If it’s possible this early in the season, there will be some desperation in the stadium Sunday when the Cowboys visit Philadelphia, thanks to the Eagles’ week-one belly-flop in Atlanta. You know the statistics by now. Fewer than 10% of teams that open the season 0-2 reach the playoffs. For the Eagles, who entered 2015 expecting to trample the NFC East, avoiding those odds is vital.
Dallas, meanwhile, is enjoying the fruits of the Giants’ late-game gaffe last week and is the only East Division team with a 1-0 record. But the Cowboys have problems of their own. They will be without top receiver Dez Bryant, defensive end Randy Gregory and cornerback Orlando Scandrick. That won’t make life easy against an angry Eagles team looking to get its 2015 season back on track.
Dallas at Philadelphia
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET
Point spread: Eagles -5
Three Things to Watch
1. Running on Empty
The Eagles rushed for a meager 63 yards on just 16 carries against the Falcons, and for a team that wants to move the ball on the ground, that is unacceptable. New starting guards Andrew Gardner and Allen Barbre did not look too dominant on the interior, and the vaunted trio of DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles never got going.
“The down linemen, we weren’t getting much movement,” tackle Lane Johnson said. “We started going more outside zone, trying to put bigger guys on smaller guys in space. That worked well in the second half.”
It did, but if the Eagles can’t run their inside zone plays, their offense will be far less potent than it could be.
Bryant had a screw inserted into his foot Monday and will be out four-to-six weeks. That means Dallas must rely on Terrance Williams, Devin Street and Cole Beasley as the main targets for Tony Romo. That isn’t exactly a trio capable of scaring an opposing secondary. But you know who does cause problems, especially for the Eagles? Tight end Jason Witten. And if the Eagles can’t get a pass rush on Romo, as they struggled to do in the first half against Atlanta last week, it won’t matter who is running the pass routes, because they will have time to get open.
3. Max-ed Out
The Eagles spent a lot of money on Byron Maxwell during the off-season, hoping the ex-Seahawk could improve Philadelphia’s weak secondary. Against the Falcons, Maxwell spent a lot of time watching Julio Jones catch passes. Matt Ryan targeted receivers Maxwell was covering 10 times and completed nine passes for 154 yards. Even without Bryant in the lineup, Dallas could still have a big passing day if Maxwell plays like he did in the first game.
The Cowboys have a chance to establish themselves as the NFC East favorite with a win, and even though they have a few key players out, they still have one of the best offensive lines in football and a quarterback in Romo who excels if given some time. It will be interesting to see if running back Joseph Randle can improve on last week’s unspectacular 65-yard performance, especially since former Cowboy Murray is on the other sideline.
Murray would like to have a big game against his former team, but the Eagles’ need for good ground production goes beyond any revenge factor. Philadelphia’s pass-run balance was awful last week (52-16), and that’s not how Chip Kelly wants his teams to operate. If the Eagles can’t run the ball successfully in the middle, they’ll have to resort to sweeps again, and that’s not the best way to thrive. The Eagles had better play 60 good minutes defensively, too, and that depends on a consistent pass rush and more reliable play in the secondary.
Prediction: Eagles 30, Cowboys 24
— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @DailyHombre.