It’s a given that the Dallas Cowboys’ Week 7 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles is a huge one for both teams, but consider the importance of the contest for the 'Boys. If they lose, they’ll fall to a game back of the Eagles without the ability to win a head-to-head tiebreaker via a season sweep.
If the ‘Boys win, however, they’ll be a game up on Philly with a 1-0 series lead and the chance to sweep them at home later in the year. There’s a huge difference between those two scenarios; losing this week is hardly a death blow to Dallas, but winning could really put Dallas in the driver’s seat for a run at the NFC East crown.
But this Eagles squad is nothing like what the Cowboys have faced in the past. Chip Kelly has already transformed the Eagles’ offense into one of the most efficient in the NFL. They currently rank second in the league in net yards per attempt and first in yards per carry.
This contest has all the makings of a barnburner. Here’s how Dallas can come out victorious.
DO blitz Nick Foles.
Over the past game-and-a-half when Foles has been the starter, he’s lit up defenses to the tune of 493 passing yards on 56 attempts (8.8 YPA), five touchdowns and no picks. He’s been remarkably effective, regardless of the defensive look.
Last year, though, Foles struggled with the blitz.
He recorded a 74.5 passer rating when defenses sent five or more rushers, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), including a 54.8 percent completion rate.
The Cowboys don’t need to send the dogs on every play, but it’s worth testing Foles early to see if he can stand up to the heat. Plus, with DeMarcus Ware almost certainly out, the Cowboys might need to send extra rushers to get pressure anyway.
DON'T automatically play press-man.
Defenses typically play press-man coverage behind a blitz, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes they play softer in the secondary, particularly when they send a zone blitz. It might be in Dallas’ best interest to play off on most snaps even when they blitz, because the Eagles have been so effective at generating big plays.
Take a look at both the Eagles’ and Cowboys’ touchdown distribution in 2013:
The average Eagles touchdown has been 20.5 yards, and they have 10 touchdowns from outside the red zone. On the other hand, the mean Cowboys touchdown has been just 13.1 yards, and they have just three touchdowns from 20-plus yards out.
The Cowboys need to worry about wide receiver DeSean Jackson in particular, playing with a safety shading his side in most situations.
DON'T worry about DeSean Jackson in the red zone.
Jackson is highly effective between the 20s, but he’s one of the league’s worst red-zone receivers. That’s not really surprising considering Jackson is 5’10” and 175 pounds, but take a look at his career red-zone touchdown rate:
Jackson has converted only 12.7 percent of his career red-zone targets into touchdowns, which is an awful rate. Dez Bryant, in comparison, has a 42.2 percent red-zone touchdown rate.
Thus, while Jackson can be incredibly dangerous when the Eagles have a lot of field with which to work, he’s not much of a threat when the field is condensed.
DON'T put a linebacker on running back LeSean McCoy.
LeSean McCoy is a talented player, as evidenced by his 5.1 YPC this year. He’s been particularly efficient out of the backfield, catching 15 passes for 241 yards (16.1 yards per catch).
McCoy has the potential to really hurt the Dallas defense as a receiver.
The ‘Boys have struggled with covering tight ends and running backs this year. Both Bruce Carter and Sean Lee have been poor in coverage, which is unusual for the duo. The Eagles’ linebackers have outperformed Carter and Lee on a per-route basis.
The Cowboys’ top priority needs to be containing McCoy, and that means finding a way to halt the big plays both on the ground and through the air.
DO target Bradley Fletcher.
Take a look at the yards per route allowed for the cornerbacks in this game.
Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne is the obvious outlier, with Cowboys nickel cornerback Orlando Scandrick and Eagles cornerback Cary Williams leading the way. Cornerbacks Brandon Boykin and Bradley Fletcher have been about as efficient in Philly as Brandon Carr in Dallas.
If the Cowboys are going to attack one of these cornerbacks in particular, it should probably be Fletcher. Boykin works in the slot, so we’d expect his yards per route to be a little higher (which is what makes Scandrick’s play so impressive).
Plus, Boykin won’t be lined up on the player the Cowboys desperately need to break out in pretty much every game—Dez Bryant.
DO get the ball deep.
Even with more deep passes in recent weeks, quarterback Tony Romo still ranks just 29th in the NFL in deep pass rate. Capable of buying time to get the ball downfield, Romo has two legitimate downfield weapons in Bryant and Terrance Williams. There has to be more of an effort to take some chances.
Well, the Eagles have a player to attack downfield in safety Earl Wolff.
Wolff could fill in for the injured Patrick Chung, and he’s been poor in 2013. No safety in the NFL who has played as many snaps as Wolff has been less efficient. He’s allowed 1.51 yards per route (per PFF, subscription required).
Depending on the situation, Wolff is a player the Cowboys might want to attack with Bryant, even if there’s also a cornerback on the wide receiver.
DON'T scrap your game plan based on the Eagles' tempo.
The Eagles rank seventh in the NFL in offensive plays, which is really high when you consider 1) they’ve scored so many long touchdowns and 2) they’ve been so poor on defense. The Eagles’ D has faced the second-most plays in the league this year, failing to get the ball back to their offense to run even more plays.
Philly’s offensive attack is based on tempo, but that doesn’t mean the Cowboys need to play at their speed. The ‘Boys should probably run more plays anyway just because they have a quality offense and increasing the sample of plays in a game reduces variance, but that doesn’t mean they need to conform to anyone else’s game plan.
Increasing the number of plays typically increases points, but it doesn’t automatically increase net points. That’s more important—it doesn’t matter if you score 35 points if you give up 42—so the ‘Boys just need to stick with what they think is best.