Three And Out: Eagles-Cowboys Predictions

Courtesy of USA Today

Courtesy of USA Today

Player I’ll Be Watching

McManus: Bradley Fletcher

Dez Bryant was kept in check for the most part in the first Eagles-Cowboys matchup, finishing with four catches for 78 yards. Outside of a 38-yarder over the top of Fletcher in the first quarter, Dallas did not have any pass plays over 20 yards until its final drive in garbage time.

Credit goes to the pass rush (four sacks, five QB hits) for making life tough on Tony Romo, who seemed hampered by his bad back on Thanksgiving. But Fletcher and Cary Williams held their own, combining for five passes defensed and an interception. Bryant left that game flustered and claimed that the Eagles were being “kinda cheap.”

“I guess maybe our techniques or things that we were doing he felt were cheap but we were just playing the game,” said Fletcher.

Most of the defensive backs agreed that the Clete Blakeman officiating crew allowed them to play in that game. (The Eagles were penalized four times in all, twice for defensive holding). That crew has been one of the more lenient groups in terms of penalties called this season. This week’s official, Terry McAulay, is not particularly flag-happy either (relatively speaking). That could be good news for Fletcher, who has the physical and motivated Bryant to deal with again this week.

“He’s as good as it gets for receivers in this league,” said Fletcher. “He’ll definitely be a challenge for us as he was a couple weeks ago and we’ve got to be ready to go.”

Kapadia: Mark Sanchez

If the Eagles can’t go up and down the field on the Cowboys, a defense that ranks 28th in DVOA, they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs.

In the first game, the Birds’ tempo was an issue for Dallas. Chip Kelly’s squad ran the ball well early and then used play-action to do damage through the air. The only way I see the Eagles really struggling on offense is if Sanchez turns in a disastrous performance.

There have been ups and downs for the veteran so far. Sanchez has a 3.6 percent interception rate, which is worse than the mark Nick Foles posted. Sanchez has struggled to push the ball downfield, but that shouldn’t matter in this one. He just needs to play within the scheme and take care of the football.

Kelly has avoided the QB question for weeks because Foles has not been cleared to practice fully, but at some point in the near future, he may have a decision to make.

Over/Under: 88 rushing yards for DeMarco Murray — Whaddya got?

McManus: I’ll try the over. Led by an inspired performance from ‘The Nobodies’, the Eagles held Murray to a season-low 73 rushing yards on 20 carries (3.7 avg.) in their first matchup. That feat looks even more impressive after Murray ran for a season-high 179 yards against the Bears last Thursday.

Murray is still far and away the league’s leading rusher with 1,606 yards. He has been held under 100 yards just twice this season (Arizona was the other team to do it). The Eagles’ run defense has been very good, and I don’t see Murray running wild in this one. But I’ll say he ends up with 90-plus yards.

Kapadia: I’ll go under.

There isn’t a whole lot more to add about the Eagles’ run defense. Fletcher Cox has turned into a game-wrecker. Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton show up every week. And the linebackers have gotten the job done.

The Cowboys have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, but the Eagles are built to stop them.

What I’m interested to see is how Dallas will attack Billy Davis’ unit. If I’m the Cowboys, I’m throwing the ball on early downs against the Eagles’ base defense. When the Eagles are expecting run on early downs, they line up in two-gap positions, and Vinny Curry is on the sideline. It’s easier to pass protect against this look, and if you spread the Eagles out, you can probably take advantage of guys like Casey Matthews and Nate Allen in coverage.

The Cowboys have morphed into a run-first team this season, but don’t be surprised if they take some shots with Romo on early downs.


McManus: Eagles 31, Cowboys 27

Safe to say the Cowboys didn’t put their best foot forward on Thanksgiving. Romo was not right and Jason Garrett’s group looked unprepared. With 10 days in between games this time around, it’s fair to expect that both the quarterback and the team will put up more of a fight. If Romo can buy time, that could spell trouble for the Eagles’ secondary.

While Dallas should be able to put up more points this time around, I’m not sure the Cowboys will have much more success defensively. Kelly has the personnel advantage in this matchup. When that’s the case, it’s usually light’s out for the opponent. Sanchez is the X-factor, of course, but I think he’ll be operating comfortably within the confines of the system in this one.

Special teams will make a big play (because that’s what they do), and the pass rush will get home late to crush Romo’s dreams of a last-minute comeback.

Kapadia: Eagles 30, Cowboys 24

As was the case last week, we see this one similarly, T-Mac.

It’s tough for me to find a reason why the Cowboys’ defense will have more success this time around. The Eagles should be able to run the ball and get play-action going. The only things that can tip the scales in Dallas’ favor are turnovers and red-zone misses. But the Eagles’ offense isn’t going to stall like it did against the Seahawks.

On the other side, I think Romo can have more success through the air, so I’m predicting a relatively high-scoring game.

The Eagles have a coaching advantage and a special teams advantage. That’s enough to give them the slight edge and a one-game lead in the NFC East.