Eagles-Cowboys NFC East Championship Game Preview

Posted: December 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

Philadelphia Eagles vs Dallas Cowboys

Quarterbacks

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Eagles – Nick Foles leads Philadelphia into Dallas for the NFC East Championship Game this Sunday night as one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL. With a 118.8 quarterback rating, Foles paces the entire NFL. The gunslinger is coming off an electric 21-25, 230 yards, 2 TD performance against Chicago on Sunday night. While Foles may be dominating defenses this season, he hasn’t exactly soared against the Cowboys. He’s 0-3 against Dallas in 3 career starts.

Cowboys – With Tony Romo likely out for this weekend’s game, the Cowboys will turn to veteran Kyle Orton. The former Purdue Boilermaker has plenty of experience, having started 69 career games (35-34 record). He’s a capable decision maker with a strong arm whose best season came in 2009 with Denver, when under the tutelage of Josh McDaniels, the then 27-year old threw for 3802 yards and 21 touchdowns. When it comes to backups, Orton is one of the better ones in the league. However, he is still a backup, having not started an NFL game since 2011 with Kansas City.

The Edge – Philadelphia

Running Backs

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Eagles – LeSean McCoy is the best RB in the NFL right now. He’s also on the verge of his first rushing title in his five year career. That spells disaster for a Dallas team that was gashed on the ground last week by Alfred Morris and the Redskins. In fact, the Cowboys’ run defense is 31st in the league, besting only Chicago, who gave up over 300 yards on the ground to Philadelphia on Sunday night. The Eagles also boast impressive depth at the position, with Bryce Brown and Chris Polk both scoring touchdowns against the Bears.

Cowboys – DeMarco Murray is also a very talented and elusive back. If he got the ball over 20 times a game, there’s little doubt that the former Oklahoma Sooner could contend with McCoy for the league rushing title. The only problem, as McCoy experienced for years under Andy Reid, is that his coaches don’t seem too keen on giving him the rock. Murray has rushed for over 1000 yards this season on just 200 carries. It’s an impressive mark, as is his career 5.0 yards per rush. If Murray goes down, the Cowboys aren’t as lucky to have the depth that the Eagles have. Phillip Tanner is the backup at this point.

The Edge – Philadelphia

Wide Receiver/Tight End

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Eagles – Philadelphia’s offense would be even more dynamic if it weren’t for a preseason knee injury to 2009 first round pick Jeremy Maclin. Still, the Eagles passing game has suffered little since Foles has entered the fray. DeSean Jackson (pictured) has put together a career year (79 rec, 1304 yards, 9 TD) and he is balanced out well by Riley Cooper and the tight end combination of Zach Ertz and Brent Celek. The Eagles could use a stronger slot receiver than Jason Avant. But, they’re still strong both at the top of the depth chart and towards the bottom.

Cowboys – The strength of the Dallas offense comes from this group of electric playmakers. Dez Bryant (pictured) is among the league’s leaders with 85 receptions for 1134 yards and 12 touchdowns. Behind him are Terrance Williams, Miles Austin, and the diminutive Cole Beasley, who is a terror on third downs out of the slot. One of the best tight ends in the league provides an adequate safety valve for Orton in Jason Witten, who is once again on his way to a Pro Bowl in 2013.

The Edge – Dallas

Offensive Line

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Eagles – Considered one of the worst lines in football in 2012, the Eagles did a tremendous job revamping this unit to swiftly evolve into one of if not the best in the league. The acquisition of rookie lineman Lane Johnson allowed Todd Herremans to move back to his customary right guard spot. With Jason Kelce (pictured) emerging as one of the best young centers in the game, this unit is mean, powerful, and ready to run. Their secret weapon is the screen game, where the speed of this athletic line really comes into play. Jason Peters and Evan Mathis join the aforementioned trio to form the nucleus of Chip Kelly’s offense.

