The Matchup: Eagles Vs. Cowboys
Here’s a look at how the Eagles match up with the Cowboys.
WHEN THE EAGLES RUN…
LeSean McCoy had one of his most productive games of the year last week, rushing for 130 yards on 21 carries (6.2 YPC) against the Titans. While it’s worth noting that Tennessee had the worst run defense in the NFL, McCoy looked shifty and certainly had more space than he’d had previously. He’s fourth in the league with 859 rushing yards and is averaging 4.0 YPC. The Eagles are 21st overall in rushing offense, per Football Outsiders.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, rank 18th against the run. They play a 4-3 and don’t have a lot of household names up front. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain is second on the team in tackles. He’s flanked by Bruce Carter (SAM) and Kyle Wilber (SAM). Opponents are averaging 4.3 YPC (18th) against Dallas.
Up front, the Eagles are expected to start the same offensive line for the second week in a row. Evan Mathis looked good in his third game back last week, and Jason Kelce did a better job with his snaps. Right guard Andrew Gardner is the lone backup. He looked better in pass protection than he did as a run blocker.
WHEN THE EAGLES PASS…
With the Jets, Mark Sanchez completed 55.1 percent of his passes and averaged 6.5 YPA. In four games (three starts) with the Eagles, those numbers are up to 62.3 and 8.1. The problem? His interception rate (4.1 percent) is worse than it was in New York (3.7).
Sanchez has done a good job of getting rid of the ball quickly and climbing the pocket when he feels edge pressure. The Eagles have used designed bootlegs and rollouts, and Sanchez appears to be at his most comfortable/accurate on those plays when he’s moving outside the pocket. He does a good job throwing in between the numbers, down the seams and on crossing routes.
The issues have come when the ball sails on Sanchez. Coaches said that’s due to him sometimes not getting his feet set. He has also struggled to complete throws outside the numbers.
Per Pro Football Focus, only 12.7 percent of Sanchez’s throws have gone 20+ yards downfield; that ranks 16th. Nick Foles threw 18.9 percent of his passes downfield; that ranked second. In other words, the offense does look different depending on the quarterback. It’s worth noting though that Sanchez’s 8.1 YPA would rank fourth if he had enough attempts to qualify.
At wide receiver, Jordan Matthews has been on fire. He’s averaged 107.3 yards per game and 17.9 YPR in three weeks with Sanchez as the starter. Jeremy Maclin has played well and is 20 yards away from his first 1,000-yard season. Riley Cooper made some strange comments this week in regards to playing time. His numbers are down across the board from a year ago.
Brent Celek continues to play more than Zach Ertz because of his run blocking. Darren Sproles is a threat every time he touches the ball. Up front, the Eagles have protected well in recent weeks. Gardner is a step up from Matt Tobin in that regard. Sanchez should be pretty comfortable in the pocket in this one.
The Eagles rank 17th in passing efficiency, per Football Outsiders.
Dallas ranks 21st against the pass. They’ll play a lot of Tampa-2. That’s zone coverage with two deep safeties, but a middle linebacker dropping deep. The Cowboys have not been able to generate much of a pass-rush. They rank 29th in adjusted sack rate. Defensive tackle Henry Melton has five sacks, and Jeremy Mincey has three. The Cowboys only blitzed Eli Manning five times on 42 dropbacks last week, per PFF.
On the back end, the Cowboys go with veteran corners Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick, along with safeties Barry Church and second-year player J.J. Wilcox.
Opposing QBs are completing 66.2 percent of their passes against Dallas (28th) and averaging 7.6 YPA (20th).
WHEN THE COWBOYS RUN…
The Eagles usually aren’t very chatty leading up to games, but it was clear this week that the defensive linemen had an edge as they prepared to face the highly-touted Cowboys offensive line. DeMarco Murray leads the league with 1,354 yards and is averaging 5.1 YPC. He has 268 attempts, 51 more than any other back.
The Cowboys’ offense ranks fifth in rushing efficiency, while the Eagles’ defense is ninth against the run. Bennie Logan has more tackles than any other nose tackle in the league. Fletcher Cox has been the best player on defense. And Cedric Thornton plays the run well on a weekly basis. Connor Barwin sets the edge consistently, and Trent Cole is coming off one of his best games of the season.
The question for the Eagles is at inside linebacker. Mychal Kendricks has played well at one spot, but the loss of DeMeco Ryans will be tested in this one. Casey Matthews will get the bulk of the snaps. Emmanuel Acho (groin) is likely going to be a gametime decision. If Acho can’t go, it’ll be all Matthews. There has been some speculation that Marcus Smith II could see more snaps. That is highly unlikely.
The Cowboys’ go-to run play is the stretch. Tyron Smith is one of the best left tackles in the league. 2013 first-round pick Travis Frederick has played well at center, and the Cowboys have gotten immediate contributions from rookie first-rounder Zack Martin at right guard. Left guard Ronald Leary and right tackle Doug Free have also played well.
Murray has been most effective out of two tight-end sets (508 yards, 5.5 YPC). But he’s had some success out of 11 personnel too (305 yards, 4.0 YPC). Look for the Eagles to really focus on stopping the run and stay in a lot of base.
WHEN THE COWBOYS PASS…
Tony Romo is playing at an extremely high level. He and Peyton Manning are the only quarterbacks in the league that are completing at least 68 percent of their passes and averaging at least 8.0 YPA. Romo’s thrown 22 touchdowns against six interceptions and has a passer rating of 111.4, second to only Aaron Rodgers.
Romo is a master of improvisation. The Eagles will need to be disciplined with their pass-rush, and they will have to extend their coverage when Romo gets out of the pocket. According to PFF, 14.2 percent of his passes have traveled 20+ yards downfield. That’s fifth-most in the NFL.
Dez Bryant is Romo’s favorite target. He’s got 63 catches for 879 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. Jason Witten (43 for 461) is still productive. And Murray (38 for 303) is involved in the passing game as well.
No. 2 wide receiver Terrance Williams is averaging 15.9 YPR and has six touchdowns to go along with seven grabs of 20+ yards. Cole Beasley mans the slot. He had two grabs for 66 yards against the Giants, but had not accumulated more than 12 yards in a game in the previous five.
The Eagles’ secondary against the Cowboys’ wide receivers is a major mismatch in Dallas’ favor. Teams have attacked Bradley Fletcher all season, and that will continue Thursday. Don’t be surprised if Dallas tries to get its running backs and tight ends on Matthews in coverage. The Eagles have allowed 49 pass plays of 20+ yards, tops in the league.
The battle up front will likely be where the game is won or lost. The Eagles are ninth in adjusted sack rate and second in overall sacks (38). Barwin, Cole and Brandon Graham have combined for 23.5 sacks. Cox has been consistently disruptive. If the Eagles are winning their one-on-one matchups up front, Billy Davis may hold off on blitzing.
But Washington showed earlier this season that sending extra pressure at Romo can be effective. The problem there is the Eagles could be exposed on the back end. Dallas’ offensive line is 20th in adjusted sack rate.
SPECIAL TEAMS, ETC.
The Eagles have the best special-teams unit in the NFL. The Cowboys are 13th.
The Cowboys are second in third-down percentage, converting 50 percent of the time. …The Eagles’ defense is ninth, allowing opponents to convert 38.5 percent of the time. …The Cowboys’ offense is seventh in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns 65.52 percent of the time. The Eagles’ offense is 28th (46.34 percent). …The Cowboys’ defense is second-worst in the red zone, allowing opponents to convert 67.74 percent of the time. …The Eagles are -8 in turnover differential (27th). The Cowboys are -1 (18th).