Player I’ll be watching:
McManus: Nick Foles
Here’s how one reporter presented things to Foles earlier this week:
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Looks like Tony Romo won’t be playing in this game on Sunday. Pressure is on you.
So much for subtlety.
Whether you agree with that reasoning or not, there’s no denying that this is a pressurized situation for the second-year quarterback. That’s true simply because of the situation: this is a must-win game, on the road for the rights to play in the postseason. It’s the biggest game he’s played in on this level.
The last time he faced Dallas, he went 11-of-29 for 80 yards. That could put a little extra weight on your shoulders if you let it.
And yes, the absence of Romo shifts public perception. The Cowboys will be operating without their star quarterback as well as their star linebacker. They are banged up all over the place. So long as Foles maintains his recent level of play, this should be a sound win for the Eagles.
It is impossible to say for sure how Foles will respond to this kind of moment. Some quarterbacks have the reputation for rising to the occasion in big games, some have the reputation of wilting. Those reputations are earned over time. This is Foles’ first win-or-go-home test. Given the way he’s played this season and the way he responded to adversity following that Oct. 20 loss to the Cowboys, I’m predicting he performs well. But we won’t know for sure until Sunday night.
“I think the most important thing to do in weeks like this is you block everything out, you break it down to: it is a game,” said Foles. “It’s a big game of high magnitude with a lot on the line but you can’t worry about that, because worrying about that is not going to make you play any better.
“When you start thinking about all that other stuff it causes a lot of anxiety and a lot of stress. It puts a lot of pressure on you to succeed.”
Kapadia: Trent Cole
Players and coaches like to pretend that sacks aren’t important. In one respect, that is true. Oftentimes, one player will pressure the QB, and another will clean up for the sack.
But in reality, sacks are still the primary statistic by which pass-rushers get judged. In the fantastic mic’d up segment with Cole last week, he was asking outside linebackers coach Bill McGovern to go back onto the field for sack No. 4 even though the game was out of hand.
It’s been a roller-coaster year for Cole. He had one sack in the Eagles’ first 10 games, but has seven in the last five. Kyle Orton does not have Romo’s mobility, meaning the Birds will have a chance to create havoc up front. Cole, who will be matched up against one of the best left tackles in the league in Tyron Smith, faces a stiff challenge.
Prop bet of the week:
Rushing yards for DeMarco Murray –82.5 . Whaddya got?
McManus: The 82.5 is his average/game on the season. That’s a respectable number, but the one that is most impressive is 5.4 — that’s his yards per rush, which leads all backs with at least 150 carries.
The Cowboys were catching flak down the stretch for not handing it to Murray more. With Romo out, they have all the reason in the world to ride the 25-year-old.
The good news for the Eagles is that they have been sound against the run (they are 12th in rush yards allowed/game and have yielded 3.8 yards/carry, which is third best in the NFL). The young defensive line trio of Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan deserve a lot of credit for that.
Murray’s production will be key for the Cowboys, but they won’t be able to lean on him if they are playing from behind. I believe there is a good chance they will be doing just that, so I’ll go under.
Kapadia: I know some have theorized that the Cowboys are better off with Orton because they’ll be forced to run the ball more. I just don’t see it.
If there’s one area of the Eagles’ defense that I believe is 100 percent legit, it’s the run defense. The line is young, athletic and consistently plays with high effort. Connor Barwin sets the edge as well as any outside linebacker in the league. DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks have done a great job of attacking the ball-carrier and finishing plays.
I know Murray’s numbers are good. I just don’t see the Dallas offensive line dominating the Eagles to the degree where the Cowboys control the game. Give me the under.
McManus: Eagles 41, Cowboys 24
Cary Williams called the Vikings loss a good thing for this team’s mentality, and it looks like he was right. The Eagles responded with perhaps their best all-around performance of the season against Chicago and now face a depleted Cowboys group that you could take a little lightly if you weren’t just served humble pie in Minnesota by Matt Cassel and Matt Asiata. They should now know better than to believe a game is won before it is played.
The Eagles are healthy and fresh. Their offense has climbed to No. 2 in scoring and their defense has held the opponent to 21 or less in 10 of its last 11 games. They have won six of seven since Foles took control in Oakland. This is a better team than the one that faced the Cowboys the first time around.
Of course things could go wrong. This is the NFL, the game is in Dallas and the Eagles aren’t perfect. But the Eagles are the superior team. I believed that to be true even before Romo got hurt, and definitely believe it now.
Kapadia: Eagles 34, Cowboys 21
I posed the following question to McManus during Thursday night’s show: If the Eagles played the Orton-led Cowboys 10 times, how many would they win? We decided a conservative projection would be seven.
In other words, the Eagles are the better team. On paper, there is no real case you can make for the Cowboys.
But as we know, the games are not played on paper. Eagles fans fall into two categories right now. One side has the Birds winning big because they are the superior team. The other has scars from Ghosts Of Philadelphia Past and knows that when things seem to be aligning perfectly, something usually goes wrong.
I just don’t see that happening here. The matchup between the Eagles’ offense and the Cowboys’ defense is completely one-sided. McCoy should have a monster game, and I think Foles makes people forget about the first meeting against Dallas.
The one scenario where the Eagles could falter is if they turn the ball over, have special-teams meltdowns and turn in a Vikings-like performance on defense. Considering this is a win-or-go-home game, I don’t see all those things happening. Look for an Eagles’ double-digit victory.
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