Dallas. I want you to think about that name for a moment. What feelings do you get? Anger? Bitterness? Rage? Hate? Yeah, me too. And it’s Dallas week my friends. It’s almost like a holiday for us Eagles fans. Heck, it IS a holiday for us. Two or three weeks out of the season we celebrate our burning loathing of the team with the star. This is one of those weeks.
The Cowboys started off a pitiful 1-7. They are now 4-8, going 3-1 since Wade Phillips was relieved of his caching duties. Do not make the mistake of thinking this Cowboys team is a bunch of slouches, despite their record. This is a team that has found a swagger under interim head coach Jason Garrett. Were it not for a fumble by Roy Williams on Thanksgiving they would’ve been 4-0 under Garrett. This is a team that has found its groove and they are very dangerous.
The Cowboys’ offensive line has not done a great job of keeping John Kitna upright. They’ve given up a fairly low 21 sacks for the season, but 14 of those have come since Kitna took over as starter due to Tony Romo’s injury. They’ve also given up 55 quarterback hits for the season, which is right in the middle of the league. Kitna has been hit 15 of those times since starting the game against Jacksonville. The Cowboys’ offensive line is very hot and cold. Doug Free has been solid at left tackle, but the rest of the line has not been astounding. The Eagles’ defensive front has been harassing players behind the line and now they’re facing a line that’s protecting a very immobile quarterback. I expect the Eagles’ defensive front to bring the heat from the get go to get inside Kitna’s head early and force him into mistakes. The Dallas offensive line will not be able to keep Trent Cole and company out of the backfield.
Behind the offensive line, the Cowboys have an incredibly potent rushing attack which is led by Felix Jones. Behind Jones, Marion Barber and Tashard Choice provide a nice change of pace for the Dallas offense. Choice had something of a coming out game last week against the Colts, as he rushed for 100 yards, 19 carries, and a TD. Barber, while no longer the unstoppable force he once was, can still pound the football up the middle with some success. This is the most dangerous part of the Dallas team and I firmly expect them to run the ball down the Eagles’ throat as they are proving to be susceptible to the run.
Jason Witten is the starting tight end for Dallas and is certainly one of the best players in the league at his position. He is as good a possession tight end as there is in the league and stopping him will be very difficult. There are players that just tend to have certain team’s numbers and Witten has ours. In the three games in which the Eagles and Cowboys faced off last season, Witten averaged 50 yards per game but made several huge catches and plays. The Eagles’ defense had been playing fairly well against the tight end for the season but last week the Texans were able to get 7 catches and 71 yards from their tight ends. I firmly believe Witten will put up numbers on this defense. Asante Samuel being out means more guys dropped back in coverage over the top and that will open things up over the middle.
The Eagles secondary will be catching a break as they go against a strong Dallas wide receiving core. The Cowboys will be without rookie sensation Dez Bryant, as he suffered a fractured ankle against the Colts last weekend. That leaves Miles Austin and Roy Williams as the primary wide receiving targets for John Kitna to throw to. Over the past few weeks, Williams has been looking solid as he has a history with John Kitna. Austin is nowhere near the force he was last season, but he is still playing very solid football. The Cowboys have a statistically strong passing attack, averaging 265.9 yards per game. The Eagles secondary will again, as I mentioned, be without cornerback Asante Samuel. Reid has not said yet who would be the starter in his place but either way it’ll be a tough task. The Dallas wide receivers are solid even without Bryant.
John Kitna has been playing good football but not great football as the starting quarterback for the Cowboys. He’s tossed 1703 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions and has a total rating of 89.5 for the season. The last time the Eagles played against Kitna, it was back in 2007 when they beat down his Lions 56-21 (the game in which they wore the gorgeous yellow and blue jerseys). Kitna had a solid day that day passing for 446 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. Kitna is still about the same quarterback the Eagles faced back then, only he’s aged a few years. He’s not great but he’s not bad at all. He’s a game manager. If he goes down by a lot early it might as well be game over. If the game is close, he will do his job. In essence, the best way to beat Kitna is to come out firing on offense and give him a deficit early. That is when he can be forced into mistakes.
The Dallas defense is another story. While their offense is very potent, their defense is very flat. Their secondary is weak and as a whole they give up the second most number of points in the league per game (28.0). The Eagles’ offense remains one of the most dangerous in the NFL.
The Eagles’ offensive line has been up and down all season. The only consistency is inconsistency. Jason Peters remains the most reliable player along the line and Nick Cole remains the least reliable. The Cowboys primary pass rush is provided by DeMarcus Ware, who is easily one of the best defensive players in the NFL and leads his team with 9.5 sacks on the season. Peters has faced off against Ware in the past and has neutralized him very effectively. The rest of the Dallas defensive front is formidable, in particular nose-tackle Jay Ratliff who can both eat space and collapse the pocket as well as anyone in the league. Mike McGlynn will have a huge test ahead of him as he faces off against Ratliff. But despite those immensely talented players, the Cowboys only have 22 sacks on the season, one of the lesser amounts in the league. On the other hand, the Eagles offensive line continues to let up tons of pressure and sacks.
