Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Cowboys’ offense.
1. Let’s start with what you really care about – draft positioning. The Eagles currently have the fifth pick in the first round. The teams ahead of them are the Chiefs (1-10), Jaguars (2-9), Raiders (3-8) and Browns (3-8). The Chiefs host the Panthers, the Jags travel to Buffalo, and the Raiders and Browns play each other (so one of them’s got to win). Along with your fantasy teams, now you know who to root for during a Sunday afternoon of football-viewing.
2. The numbers just keep getting worse for the Eagles’ defense. They are now allowing 25.6 points per game, which ranks 24th. Football Outsiders has the Eagles’ D at 23rd in the league – 27th against the pass and 10th against the run. The Cowboys are 18th in scoring offense, averaging 22 points per game. Football Outsiders has Dallas’ offense ranked 15th – 12th in passing and 20th in rushing. The Cowboys’ last game was a 38-31 loss to the Redskins on Thanksgiving. The Eagles lost their seventh straight to the Panthers (30-22) on Monday night.
3. Tony Romo is completing 66.2 percent of his passes (seventh). That’s the good news. But he’s been picked off 15 times – second-most in the league behind only Drew Brees (16). He’s been less turnover-prone recently with just two interceptions in the last four games. In the first meeting against the Eagles, Romo completed 19 of 26 passes for 209 yards and a pair of scores. He’ll likely be glad to see Todd Bowles’ defense in Dallas. The Eagles have just seven interceptions on the season (only five teams have fewer). And only the Colts (10) have fewer overall takeaways than the Birds (seven).
4. It’s been truly amazing to see how the Eagles’ pass defense has gone down the tubes since the Juan Castillo/Todd Bowles move. Through the first six games, the Eagles were holding opponents to 52.7 percent completions – the top mark in the league. In the last five, that number is a staggering 75.2 percent, which includes 13 touchdowns and no interceptions. This week, I asked safety Kurt Coleman whether not having Bowles spend as much time with the secondary has hurt the defense.
“He’s still working with the DBs, but obviously he has a more broader range now because he has to take care of all three different groups,” Coleman said. “His job role’s expanded. But he has a great eye, being a DB, and he’s always talking with us and allowing us to see things as he used to. He’s just not always hands-on because we still have Mike Zordich, and now we have Bobby April III to kind of help us out.”
5. The secondary will have to deal with Dez Bryant on Sunday night. The third-year receiver has really come on, averaging 80 yards per game, 10th-best in the league. Bryant has already set a career-high with 65 receptions, and he leads Dallas with six touchdowns. Miles Austin was limited in practice and is questionable with a hip injury. He leads the Cowboys with 12 catches of 20+ yards. Jason Witten has been targeted 114 times, the most of any Dallas receiver. He leads the team with 82 catches (710 yards). The Eagles have not been as good this season at covering opposing tight ends, ranking 17th, according to Football Outsiders.
6. Up front, the Eagles got rid of Jason Babin and will now get a better look at Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry. Bowles was asked this week how much input he had in that decision.
“Not much,” he said. “That’s something handled by management and the head coach. Jason’s a great player for us. He’s been a great player in this league. I just wish him the best.”
The real question here is: Who is making personnel decisions the rest of the season? Andy Reid is still the head coach, but it’s no secret that he’ll be gone at the end of the season. The Eagles can’t really let him decide who to keep and who to get rid of at this point, can they? If Jeffrey Lurie has decided that Howie Roseman is going to be in his corner, ushering in the new era of Eagles football, my guess is Roseman will be the main decision-maker the rest of the way.
7. Curry had five tackles in his debut last week and was active. If he plays behind Trent Cole at right defensive end, he could match up with former first-round pick Tyron Smith, who is listed as questionable with an ankle injury. Smith got the better of Cole in the first matchup, limiting him to two hurries and no sacks. Graham has gotten to the quarterback with more frequency than any other Eagles defensive lineman this year, although he’s been quiet as of late. He’ll match up with right tackle Doug Free, who owned Babin in the first game, limiting him to one hurry and no sacks. Fletcher Cox had six hurries against Dallas the first time around, but he’s questionable. Cox suffered a tailbone injury last week and also is dealing with a death in the family. He did not participate in any of the team’s practices.
8. DeMarco Murray has been out since Week 6 with a foot injury, but could return Sunday night. He’s averaging 4.4 yards per carry on the season. Felix Jones had one of his better games of the season against the Eagles the first time around, rushing 16 times for 71 yards. He’s averaging 3.6 yards per carry on the season and is questionable with a knee injury. DeMeco Ryans leads the Eagles with 112 tackles (87 solo). He’s got 14 tackles for loss, the most of any Eagle since Reid became head coach. Jeremiah Trotter had 13 in 2005.
9. One rookie who we haven’t written much about lately is Brandon Boykin. The nickel corner has flashed potential, but been up-and-down this season.
“Playing the nickel as a first-time rookie, you’re going to see certain things during the year that you don’t encounter in training camp,” Bowles said. “Different guys play at different speeds and he gets to go against the quick guys, the big guys and the tall guys, and I think he’s handled it well.”
Boykin is probably the only member of the secondary likely to be a part of the next era.
10. Leftovers: The Cowboys are 26th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 44.4 percent of the time. The Eagles are sixth in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns 43.2 percent of the time. …Dallas is ninth in third-down offense, converting 41.4 percent of the time. The Eagles are 12th in third-down defense, allowing conversions 37.2 percent of the time. …In the first meeting, the Cowboys got touchdowns on defense and special teams.