Cowboys look to even record, Eagles hope to avoid eighth straight loss
The Philadelphia Eagles will try to get their first win since late September when they square off against the Dallas Cowboys tonight at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC. The Eagles (3-8) have lost seven games in a row, including a 38-23 loss to the Cowboys on Nov. 11. Meanwhile the Cowboys (5-6) would like nothing more than to get back to .500 by handing their NFC East rivals a second defeat in less than a month. As bad as things have been going for the Eagles this season, they have won the past two meetings played on the Cowboys’ home turf, including last season’s 20-7 victory in Week 16.
When the Philadelphia Eagles have the ball:
Philadelphia’s offense will be without three key playmakers tonight, as Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy (concussions) are both inactive and DeSean Jackson landed on injured reserve after suffering fractured ribs in last week’s loss to Carolina. The Eagles have been respectable on offense, averaging 357.1 yards per game (14th in the NFL), but have struggled to put points on the board. They are averaging less than 17 per contest, which ranks them two from the bottom (30th) of the league in that category. Without their leading passer, running back and wide receiver, yards and points both could be hard to come by against Dallas’ eighth-ranked defense. Rookie quarterback Nick Foles has struggled in his first two career starts under center, while fellow first-year pro Bryce Brown made a lasting initial impression this past Monday. In his first career start, Brown rushed for an Eagles’ rookie record 178 yards and two touchdowns in the 30-22 loss to the Panthers on “Monday Night Football.” Brown also fumbled twice, which somewhat sums up how the Eagles’ season has gone. Philadelphia has turned the ball over 27 times, the second-highest total in the NFL, and also has allowed 34 sacks. These mistakes combined with the injuries are big reasons why the Eagles have lost seven in a row, and have been out-scored 199-118 in the process.
For the most part, the Dallas defense has done its job all season. The Cowboys are eighth in the league in total defense (328.8 ypg), eighth in pass defense (218.4 ypg) and 13th against the run (110.5 ypg). They have allowed 23.8 points per game, but are coming off of last week’s Thanksgiving Day performance in which they gave up 38 points to Robert Griffin III and the Redskins. An inconsistent pass rush (23 sacks, tied for 20th) and inability to generate many turnovers (12 total, only five INTs), have not helped, especially considering the offense’s problems holding onto the ball (23 turnovers, second only to Eagles in NFC).
When the Dallas Cowboys have the ball:
On offense, Dallas’ problem hasn’t been gaining yards, it’s been finishing drives with points. The Cowboys are ninth in the league in total offense, generating 376 yards per game, but only 18th in scoring at 18 points per game. The last four games they have lost have been by seven points or fewer. Quarterback Tony Romo is third in the league in passing yards (3,357), but is 18th in passer rating because of his league-leading 15 interceptions. Romo has attempted the second-most passes in the NFL due to the Cowboys’ inability to run the ball. They rank last in the league in rushing offense at 78.7 yards per game, but that could change once DeMarco Murray returns from his foot injury. Murray has missed the last six games with the ailment, but there’s a decent chance he may be back on the field tonight against the Eagles. If not, the offensive burden will fall yet again to Romo and wide receivers Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten. In particular Bryant has been on a roll of late, with 23 catches, 377 yards and four touchdowns in his last three games combined. Regardless of who is making plays on offense for the Cowboys, one thing is clear — they must do a better job of protecting the football. In addition to Romo’s 15 picks, the Cowboys have fumbled it away eight times, mistakes which have short-circuited many a drive for a team that is a game below .500.
Similar to Dallas, Philadelphia’s defense hasn’t gotten a lot of help from its turnover-prone offense. The Eagles are 15th in yards allowed (345.5 ypg), but only 24th in points allowed (25.6 ppg). They also rank in the middle of the pack when it comes to passing (228.1 ypg, 15th) and rushing (117.5 ypg) defense. Unlike last season, the Eagles have not been able to put consistent pressure on the quarterback. The team’s 18 sacks (28th in NFL) this season are the same number that Jason Babin, who was released by the team earlier this week, alone had in 2011. The Eagles also have just 10 takeaways so far, the fewest in the NFL.
The Eagles won't have Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy tonight against the Cowboys and DeSean Jackson won't see the field again this season. The coaching staff has turned the offense over to rookies Nick Foles at quarterback and Bryce Brown at running back. Foles has yet to look real comfortable in the pocket and that’s likely not to change against Dallas’ defense. And even though Brown gashed Carolina for 178 yards rushing in his NFL debut, the Cowboys figure to be a tougher test. Both teams are under .500 and have had their share of issues, especially when it comes to turnovers. But this is an Eagles team that has lost seven in a row and, for all intents and purposes, has basically packed it in. After all, they have given up an average of 31.4 points per game over their last five defeats. Just two games behind the Giants, the Cowboys are still alive in the NFC East hunt, while all the Eagles’ fans have left to look forward to is what additional personnel changes will take place in the offseason (if not sooner) and how high will they be picking in the first round of next year’s draft.
Cowboys 34, Eagles 17