The Philadelphia Eagles face a tough test on Sunday when they host the division-rival Dallas Cowboys, a team capable of scoring loads of points in any given contest. The Cowboys are still the mistake-prone team they’ve always been, and they’re decimated with injuries.
Both Pro Bowl defensive ends, Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware, will miss this week. Spencer is on season-ending injured reserve and Ware is out for at least a month. Running back DeMarco Murray, who is averaging over 100 yards from scrimmage per contest, is out with a knee injury.
And the release of veteran defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (failed physical) means the Cowboys will put forth almost a completely different defensive line than what they envisioned in the preseason.
What will be a tough test for the Eagles is the Dallas offensive line. Surprisingly, this unit has really jelled, doing so against all odds. Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick are playing like first-round picks, Doug Free has turned from a colossal disappointment into Pro Football Focus’ finest offensive tackle (subscription required) and veteran Brian Waters has solidified the right guard spot.
Scoring points will be key for Philly, as Dallas will certainly score its share. The performance of Nick Foles will be huge, as he is looking to prove he deserves to be the starting quarterback for the rest of 2013. Limiting the turnovers, pressuring the quarterback and pounding the ball on the ground will all be essential to an Eagles win. Here’s what to expect from Chip Kelly’s Birds in Week 7.
Nick Foles played extremely well against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, and he enters this week with a 127.9 passer rating. He runs the offense well, maybe even better than Michael Vick. Foles is completing 67.2 percent of his passes. That’s fifth-best among the 38 quarterbacks who have thrown at least 50 passes. And he’s done so without throwing an interception.
Foles’ best attribute may be his release time. He gets rid of the football in 2.63 seconds, a figure better than that of Tony Romo, Drew Brees or Andrew Luck. Foles has been accurate with 85.7 percent of his passes when under pressure, numbers courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That’s the single best mark in the game. Compare that to Michael Vick, who rates last, other than a pair of Buffalo quarterbacks in Jeff Tuel and Thaddeus Lewis, with a 46.7 mark.
Foles gets a Dallas team that rates 30th in the league in total yards and just 21st in points allowed. The Cowboys allowed 450 passing yards to Eli Manning in Week 1, 401 to Philip Rivers, and 414 to Peyton Manning. Factor in the recent demotion of cornerback Morris Claiborne, and that spells a potential career game for Foles.
DeSean Jackson vs. Brandon Carr/Orlando Scandrick
When the Dallas Cowboys invested the sixth-overall pick in the 2012 draft for Morris Claiborne, they certainly didn’t expect for him to be benched by Year Two. But that’s been the case, as Claiborne was moved down to the nickel spot for Orlando Scandrick.
That means either Brandon Carr or Scandrick will get the difficult task of covering DeSean Jackson. Carr is the better player, and he’s a $50 million corner who has played well this season.
Carr shut down Pierre Garcon last week, allowing just two catches for 29 yards on 10 targets. He’s a bigger corner, so the Cowboys may elect to go with Scandrick on Jackson given Scandrick’s superior speed. Either way, Jackson should win this matchup.
He’s playing the best football of his life right now. Jackson is averaging close to six catches, 100 yards and a touchdown per game. He’s motivated and he’s as dangerous of a weapon as he was back in 2009 and 2010. And he’s done all this without Jeremy Maclin opposite him.
A 150-Yard Output From LeSean McCoy
LeSean McCoy is a dynamic running back, and he’s talented enough to give the Dallas Cowboys fits. McCoy is averaging 105 rushing yards per contest thus far, and he’s historically done well against Dallas.
Last year, McCoy totaled 102 total yards in his lone game against the Cowboys. In 2011, he rushed for 185 yards and two scores in the first game against Dallas. And in 2010, he put up 149 yards on just 16 carries.
The Cowboys are down three defensive linemen. DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer are hurt, and Jay Ratliff has been released. Jason Hatcher is a terrific player, but the rest of the line will be composed of backups like George Selvie, Nick Hayden and Kyle Wilber.
Dallas does rank 25th in the league in average rushing yards allowed per attempt this season. And they allowed over 200 yards on the ground to the Washington Redskins last week. That bodes well for a talented player like McCoy.
An Offensive Line That Gets a Decimated Defensive Line
As mentioned, the Dallas Cowboys are down their two stud pass-rushing ends, DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. Jason Hatcher is quietly becoming one of the best interior linemen in the game, and George Selvie has done a solid job as a starting end.
As a whole, the Cowboys rank near the middle of the pack in pass-rushing efficiency. They play a Philadelphia Eagles team with some solid pass-blocking linemen. Jason Peters hasn’t been quite the same player in 2013, but he’s still an elite talent. Evan Mathis is the best guard in the NFL, and Jason Kelce is a future Pro Bowl player.
Factor in the speed at which Nick Foles gets rid of the football, and Dallas shouldn’t be getting too many sacks. All signs really do point to the Eagles scoring lots of points. The key will be minimizing turnovers and limiting the Dallas offense.