Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ offense matches up with the Cowboys’ defense. For the first cheat sheet, click here.
1. The Cowboys rank 18th in scoring defense, allowing 22.6 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 13th – ninth against the run, 16th against the pass. The Eagles, meanwhile, are playing like one of the worst offenses in the league. There’s no sugar-coating that fact anymore. They’re tied for 30th in scoring (16.6 points per game), and Football Outsiders has them ranked 26th. The Eagles have 19 giveaways (tied for second-most with the Cowboys) and are 30th in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns just 37 percent of the time. The Saints entered last week’s game allowing over 30 points per game. No opponent had scored fewer than 24. But the Eagles managed just 13.
2. The key cog in the Cowboys’ defense is pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, who enters the game with nine sacks, tied for second-most in the league. The Eagles will go with four backups on the offensive line, Evan Mathis being the lone remaining healthy starter. Demetress Bell, who was a disaster against the Saints, will see a lot of Ware. Some have made the argument that the reason Bell struggled so much last week was because the coaches put him at right tackle, where he had never played before. But don’t forget that he had plenty of issues at left tackle earlier in the season. It would be a mistake for Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid to even consider letting Bell try to block Ware without help. The plan has to be to park Brent Celek or Clay Harbor next to Bell for pretty much the entire game. Ware will line up on the other side too. In those cases, the tight end can line up next to King Dunlap, who will play right tackle and is coming off his worst outing of the year.
3. Other than Ware, a few other defenders the Eagles will have to keep an eye on are nose tackle Jay Ratliff (probable), defensive lineman Jason Hatcher and outside linebacker Anthony Spencer. Spencer has three sacks on the season. Ratliff could give Dallas Reynolds and Dennis Kelly fits. Hatcher is second on the team in hurries and QB hits, according to Pro Football Focus. Michael Vick has been sacked 27 times, third-most in the league. He was sacked 23 times all of last season.
4. The Cowboys were dealt a blow when they lost Sean Lee, one of the league’s top inside linebackers, for the season to an injury. Dallas signed former Eagle Ernie Sims. Bruce Carter, a second-round pick in 2011, has been playing well. He’s second on the team with 46 tackles, including a team-high six for loss. Opponents are averaging 4.1 yards per carry against the Cowboys. LeSean McCoy is coming off one of his best games of the season, a 19-carry, 119-yard performance against New Orleans. He was limited in practice this week because of an illness, but is listed as probable. Michael Turner carried 20 times for 102 yards against the Cowboys last week.
5. Dallas is 24th in the league at covering opposing tight ends, per Football Outsiders. But like I mentioned above, the Eagles are going to need Celek and Harbor to block quite a bit in this one. Per PFF, on passing plays, Celek is being used as a blocker 28 percent of the time. Last year, that number was 25.3 percent.
6. Dallas’ offseason focus on defense was improving its secondary. The Cowboys signed cornerback Brandon Carr from the Chiefs and traded up in the first round to snag LSU’s Morris Claiborne. Dallas’ pass defense has produced mixed results. The Cowboys are 13th in opponents’ completion percentage (61.3) and 23rd in yards per attempt (7.6). They’ve allowed just seven passing touchdowns, tied for third-fewest, and have the fewest interceptions (three) in the league. Teams have targeted Carr (37 times) and Claiborne (34 times) pretty equally. The safeties are veteran Gerald Sensabaugh and Danny McCray, who had never started a game before this season.
7. As for Michael Vick, this season came with the promise that he’d show great improvement from 2011. But Vick’s numbers are down across the board, as he’s completed just 58.3 percent of his passes and is averaging just 6.8 yards per attempt. The offensive line has been terrible, but Vick has left too many plays on the field. Tbe Cowboys blitzed Ryan six times and Eli Manning the week before just once. The guess is Rob Ryan feels like he can get to Vick without having to send extra pressure.
8. As we showed with the All-22, Vick missed multiple opportunities to get Jeremy Maclin the football last week. The fourth-year receiver is averaging just 50.9 yards per game. DeSean Jackson, meanwhile, is quietly having a really good year. According to Pro Football Focus, among the 31 wide receivers who have totaled at least 500 yards, Jackson is the only one without a drop. He’s on pace to set career-highs with 74 catches and 1,248 yards.
9. Want to see the difference between a good offense and the Eagles right now? Check out this play from last week. The Cowboys bring a six-man pressure. The Falcons have no tight ends in to block – just one running back and the offensive line.
He doesn’t get sacked. He doesn’t get hit. No one even lays a finger on him. Ryan’s decisive, identifies Julio Jones against Claiborne down the left sideline, and the Falcons burn Ryan’s blitz with a 38-yard gain. The Eagles will have opportunities downfield, but it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to execute at this level.
10. Leftovers: The Cowboys are 10th in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns 48.3 percent of the time. …The Eagles’ offense ranks 13th on third down, converting 41.4 percent of the time. The Cowboys rank 10th, allowing opponents to convert 36.3 percent of the time. …The Cowboys are 2-point favorites, according to Bovada. Per SportsInsights.com, 78 percent of the action is on Dallas to cover.