Cowboys – The Dallas offensive line has steadily improved as the season has gone on. First round pick Travis Frederick, considered a reach at the time, has been a stabilizing force for the unit. They’d like to get more out of RT Doug Free, whom they signed to a monster extension a few years ago. But, overall, this is an above average line led by former first round pick Tyron Smith (pictured). One significant problem could be depth, as Dallas has ZERO backup guards on their depth chart at this time.

The Edge – Philadelphia

Defensive Line

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Eagles – For years, the roles were reversed. The Eagles had long been a 4-3 defensive team whilst Dallas countered with a 3-4 pass rush. Now, it’s the Eagles who bring the edge with the outside linebackers and allow their stout defensive front to provide the run stuffing punch. Cedric Thornton (pictured) has done just that, emerging as a dynamite 3-4 defensive end opposite 2012 first round pick Fletcher Cox. Bennie Logan has done an adequate job in the middle for a rookie on a front that has improved dramatically since Isaac Sopoaga was traded in October.

Cowboys – It’s all about DeMarcus Ware (pictured) and Jason Hatcher for the Cowboys this week. They both need to have A+ games if the Cowboys have any hopes of winning. Ware, a multiple time All-Pro, has just 6 sacks this year (and just 2 since September 22nd). Hatcher has emerged as a very good pass rusher from the inside. But, with the injury to Anthony Spencer and the loss of Jay Ratliff, the Cowboys’ front four is not nearly as potent as it once was.

The Edge – Dallas

Linebackers

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Eagles – Philadelphia’s linebacking corps has been the most pleasant surprise on defense this season. Left for dead after a mediocre 2012 season, MLB DeMeco Ryans has been the MVP of the defense. As the unit’s captain and play caller, Ryans has led both by example on the field and off of it. He’s joined in the middle by second year man Mychal Kendricks, who had perhaps the finest game of his career last week against Chicago. On the outside, Trent Cole and Connor Barwin bring the pass rush. As we all know, Cole typically brings his A game late in the season. That was evident last weekend, when the veteran sacked Jay Cutler twice.

Cowboys – Dallas’ 4-3 linebacking unit took a big hit a few weeks ago when Sean Lee was lost for the season with a neck injury. The former Penn State Nittany Lion was the heart and soul of the defense and has been sorely missed. Without Lee, the burden falls on Bruce Carter (pictured). An athletic and physical freak, Carter is joined by unknowns Kyle Wilber and DeVonte Holloman. Something tells me that Shady McCoy is going to have a heck of a good time running on some of these no-namers.

The Edge – Philadelphia

Secondary

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Eagles – Cary Williams (pictured) and Bradley Fletcher have been a steadying force as the team’s starters for most of the season. Both were brought in as free agents last offseason to little fanfare. But, their consistency and ability to stay on the field has been a godsend for a team that doesn’t have a lot of depth in the secondary. Behind them is second year stud Brandon Boykin, who leads the team in interceptions, including a pick-six of Jay Cutler a week ago. Roc Carmichael, the team’s fourth corner, is a liability and could have been a big problem against Romo. The safeties are mediocre and will need to be upgraded this offseason. But, Nate Allen has looked a lot better in the second half of the season. The same cannot be said about Patrick Chung, who is starting only because he’s a former Oregon Duck and that there’s literally no one else to do the job.

Cowboys – Dallas’ secondary, once again, is a massive liability. Injuries have taken their toll on a unit that was one of the worst in football in 2011 before improving last year. Brandon Carr (pictured) was signed to a huge contract prior to 2012. However, he is having a dreadful year in coverage and could be picked on by Foles and Co. As for the rest of this group, there’s not a whole lot to write about. Safety Jeff Heath is atrocious both tackling and in coverage and should be targeted all evening. Their other safety, Barry Church, has been impressive and probably is the team’s defensive MVP (sans Lee) this season.

