The Matchup: Eagles Vs. Cowboys

Trent Cole had one sack in the Eagles’ first 10 games. He has seven in the last five, including three against the Bears.

Here is a complete breakdown of Sunday night’s Eagles-Cowboys matchup.

THE BIG PICTURE

It’s pretty simple: Winner hosts a first-round playoff game next weekend, while the loser goes home.

The Cowboys have been up and down with two losses in their last three games, but they pulled out a 24-23 victory over the Redskins in Week 16.

The Eagles have won six of seven and are averaging 39.3 points per game in their last three.

Here is how the Eagles’ offense matches up with the Cowboys’ defense:

 
Yards Per Play
Points Per Game
DVOA (FB Outsiders)
Eagles Offense6.4 (1st)27.9 (2nd)23.4% (2nd)
Cowboys Defense6.1 (29th)27.2 (25th)14.2% (30th)

And the Eagles’ defense against the Cowboys’ offense:

 
Yards Per Play
Points Per Game
DVOA (FB Outsiders)
Cowboys Offense5.6 (9th)27.8 (3rd)7.9% (11th)
Eagles Defense5.4 (19th)24.0 (16th)5.4% (23rd)

Note: Click here for an explanation of DVOA.

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EAGLES RUSHING OFFENSE

 
YPC
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
Eagles Rushing Offense5.2 (1st)24.4% (1st)
Cowboys Rushing Defense4.8 (30th)4.8% (29th)

On paper, this is a monumental mismatch. LeSean McCoy is on fire with 388 yards on 55 carries in his last three games (7.1 YPC). The Eagles gashed the Bears with their split-zone run, moving the tight end across the formation to block the edge defender on 11 occasions (99 yards).

In the first meeting against Dallas, McCoy had just 55 yard on 18 carries and said afterwards that it was one of his worst games as a pro. The Cowboys got a couple of great individual performances in that game – from middle linebacker Sean Lee and safety Barry Church. But Lee is not expected to play Sunday night because of an injury.

Replacing him has been rookie sixth-round pick DeVonte Holloman. Bruce Carter plays the weak-side, and second-year player Kyle Wilber mans the strong side.

The Eagles will start the same five offensive linemen for the 16th straight game. Jason Peters is coming off arguably his best game of the season, having dominated Julius Peppers in Week 15. Evan Mathis has been consistent throughout. Jason Kelce is playing at a high level. Todd Herremans has done a good job in the run game for most of the season, and Lane Johnson continues to improve.

Brent Celek has been excellent as a run blocker, and James Casey has seen an increased role because of his run-blocking experience. In the first meeting, the Eagles went with multiple TE sets on just three of 75 plays. Expect that number to be significantly higher in this game.

Up front, Dallas goes with DeMarcus Ware and George Selvie at the DE spots. Nick Hayden and Jason Hatcher are the starting tackles.

EAGLES PASSING OFFENSE

 
Completion Percentage
YPA
20+
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
Nick Foles63.9% (9th)9.03 (1st)75 (1st)*30.8% (4th)
Cowboys Passing Defense64.8% (26th)7.7 (25th)66 (32nd)20.9% (29th)

Nick Foles played the worst game of his career against Dallas earlier in the season, completing just 11 of 29 attempts for 80 yards. Since that game, he’s been on fire with passer ratings over 100 in six of seven starts.

If there was an injury explanation for his performance in the first meeting, the Eagles have done a good job of concealing it. The company line has been that Foles just had a bad game. The Cowboys played a lot of man coverage, and Foles missed too many opportunities. The guess here is that Dallas will do the same thing this week: load the box to stop the run, play with a single-high safety, and force the Eagles to beat man coverage (something they’ve been doing with regularity as of late).

Against Chicago last week, Foles played one of his best games of the season, completing 21 of 25 passes. Of his four incompletions, three were throw-aways, and one was a drop by Celek. Foles leads the NFL in passer rating (118.8) and yards per attempt (9.03).

