Cheat Sheet: Eagles Offense Vs. Cowboys ‘D’

Eagles WR DeSean Jackson falls out of bounds

You know the drill. Here are 10 things to know about this matchup.

1. Nick Foles will make his second straight start, leading a unit that ranks near the top in many statistical categories. The Eagles’ offense is second in Football Outsiders’ rankings, behind only the Denver Broncos. The Birds are averaging 27.7 points per game (fourth) and have put up 67 in the last two weeks combined. They’ll be going up against a Cowboys defense that ranks 21st – both in Football Outsiders’ rankings and scoring (allowing 25.3 points per game). In their last outing, the Cowboys held the Redskins to 16 points for their third win of the year.


2. Foles has played at a high level the last two weeks. Overall, he's completing 67.2 percent of his passes and averaging 8.9 yards per attempt. He's thrown six touchdowns, run for one more and has yet to turn it over. There were questions about Chip Kelly's passing concepts when he first joined the NFL ranks, but the Eagles have the fifth-ranked passing offense in the NFL, per Football Outsiders. Foles has not thrown it deep as much as Vick did. Per Pro Football Focus, 11.5 percent of Foles' attempts have traveled 20+ yards downfield. That number was 15.9 percent under Vick. But Foles has connected on five of seven of those throws. A small sample size for sure, but encouraging nonetheless after he struggled with the deep ball last year. There was much talk about the "get the ball out quick" passing game under Kelly, but the Eagles have 34 pass plays of 20+ yards. That's tops in the league. No other team has more than 27.

3. The Eagles are the top rushing team in the NFL, per Football Outsiders. The Cowboys rank 15th against the run. Opponents are averaging 4.4 yards per carry against them (T-23rd). LeSean McCoy is the NFL's leading rusher with 630 yards. Among the 20 running backs who have at least 75 carries, McCoy is the only one averaging 5.0 YPC or better (he's at 5.1). The Eagles' scheme and blocking also deserve credit. I asked Todd Herremans this week if he's ever performed better as a run blocker. He said no and credited O-Line coach Jeff Stoutland. Really, all five offensive linemen have gotten the job done in the run game. The Cowboys run a 4-3 and have tackling machine Sean Lee at middle linebacker. The Penn State product is fourth in the league with 60 tackles. Eagles offensive linemen have done a terrific job of getting to linebackers after their initial double teams. That's something to watch in the run game against Lee.

4. Up front, DeMarcus Ware said he's a game-time decision. Initial reports had Ware out three-to-four weeks with a thigh injury, but he plans on traveling to Philadelphia to see if he can go. The Cowboys have less talent in their front seven than many of the teams the Eagles have faced this year. Without Ware, their pass-rush is unimpressive. One player to watch is defensive tackle Jason Hatcher. The eight-year veteran already has a career-high five sacks. Jason Kelce has been good in pass protection. Herremans has been up and down. Evan Mathis has been solid. Without Ware, Hatcher becomes Dallas' best pass-rusher.

5. The Cowboys' other defensive linemen are George Selvie (LDE), Nick Hayden and Kyle Wilber (if Ware can't go). Again, the Cowboys have a mediocre pass rush (13th in adjusted sack rate, per Football Outsiders) with Ware on the field. Without him, there's not a lot there. Selvie has three sacks on the season. He'll be matched up with Lane Johnson who was up-and-down vs. the Bucs. Jason Peters suffered a shoulder injury vs. Tampa, but is expected to play. The Eagles should be able to control the game up front on offense.

6. The Eagles have the fifth-ranked passing offense, per Football Outsiders. The Cowboys rank 22nd in pass defense. DeSean Jackson leads all wide receivers with 589 receiving yards. He is the only player in the NFL with 500+ yards, five touchdowns and a YPC average greater than 17.0. Jackson is on pace for 91 catches, 1,570 yards and 13 touchdowns. All three of those numbers would shatter his previous career highs. Jackson has lined up in the slot 28.7 percent of the time, per PFF. On 14 targets in the slot, he has 12 catches for 188 yards. Riley Cooper had his best game of the season (by far) against Tampa, catching four balls for 120 yards.