LeSean McCoy continues to lead the Eagles’ rushing attack and he is quickly becoming one of the finer all around backs in the league. He is, in my mind, unquestionably the best pass catching back in the league. As a runner he still has things to work on, but he is clearly on his way to being an elite player. The most important developmental thing he’s achieved, however, is his ability to pick up the blitz and block effectively. That will be key to the Eagles’ success this weekend. The Dallas defense is stout against the run, letting up 107.8 yards per game on the ground though the numbers are slightly twisted because last week they faced a Colts team that barely tried to run the ball. McCoy is averaging a humble 68 yards per game on the ground and another 44 yards on the air. Combined he averages 113 yards per game on both the air and the ground but what doesn’t show up in the statistics are his big plays. He is becoming one of the more consistent big play guys on the team and it will be that ability to break off a big gain that will be another key to the Eagles beating the Cowboys.
Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve had another Brent Celek sighting! Is it coming to the point where it’s no longer a tedious bore to write this section? I don’t know about that but I do know that Celek made a huge play last week. The Cowboys haven’t allowed much to tight ends this season, and as always I expect that trend to continue. Celek has had some success against this Dallas 3-4 scheme but Vick is not looking his way very often, and I believe there’s something wrong with his wrist that’s more serious than what the Eagles are telling us.
The Dallas secondary is worse than ours. I know, I’m as shocked as you that there are secondaries worse than the Eagles.’ They are giving up 254.1 yards per game (18th in the league) and have struggled against many of the elite passing attacks in the league. The Eagles’ wide receivers are not putting up huge individual numbers, but collectively they are more than getting the job done. Last season, the numbers made it appear that Dallas shut down the Eagles passing attack but in all reality the receivers were getting open on many plays. I’m sure you, dear readers, can figure out why they weren’t getting the ball. That will change this weekend The Eagles’ receivers are facing a secondary that will not be able to keep up with all of them at once and I won’t be surprised to see Jeremy Maclin get a ton of yardage this game.
Getting the Eagles the ball will be, as always, Michael Vick, Vick put together yet another good game against the Texans and made some very nice throws last week. He also made some poor throws. Luckily for him, the Dallas defense is one of the worst in the league at picking off passes. They’ve picked off 13 for the season, which isn’t too poor but 4 of those came in one week (last week) against the Colts. Peyton Manning is adapting to new weapons and is telegraphing throws. Vick is not doing that. Vick is in synch with all of his major weapons and trusts them to be where he needs them to be. The Dallas secondary will not be able to stop the Eagles passing attack.
From a special teams standpoint, I am currently unsure of what to think about Dallas. Mat McBriar, their punter, is having an excellent season-as he has for years. Their place kicker, David Buehler, is having a rough season. He has incredible leg strength, but none of the accuracy needed to succeed in this league. Their leading punt and kick returner, Dez Bryant, is out for the season after last weekend’s injury. The Eagles had a good day on special teams against the Texans, but we all know that unit is as inconsistent as Nick Cole. Akers continues to have an excellent season and even Sav Rocca isn’t looking too awful right now, which is a pleasant change of pace from the previous seasons once the cold sets in. Jorrick Calvin showed some good vision against the Texans as a kick returner but DeSean Jackson continues to fail in finding solid running lanes as a punt returner.
Andy Reid is darn near unbeatable during this stretch of the season. The Eagles excel at this time of year and much of that is due to Reid. They’ve also had an extra few days off,which has given Reid even more time to prepare for the Cowboys. To see what Reid can do with some extra preparation time, please take a look at his record coming off a bye week. I’ll save you the time: He’s 12-0. Now, the Eagles aren’t coming off a bye week, but they do have a few more days of rest and preparation in order to get ready, and I think that will be huge in the outcome of this game. I can’t say I know much about Jason Garrett, who has been Dallas’ interim head coach for 4 games, which isn’t enough for me to go off of. One thing is for sure, however: The Dallas players have responded to Garrett in a way that they were not responding to Wade Phillips. As of now, based on history and longevity, I have to give Reid the edge. I think he’s going to have his guys prepared for this game.
HOW I SEE IT:
There’s one final thing I haven’t discussed yet. Revenge. No word other than embarrassment can suit what the Eagles felt after being swept by the Cowboys last season with the last game coming in the playoffs. The last two games weren’t even close contests. Many men on the Eagles’ roster remember that and I think that will motivate them to come out and play some great football. Dallas has looked good but they’ve struggled against potent offenses and that is exactly what the Eagles will bring to Dallas. I like the Eagles to win it on the road and guarantee the Cowboys a losing season.