DeSean Jackson has set career highs with 79 catches and 1,304 yards. He only had three catches for 21 yards in the first meeting, but there were opportunities for much more. He’ll get matched up against Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick. Carr had a rough outing last week against Pierre Garcon. Cornerback Morris Claiborne could return from a hamstring injury and should play in sub packages.

Riley Cooper is averaging 18.1 yards per catch, third-best in the league, and has been great as a downfield blocker.

One number that jumps out here: The Eagles have 75 pass plays of 20+ yards, tops in the league. The Cowboys have allowed 66 pass plays of 20+ yards, dead-last in the league.

Up front, Peters will get matched up against Ware, who didn’t play in the first game. Ware has six sacks in 12 games. Johnson will face off against Selvie, who has seven sacks. Hatcher gave the Eagles problems in the first game and leads the Cowboys with nine sacks. Herremans and Johnson have had fewer breakdowns on the right side of the line in the second half of the season.

Dallas ranks 30th in adjusted sack rate, per Football Outsiders. The Eagles’ protection held up well for the most part in the first outing.

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EAGLES RUSHING DEFENSE

 
YPC
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
Cowboys Rushing Offense4.6 (5th)9.5% (5th)
Eagles Rushing Defense3.8 (3rd)-10.3% (12th)

This has been the strength of Billy Davis’ unit. Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan are all playing at a high level. The Eagles are limiting opponents to 3.8 yards per carry, tied for third-best in the league. 

DeMeco Ryans leads the Eagles with 169 tackles, per team stats. Mychal Kendricks is playing his best football of the year. Trent Cole has come on in the second half of the season. And Connor Barwin has been consistent throughout.

With Tony Romo out, the Cowboys are expected to lean on DeMarco Murray. The Cowboys’ running back has the highest yards per carry (5.4) of any running back with at least 150 carries. He has 376 yards on 58 carries in his last three games and is averaging 6.5 YPC during that stretch. Murray did not play in the first meeting between these teams.

Like the Eagles, the Cowboys have benefited from O-Line continuity. Four of their five linemen have started all 15 games: LT Tyron Smith, LG Ronald Leary, center Travis Frederick and RT Doug Free. Right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau has started 10 games.

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EAGLES PASSING DEFENSE

 
Completion Percentage
YPA
20+
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
Cowboys Passing Offense63.9% (8th)7.2 (14th)44 (19th)15.7% (12th)
Eagles Passing Defense60.6% (16th)7.3 (19th)58 (27th)16.9% (24th)

Orton has thrown 15 passes in the past two seasons and has not started a game since 2011. He has experience (69 starts), but does not possess Romo’s improvisational ability.

Dez Bryant leads the Cowboys in targets (147), receptions (85), yards (1,134) and touchdowns (12). He also has a team-high 13 receptions of 20+ yards. Bryant caught eight balls for 110 yards in the first meeting against the Eagles.

Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher played well last week against the Bears. They’ll line up on the right and left sides, respectively. Expect Davis to give them help on Bryant.

Jason Witten has 61 catches for 716 yards and eight touchdowns on the season. He had six grabs for 48 yards against the Eagles in the first meeting. But overall, the Eagles are 25th against opposing tight ends, per Football Outsiders.

No. 2 wide receiver Terrance Williams is averaging a team-high 16.2 yards per catch, and Murray has 48 receptions out of the backfield.

Cole faces a tough matchup against Smith, arguably the best left tackle in the league. Cole is coming off a three-sack performance against Chicago and has seven sacks in his last five games.

Expect Davis to blitz the A-gaps and challenge the interior of the Cowboys’ offensive line. Kendricks had two sacks and a hurry last week against Chicago.

At safety, Earl Wolff’s status (knee) is up in the air. Patrick Chung played one of his better games last week, but has been up-and-down throughout. He’ll likely start alongisde Nate Allen.

On special teams, the Cowboys will get dangerous return man Dwayne Harris back.

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THE ESSENTIALS

Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. EST on NBC. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will have the call. Sports Insights has the Eagles as 6.5-point favorites – 69 percent of the money is on the Eagles, 31 percent on the Cowboys.

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