7. The Cowboys have invested in their secondary, but are not seeing results. Their top cornerback is Brandon Carr, but 2012 first-round pick Morris Claiborne has been demoted in favor of veteran Orlando Scandrick. Claiborne comes into the game in nickel situations, and Scandrick slides inside. The safeties are rookie J.J. Wilcox and veteran Barry Church. Opponents are completing 65.6 percent of their passes against Dallas (24th), and the Cowboys are giving up 7.9 yards per attempt (also 24th). They have allowed 23 completions of 20+ yards (tied for fifth-most) and a league-high 14 touchdown passes. The Cowboys don't play all Tampa-2 with new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. They play a healthy amount of man coverage with a single high safety. Kelly, Foles and the Eagles feasted on the Bucs' zone scheme, incorporating a series of packaged run-pass option plays. Don't be surprised if we see the Cowboys go with a lot of man coverage on Sunday.

8. Lee is one of the best cover linebackers in the NFL, but teams have still had success throwing to tight ends against the Cowboys. Per Football Outsiders, Dallas ranks 29th against opposing TEs. Kelly has gone out of his way continuously to praise Brent Celek. Celek has improved as a run blocker, but on pass plays, he's actually staying in to block less than he did under Andy Reid. Per PFF, Celek has gone out into routes on pass plays 83.4 percent of the time this season. That number was 76.8 percent in 2012 and 74.7 percent in 2011. Celek has been targeted just 18 times in six games. Zach Ertz saw an uptick in playing time last week. Kelly said that was partly because of wanting to spell Celek in the heat in Tampa. We'll find out Sunday if that was the real reason or if the Eagles just want to get the rookie on the field more.

9. In case you haven't noticed, Eagles special teams aren't exactly flourishing. Overall, they rank 29th, according to Football Outsiders' rankings. They are tied for 18th on kickoff returns and 21st on punt returns. The Cowboys, meanwhile, are third in kickoff returns and second on punt returns. What's noteworthy here is that the Eagles could have potentially had Dallas' return man, Dwayne Harris.

Paul Domowitch of the Daily News added this:

The Cowboys took Harris, an East Carolina product who leads the league in punt and kickoff returns, in the sixth round of the ’11 draft, with the 176th overall pick. The Eagles selected Pitt running back Dion Lewis and Iowa offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde in the fifth round and Cincinnati center Jason Kelce in the sixth, 15 picks after Harris. Kelce has turned out to be a great pick. Vandervelde is Kelce’s backup. Lewis had just 36 carries in two seasons with the Eagles before being traded to the Browns in April. According to a club source, the Eagles had Harris rated higher than the Cowboys, but “we didn’t really go off our [draft] board.”

10. Don't forget that the Cowboys have the old shark in the water, linebacker Ernie Sims, in their starting lineup. ...Dallas is 24th in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns 61.9 percent of the time. The Eagles are 27th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 45 percent of the time. ...The Cowboys are 25th in third-down defense, allowing conversions 42.3 percent of the time. The Eagles' offense is fourth, converting 45.9 percent of the time.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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  • Kevin

    This seems like the week we will go a lot of 12 Personnel to keep their front seven on the field and not let them get to Nickel. Would love to see Ertz and McCoy take a healthy bite out of the shark.

    • knighn

      Eagles preferred personnel package still seems to be “11″. Even against the Cowboys defense it will probably be easier for the Eagles to run with 3 CBs and 2 LBs on the field versus 2 CBs and 3 LB.
      Speaking of “11″: not including the 4th and 1 play where the Eagles drew TB offsides, the Eagles ran 11 straight run plays to finish the game in TB. Did the Eagles ever run 11 straight run plays at any point in Andy Reid’s career? Somehow, I doubt it!
      Even if DeMarcus Ware does play, he won’t be at 100%. Might be a good time to turn the Run Game up to 11 again and have the Eagles run 11 straight times against the ‘turds depleted D line.

      • anon

        agree. I think Chip is learning how to mix in tempo and not tempo. Sometimes it’s just better to keep the other offense of the field. Nice to see how quickly chip learns.

