Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ offense matches up with the Cowboys’ defense:
1. There was a time when a Sunday night game in early December against the Cowboys would have generated a playoff-type buzz around these parts. Instead, we’re left with this.
“I think one thing in coaching, and I’ve been in this thing a little while now, is that motivation aspect,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. “It’s key and it’s every day with the motivation aspect of it. Now, we certainly are in a spoiler type role here and that can be very rewarding. So, we have discussed that and it’s very rewarding that way.”
We’ll find out just how rewarding the Eagles find that spoiler role in the final five games.
2. The Eagles’ offense is averaging just 16.7 points per game, which ranks 30th, ahead of only the Cardinals and the Chiefs. Football Outsiders has the offense ranked 27th – 26th in passing and 25th in rushing. The Cowboys are 20th in scoring defense, allowing 23.8 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 19th – 22nd against the pass and 11th against the run. Dallas is coming off a Thanksgiving performance in which Robert Griffin III completed 19 of 27 passes for 304 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. The Cowboys didn’t get it done against the run either, allowing Alfred Morris to run 24 times for 113 yards (4.7 YPC). The Eagles scored 22 points against Carolina Monday night in their seventh straight loss.
3. In that game, the Birds relied on rookie running back Bryce Brown, who carried 19 times for 178 yards. As I detailed in the All-22 breakdown, Brown impressed with his ability to get around the edge and kick it into a special gear. Most of his success on the season has come out of spread formations. Brown’s run 27 times for 235 yards (8.7 YPC) out of 3-WR and 4-WR sets, according to STATS, Inc. He’s averaging 4.1 yards per carry on 10 attempts out of two-back sets and 6.9 yards per carry on 40 attempts out of single-back sets. The Cowboys will be without some of their key cogs on defense. Linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are out for the season. And nose tackle Jay Ratliff is doubtful with a groin injury. The Cowboys are allowing 4.1 yards per carry on the season (tied for 11th).
4. Nick Foles gets his third straight start in place of an injured Michael Vick. He went 16-for-21 for 119 yards last week against Carolina. Mornhinweg was asked this week about Foles’ progression.
“It certainly will be an evaluation,” Mornhinweg said. “Now, you have to take all different things into account… Young quarterbacks tend to play a little bit better when they are on an excellent team that is fully funded and everyone is on board playing and all of those things.”
Mornhinweg was pointing out that Foles hasn’t been operating with an ideal set of circumstances, considering the offensive line injuries (and the loss of DeSean Jackson). With young players, it’s not always about what they show, but how they project. No one’s expecting consistency at this point in his career, but Foles needs to show flashes of what he could be capable of in the future.
5. Up front, Dallas Reynolds participated in Friday’s practice and is listed as questionable. If he plays, the Eagles offensive line will likely be: King Dunlap (LT), Evan Mathis (LG), Reynolds (center), Jake Scott (RG), Dennis Kelly (RT). If Reynolds can’t go, Mathis is expected to move to center, and Danny Watkins would take his place at left guard. There’s been a lot of talk about whether Scott replacing Watkins has had more to do with the former first-round pick’s injury or his performance.
“Danny is there,” Mornhinweg said this week about Watkins’ ankle. “Danny is really close to being there.”
If Watkins is healthy, you’d think he’d return to the starting lineup one way or another (replacing Scott at RG if Reynolds plays). We’ll keep an eye on how things shake out tonight.
6. For the Cowboys, the player to watch is always DeMarcus Ware. Ware’s tied for fourth in the league with 10 sacks. Dunlap, who had a disastrous stretch in the last game where he failed to go out with the field-goal team and cost the Eagles a timeout, will see plenty of Ware. Anthony Spencer has 6.5 sacks. As a team, the Cowboys have 23 sacks (tied for 20th). The Eagles have allowed 34, tied for fourth-most.
7. When doing your draft research over the next several months, don’t rule out offensive tackle for the Eagles. Jason Peters and Todd Herremans both suffered season-ending injuries. Herremans turned 30 in October, and Peters turns 31 in January. The Eagles could always spend an early pick on a tackle and move Herremans inside. Or they could have the draft pick start inside before eventually moving to tackle. Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel (6-6, 310) and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan (6-8, 302) are names to be aware of. Oh, and one more: Jake Matthews. The cousin of Casey plays right tackle for Texas A&M and is expected to be a first-round pick.
8. The Eagles continue to turn the ball over at a disastrous rate. They are second in the NFL (behind only the Chiefs) with 24 turnovers. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles have turned it over on 20 percent of their offensive drives, which is astounding. Last week, Brown fumbled twice. You can be sure that Cowboys defenders will go after the ball when trying to bring him down. Dallas, however, has just 12 takeaways on the season – second-fewest in the NFC (ahead of only the Eagles, who have 10).
9. At wide receiver, Jason Avant is expected to return from a hamstring injury. Riley Cooper and Damaris Johnson will see more action with Jackson out of the lineup. Eagles receivers will match up against cornerbacks Brandon Carr and first-round pick Morris Claiborne. Opponents are completing 62.5 percent of their passes against Dallas (tied for 18th) and averaging 7.7 yards per attempt (26th).
10. The Eagles are 30th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns just 39.4 percent of the time. The Cowboys are 12th in red-zone defense, allowing TDs 50 percent of the time. …The Eagles are 17th in third-down offense, converting 37.9 percent of the time. Dallas is ninth, allowing conversions 36 percent of the time. …The Eagles continue to boast one of the worst special-teams units in the league. Football Outsiders has Bobby April’s group ranked 25th. Dwayne Harris returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown in the first meeting between the teams. Per FO, the Eagles’ punt/punt coverage unit ranks second-to-last in the NFL.