The Edge – Philadelphia (amazingly)

Special Teams

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Eagles – Philadelphia’s special teams have been hot-and-cold all season. The kick return unit has been better in recent weeks, although they have not broken one for a touchdown all season. DeSean Jackson is great as a punt returner with Demaris Johnson providing spot duty when Jackson is fatigued or the game is no longer in doubt. Kicker Alex Henery is quite solid from 45 and under but an absolute coin flip at anything longer than that. Punter Donnie Jones (pictured) has easily been the team’s special teams MVP, winning two Special Teams Player of the Week awards this season for his fantastic distance and accuracy.

Cowboys – The strength of the Cowboys’ special teams comes from their dynamic returner Dwayne Harris. Having missed a few games due to injury, Harris is scheduled to return this weekend against the Eagles. That could prove dangerous for Philadelphia considering their struggles against Detroit in kick coverage and their persistent squib kicks in the game against Minnesota perhaps costing the team dearly. If Harris can break a few long ones, Dallas could shock Philadelphia. As for the kicking game, Dan Bailey is steady, especially at home. Punter Chris Jones (no relation to Donnie) has also had a brilliant season, with 28 of his 74 punts landing inside the 20-yard line.

The Edge – Dallas

Coaching

Eagles – What can really be said about the coaching job that Chip Kelly has done this season? Few projected that Philadelphia would even be .500 this season, let alone contending for a division championship and the 3rd seed in the NFC. While Kelly has struggled at times with clock management and challenges, his dynamic offense and innovative methods with regards to practice and handling of the volatile Philadelphia media have been spectacular. Bonus points for his ability to connect with the boisterous Eagles’ fan base, something his predecessor, Andy Reid, was never able to do.

Cowboys – Jason Garrett may still return next year even if Dallas loses this game, as Jerry Jones has done nothing but support the beleaguered coach for years. Considered an offensive genius, Garrett’s play calling at times has been straight up offensive. His penchant for passing when the situation dictates the opposite confuses fans and pundits alike. Whether or not Garrett returns next year, Cowboys fans can’t feel confident that he will put together a winning game plan on Sunday. After all, this is his third straight NFC East Championship Game with zero wins to show for it.

The Edge – Philadelphia

Intangibles

Eagles – Philadelphia’s Nick Foles is 0-3 against the Cowboys in his career, although to be fair, he played rather well against them in two games last season. Chip Kelly and Dallas defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin faced each other numerous times when both were in the Pac-12 (Kelly at Oregon, Kiffin as the defensive coordinator for USC). Last season, in their final collegiate meeting with a Pac-12 title on the line, Kelly’s Ducks decimated the Trojans for 730 yards in a 62-51 victory. Shady McCoy has averaged 5.27 yards per attempt vs. Dallas in his career (107 att – 564 yards, 2 TD in 7 games).

Cowboys – Kyle Orton, starting for the injured Tony Romo, is 24-14 at home in his career compared to just 13-23 on the road. However, he has struggled in December, with a 71.7 quarterback rating, the lowest of any month for the veteran. DeMarco Murray has rushed 328 times in 19 career victories. In 17 career losses, he’s touched the ball just 197 times. In two games against Philadelphia in his career, the back has 31 carries for 157 yards (5.06 per rush) and one touchdown.

The Edge – Philadelphia

The Final Call

If Dallas had Tony Romo healthy and starting, this would be a game decided by 5 points or less. Instead, the Cowboys have to turn to Orton, who has never started a playoff game and is 5-18 in his last 23 starts. To make matters worse, Dallas is also missing the captain of their defense in Sean Lee. Without Lee’s presence in the middle, stopping LeSean McCoy and the Eagles’ ground game could prove too difficult a task. An inability to stop the run will open up the play action game which will create a massive hole for the screen game to dominate.

Philadelphia is too healthy and filled with too many playmakers to miss out on this opportunity. Their 54-11 victory over Chicago last week was a sign of what this team is capable of when all 53 players are performing to their capabilities. There will be no more letdowns like two weeks ago in Minnesota, when the team admitted that they took their opponent for granted.

Come Sunday night, there will be no doubt who the best team in the division is. The Eagles, for the first time since 2010, will be crowned NFC East champions. Eagles, 34-20

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