        • knighn

          Oh, I didn’t say those 11 runs would be slow tempo. Can you imagine how gassed the ‘turds D would be after 11 straight up-tempo runs? They’ll be gasping for air the whole game.

  • bostonianeagle

    Dallas is 21st in scoring defense, but take out that ridiculous, crazy game against Denver, and they’re about 7th in the league with 18.4 pts/g. Not saying that you should take out games, but I just want to point out that Dallas’ defense isn’t a gimme.

    • Andy

      Good point, but they are pretty banged up up front so the defense on the field Sunday won’t be the same one they had in the early weeks of the year.

    • Andy124

      Interesting. Good observation. Kudos to you sir.

      Typically, the way you legitimize throwing out a game on one end of the spectrum is to throw out another game on the other end of the spectrum.

      If you drop both the Broncos and Rams games (where they held Bradford and company to 7) their scoring average goes to 23.5, good for…. 21st in the league.

      I’m not really making a point so much as playing with numbers here. On Monday, I will use numbers to postdict the exact number of points the Eagles will score this Sunday against Dallas.

      • theycallmerob

        Let’s look at this a bit further, remembering that 5 of 6 games so far had common opponents for both the Eagles and Cowboys.
        Redskins put up [27] against Eagles, [16] against Cowboys
        Giants- [21] E, [31] C

        Chargers- [33] E, [30] C

        Chiefs- [26] E, [17] C

        Broncos- [52] E, [51] C

        They don’t seem a whole lot better to me, considering how many points our offense and ST gave up in the Chiefs and Broncos games.

    • nicksaenz1

      Well, our D is only giving up 25.4ppg without that Denver outlier. Our D is a gimme. Sadly, I tried defending this D and noted it seemed improved over the last few games. I hereby rescind all previous statements defending our D. If we want to win Sunday, we need 35 or more.

      • http://abigbuttandasmile.com/ A Big Butt and a Smile

        Try the first to 40 wins.

        lol

        Edit: Though Romo may implode, so there’s always that.

        • nicksaenz1

          Might be, would love to see the game ended as soon as Shady/D-Jax gets in for our team’s 6th TD. Ultimately, as much as we’ve all made this game about Foles or Vick as starter going forward, I take a different approach. Obviously I’m watching Foles’ play, but to me, this is all about what we learned from the Denver game as a D, from Billy Davis on down to Nate Allen. Are we going to run soft zones all game again? Are we going to employ Blitzin’ Boykin 8 times? Meaning: Have learned from our mistakes of doing all of that stupid garbage that cost us 52 pts? …. This is the first offense that we’ve faced since Denver, albeit only 2 games in between, that has the capacity to light up a scoreboard. If we’ve made any progress on D whatsoever, we’re about to find out. I hope we can at least hold they’re offense to under 40, preferably under 35. If we can’t show up for this game, we have no business talking about winning the division and making playoffs.

          • anon

            Agree, but i don’t think it’s that serious. This D is evolving. I’m going to go out on a limb and say they won us the Giants game. I know Foles had 2tds, and we’d given up the lead in the 3rd, but 4 takeaways in the 4th quarter?

            Our D isn’t Seattle, we still have to put up 30 pts. But we will get stops. We will get turnovers. It’s better than the SD game where you just assumed they’d score.

          • nicksaenz1

            Our wins have come with us scoring over 30 points. We need to be able to win games without scoring 30 if we’re going anywhere such as the playoffs, that’s all I’m saying.

          • anon

            Would you say that about the Broncos? This is the first game that we’ve scored first. IF we can score early and often it forces the defense to abandon the run and become one dimensional which helps the D defense (we can put curry in and play press man).

          • nicksaenz1

            As of now, yes. Who have they played? Not one team they’ve faced has a winning record. We’ll get a better gauge of them against KC and SD. Also, and as much as I think Peyton is the GOAT, we’ll see how that arm holds up (which indirectly means the offense) once it gets and stays cold. He’ll become human again, he’s already slowly starting to, and that team will have some close games that aren’t shootouts.

          • Andy124

            After Sunday, one of the teams he torched will be over .500. Obviously US.

