Battle for the NFC East: Cowboys and Eagles

The NFC East has developed into a two team race between the 3-3 Cowboys and 3-3 Eagles as the Redskins and Giants are struggling, to say the least. When they meet Sunday, both the Cowboys and Eagles will come into the game at 2-0 in the division with first place in the East on the line.

It’s my view that the only way either of these two teams will make the playoffs, will be winning the East. And that means the game Sunday matters a lot for both teams.

Eagles Offense versus Dallas Defense:
Chip Kelly brought his fast paced spread offense to the Eagles from Oregon and he has had some success so far. Dallas brought in Monte Kiffin’s “Tampa 2” 4-3 defense from USC and it has had mixed reviews so far. Dallas ranks low in pass defense while the Eagles come in with the top rushing offense in the NFL.

It appears at this point, that Vick will be out with an injury Sunday so most likely Dallas will face Foles at QB. That’s probably some good news for Dallas since Vick offers more of a run threat but make no mistake, Foles has been quite effective at passing in this offense. Last week in a win against the Bucs, Foles was 22 of 31 for 296 yards and 3 TDs which led to him being named NFC offensive player of the week.

Dallas is playing without Ware their starting DE. The Eagles hurry up offense has the potential to wear down a depleted Cowboys defensive line Sunday. The Cowboys will be relying on a lot of inexperienced players to come through for them. Hatcher played a great game against the Redskins and will need to be a leader on the field against the Eagles. How that defensive line holds up will be important.

LeSean McCoy is the KEY:
“Shady” McCoy has been an ideal fit for the spread offense of Chip Kelly’s and he can hurt you as much receiving as running. He has rushed for 5.1 yards a carry and has 241 receiving yards including an eye popping 16.1 yards per catch. The spread formations allow McCoy to get the ball in open space where he can do his thing which is make would be tacklers look silly. Tackling in the open field will be tested in a big way Sunday for the Dallas defense.

The Dallas defense has struggled this season with backs catching the ball out of the backfield. In the Broncos game, Moreno consistently caught passes all alone out of the backfield when Manning needed a first down. And in the Chargers game, Rivers enjoyed tossing the ball to Woodhead out of the backfield for a couple TDs and 54 yards receiving. McCoy is far more dangerous in the open field than either of those two RBs. Just sayin’.

LB Bruce Carter has been disappointing in pass coverage this year in the new 4-3 defense. He was even benched during the Chargers game. I think Dallas should play their rookie LB DeVonte Holloman more in passing situations as the former college safety demonstrated in preseason (2 INTs), that he is a better option in pass coverage. He also is a solid open field tackler which he consistently has shown on special team coverage this season. It’s time to see what the rookie can do covering a RB since what they have been doing, clearly hasn’t been working.

Dallas will need to make containing McCoy priority number one because if he gets going, that whole Eagles offense can get going and lead to a long day for the defense.

Dallas Offense versus Eagles Defense:
When it comes to pass defense, the Eagles are one of the very few teams worse at pass coverage than Dallas. This match up would appear to favor Romo and his capable corp of WRs. Dez Bryant is a solid target and perhaps due for a big game. The rookie Terrance Williams has been playing better each game catching his first TD pass last week in defeating the Redskins. Also Beasley led all receivers last week and is gaining Romo’s trust.

The Cowboys will be without their starting RB Murray who is out with a knee injury. Last week the rookie Joseph Randle came in and scored his first rushing TD assisted by a good push from his center Frederick, aka “the beard”.

Both Randle and Tanner will try to replace the running of Murray. However, other than the Rams game, the Dallas run game has been nothing much to speak about. With Murray out, and given the rather weak Eagle secondary, I look for Romo to pass often in this game. But I do think that could play into the hands of Chip Kelly’s shootout style of play in the end.

Dallas would probably be wise to stick with their run game and allow their defense to rest some by increasing their TOP. But I’m not at all convinced that is how it will play out. It’s much more likely they will engage in a shootout with the Eagles, and hope Romo can come out on top this time.