’re nobody for the Eagles to be afraid of.
Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)
That last-minute loss to San Diego in Week 2 is really starting to look like a huge missed opportunity. The Eagles left so many points on the field that day, and if they were 4-2 rather than 3-3, this would be a truly commanding lead they would be looking at taking with a win over Dallas.
As for the decision at quarterback, the offense has been more efficient under Foles by every conventional measurement that we have. The decision really shouldn’t be that difficult at all.
Washington Redskins (1-4)
Robert Griffin III doubled his season rushing total with 77 yards in Sunday’s loss at Dallas, which was a good sign in the quarterback’s ongoing recovery from a torn ACL. Then again, he completed only 48.7 percent of his passes, so clearly still a long way to go there.
As Jimmy Kempski for Philly.com likes to remind us often on Twitter, the Redskins do not have a first-round pick in 2014. That's too bad, because RG3 looks like he could use a little help.
New York Giants (0-6)
And the circus continues in the Big Apple. Their matchup with the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football is being billed as something along the lines of “two desperate teams searching for a win.” Exciting!
Something to ponder here: We know head coach Tom Coughlin is likely gone at the end of the season (or earlier). What does a complete Giants meltdown mean for franchise quarterback Eli Manning? They seem headed for an awfully high draft pick come May…
Week 7 Opponent: Dallas Cowboys
On paper, it certainly would appear we’re in for lots of scoring on Sunday. Dallas’ (30.5) and Philadelphia’s (27.7) offenses rank second and fourth, respectively, in points per game, and their defenses rank 30th (413.2) and 32nd (420.2) in yards per game.
Big news out of Dallas on Monday. According to Clarence Hill of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram, defensive end DeMarcus Ware and running back DeMarco Murray are both likely out for the Cowboys in Philadelphia.
Both losses are huge. Murray is eighth in the NFL this season with 592 yards from scrimmage, accounting for 28 percent of Dallas’ production. Ware is one of the most dominant pass-rushers of this generation and will not suit up for the first time in his nine-year career.
Now for an obligatory update on Mike Vick. Chip Kelly was evasive as to whether or not the four-time Pro Bowler would be healed and ready for action in time for Sunday, per a report by Alex Smith of PhiladelphiaEagles.com. Over the weekend, Vick admitted he faces a “long road” to get there, so it seems possible if not likely Nick Foles starts versus the Cowboys.
Kelly indicated that he expects Jason Peters to be fine, so you can breathe a sigh of relief as far as the All-Pro left tackle is concerned. James Casey and Patrick Chung could be further away from a return, though, which means the Eagles will continue to rely on rookies Zach Ertz and Earl Wolff to fill significant roles.
What Must Improve (Beat Dallas Edition)
Getting to the Quarterback
The Eagles were able to get some pressure on Tampa Bay rookie Mike Glennon in their Week 6 victory, but rarely did that pressure turns into hits, or, more importantly, sacks. In fact, Philadelphia is tied for 24th in the NFL with only 13 sacks all season, which equates to roughly two per game.
That’s not going to get the job done against the NFL’s best Houdini impersonator, Tony Romo. When the pass rush doesn’t quite get to Romo, there are few if any quarterbacks better at improvising—but not like your run-of-the-mill scrambler.
Here was a little something I stumbled upon while digging through Pro Football Focus’ signature stats (subscription only) last week. For the third season of the last four, no QB has posted a better passer rating on attempts after holding the ball 2.6 seconds or longer.
In other words, if the defense doesn’t get him down with the initial wave, chances are, Romo is going to break the pocket and make some kind of incredible play with his arm. The pass rush needs to be better, because we all know the Birds’ secondary probably isn’t capable of bailing out the front seven very often.
Defense Against Tight Ends
A sampling of what tight ends have done to the Eagles defense this season:
On tap this weekend: the second-leading receiver among all active tight ends with 9,288 yards, Jason Witten. The eight-time Pro Bowler is off to another fine start with 31 catches, 340 yards (11.0 AVG) and three touchdowns through six games. Might as well go ahead and make that nine Pro Bowls awhile.
Witten has made a career off destroying the Eagles, too. In 19 games, he’s racked up 109 receptions for 1,233 yards and seven touchdowns. Heck, he even has a 42-yard reception to his name.
It’s about time the Birds get this guy under control. I don’t anticipate that actually happening, but we’re talking long overdue.
Speaking of long overdue, here’s an awful stat for Philadelphia fans. Over one calendar year has passed since the Eagles have won a regular-season game at Lincoln Financial Field. So much for home-field advantage.
It’s amazing when you think about it. Philly has a reputation for being one of the most difficult places to play in any sport, pro football especially. Does anybody honestly believe the Birds’ opponents fear a trip to the City of Brotherly Love these days?
Off to an 0-2 start this season, the Eagles have lost eight consecutive games at home. They are 5-14 (including playoffs) at the Linc dating back to December 28, 2010.
The abysmal record at home is a mark of the bad team that’s been playing there the past few seasons. In Week 7, the Eagles have a chance to erase a lot of negative vibes that have surrounded the franchise in recent years, and in turn, truly raise the excitement level about this year’s team and where they might be heading.