          • http://abigbuttandasmile.com/ A Big Butt and a Smile

            This game has very little to do with either QB. It’s gonna come down to who’s D makes stops/gets turnovers and who’s ST shows up and doesn’t F*ck up.

  • BlindChow

    I know Reid likes winning games, but I wonder how he feels about his anemic offense. He’s always been a big offense guy, so you figure it’s got to irk him that the Eagles team he (mostly) assembled is lighting up other teams while Alex Smith and crew are being bailed out every week by their defense and special teams…

    • GumboGumbo

      They’re undefeated. I doubt he cares more about stats

      • evanphilly

        They are undefeated because Reid has a defense that he should have drafted in Philly.

        • bentheimmigrant

          They’ve got 5 first round picks on D – 4 of those were higher picks than the Eagles had. They’ve gone through a lot of bad seasons to draft that D.

    • Andy124

      I’m sure he feels like he needs to put them in a better position to succeed.

      • BlindChow

        Smith is actually starting to look worse and worse as the year goes on. Makes me wonder if Reid is pushing him to make more challenging throws…

        • anon

          did you see that long pass he made when they started with the ball on the like 2 yd line. That one worked…but that’s a safety waiting to happen.

  • aub32

    The matchup to watch will be Carr vs. DJax. Last week Carr shut Garcon down. He will likely try to do the same to DJax. I’d take DJax over Garcon everyday and twice on Sunday. So it should be a good battle.

    • http://abigbuttandasmile.com/ A Big Butt and a Smile

      I don’t think Carr can keep up with Jax…at least not all game. So I think we win that matchup more than we lose it.

      • aub32

        Garcon is pretty fast and Carr did really well against him. I still think DJax can get open, but he won’t be afforded to run right through zone coverage like he did last week. I think Claibourne will do ok against Cooper in man coverage, unless Kiffen keeps trying to make him a zone guy. I’m looking for a big game from Ertz. Lee will be focused on the run game, and the Cowboys safeties aren’t good at all.

        • anon

          Fine let DJ run out routes all and we’ll play the underneath game.

        • Basscase

          If Carr is singled up on DJax, it’ll be b/c the Cowboys are sending lots of guys to get to Foles before he can throw it deep. But I really doubt that someone of Kifflin’s pedigree will allow Djax to be singled all game.

          • anon

            Chip has played Kiffin a lot — i’m really not worried. Expect Foles to have a big game.

  • Travis Papa

    This is the week they go heavy 12 personnel. Carr shutting down Garcon was more a function of RG3 looking awful. His passes were all over the place. We go 12 personnel & smash them or ertz beats them all day. Regardless I think McCoy has a career day against their beat up front all we got to do is get a hat on lee all day & he will breakdown.

  • reb

    I don’t know, sounds like a dangerous game. By numbers the Birds should crush them (except on special teams and you can’t field and “all special teams” lineup). Just the kind of dangerous setup for a letdown.

  • anon

    Just wanted to take a step back and think about how amazing CK is. Look at our stats!! Everyone knew he had explosive players, but they way he’s put it together after just one offseason, 1st in rushing (who’d have thought) 5th in passing, second in total offense, 4th in points scored. That’s pretty amazing considering where we were last year and even where we were in pre-season.

    Defense has made HUGE strides during the year and especially from last year. Remember all those 4th quarter leads they gave up for the last two years? Remember how we got no turnovers, that sack drought? We’re getting turnovers almost every game.

    This is year one — could the 2010s be the eagles decade?

    • anon

      Through 6 games we’re tied with Denver for fewest passes intercepted. *Drinks CKs Kool-Aid smoothie”.

    • theycallmerob

      30 for 30 in 2019:
      The Dynamite Decade: How Chip Kelly and Napoleon Nick surpassed Belichick and Brady for GOAT
      (spoiler alert: they didn’t even have to cheat to do it!)

      • Jason

        I’m not above still be happy if they win a couple SuperBowls and it comes out later they cheated.

  • UKEagle99

    The biggest stat in my eyes for this game.

    13 months…

    … The last time the Eagles won at the Linc. We need to get our homefield advantage back, if not then rebuild the Vet!