When these teams met three weeks ago, it was two sides trying to save their seasons. The loser that day in Philadelphia was going to fall further behind in the standings while the winner was going to keep its hope alive.
The Cowboys were tremendous on defense that day while running back
Since that loss, the Eagles have seen their season come crashing down around them. On Monday night against Cam Newton’s Panthers, Philadelphia lost its seventh straight game to drop their record to 3-8, which in turn led to the very surprising move of putting one of their best pressure players, Jason Babin, on waivers. I am sure in the coming days we will hear all kinds of stories on why the Eagles made this move now, but the bottom line is with losses come blame and for Philly, there will be plenty of that.
There are questions about who will start at quarterback against the Cowboys on Sunday night. Will it be Michael Vick or Nick Foles? With really nothing to play for the remainder of the season, I would not be one bit surprised if Foles gets the start even if Vick is healthy enough. There comes a point in time where you still want to win games, but you are really wanting to evaluate positions as well. With the shape of this Eagles offense line, why subject Vick to even more of a pounding? This is an opportunity to find out about Foles and what you might have in the future.
The same can be said about running back LeSean McCoy and what he is dealing with as far as his concussion. Sure, these players give them the best chance to win, but when the front office made the call on Babin, it told you all you needed to know about what the mindset is going to be the rest of the season.
When studying the Eagles, I have always been impressed with their skill players, whether it’s McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin or Brent Celek. Philadelphia has always had players that can explosively move the ball. With Vick at quarterback, I always felt that both head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg got the absolute most out of his skill set.
Before Vick got to Philadelphia, he was an inaccurate, poor passer that struggled with the simplest of schemes. The Eagles took Vick and made him an MVP candidate, but the physical beating that he has endured over the last two seasons has taken its toll to the point that Foles has now been called into action.
The Cowboys game will most likely be Foles’ third start, and one thing he has going for him is that he did face Dallas just a short month ago. Where Foles has had his problems is in the passing game when he has had to be on time delivering the ball. In the Redskins and Panthers losses, he was late with the ball in route. You might be able to get away with that against Washington State, but not against NFL defensive backs. In watching him play, I have been impressed with his toughness and the ability to hang in there and make throws. Foles has also shown the ability to avoid the rush and buy a second chance, but again, this is where he needs to learn how to protect the ball and not force it into coverage.
At running back, I am not surprised that Bryce Brown has stepped in and been able to carry the ball when given the opportunity. Normally, McCoy is so good that why play anyone else, but when the first time these two teams met, you could see traits in Brown’s game that would lead you to believe that he could be more than just a backup running back. Brown is a physical, downhill runner that doesn’t have many moves in the open field, but does have the ability to take it the distance if he gets outside, just like he did against Carolina.
If Brown does have an issue, it’s holding onto the ball. When you have a back that has shown that on tape, you will see defenses become more aggressive in getting players around him trying to grab at that ball and strip it.
The Eagles suffered a huge blow at receiver when longtime Cowboys nemesis DeSean Jackson suffered a rib injury and was lost for the season. Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper will be looked upon to try and replace some of the production that Jackson brought. I have always been a big fan of Maclin and his work, but Cooper is an interesting player because he has some nastiness to his game. He was a matchup nightmare for cornerback
Jason Avant hurt his hamstring several weeks ago and is trying to get back in the mix, while Damaris Johnson is an interesting player because he is like Jackson in that he has incredible quickness and burst. With the way that teams have thrown the ball down the field against this defense, look for Mornhinweg to test the Dallas secondary early and often.
Injuries have been a problem for both teams, but with Philadelphia, it has been difficult to put together an offensive line on a weekly basis. For the Eagles, the biggest issues have been at offensive tackle and their inability to protect the quarterback. Dennis Kelly, who started at guard against the Cowboys last time, is now at right tackle. King Dunlap, who was at right tackle, is now on the left side, although he is trying to play through a knee injury. Demetress Bell was the starter at left tackle, but has been put on the bench.
The most consistent player for the Eagles has been right guard Evan Mathis, who can stand his ground as a pass blocker. Dallas Reynolds at center is “just a guy” and Jake Scott, who last played at Tennessee, is just trying to learn the playbook. Like the Cowboys offensive line, this is a group that has struggled with the twist stunt, so don’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Rob Ryan tries to take advantage of that with his schemes.
The majority of the Eagles’ free agency dollars over the last two seasons has been spent on defense. But, since the death of longtime defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, the unit has only gotten worse. Gone are the days of blitzing from all angles and attacking the offense. Now, the Eagles try and get their four-man pressure home, but have been struggling with that.
As mentioned, Babin has been shown the door, leaving Trent Cole and Brandon Graham as the primary pass-rushers with rookie Vinny Curry coming off the bench. Cowboys right tackle
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has improved as the season has wore on, but is battling a tailbone injury that might sideline him for this game. Cullen Jenkins can still get up the field from the tackle spot with Derek Landri seeing action as a backup.
There was a lot said in the offseason about the move to get DeMeco Ryans from the Texans to help the middle linebacker spot for the Eagles, but in the games I have watched, I haven’t seen the results that the Eagles had hoped for. I haven’t seen the great take-on or lateral pursuit that I had observed in his game before. There have been times where teams have taken the ball right at him and he has struggled to get off blocks and make the play.
Mychal Kendricks on the strong side is an interesting player because you do see him around the ball more, which is a great sign for a rookie.
I don’t get the opportunity to see every team in the NFL on a weekly basis, and I have not seen all of Philadelphia’s games, but the Eagles blow assignments in the secondary at an alarming rate. There are times where they just leave guys uncovered on simple routes. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is also the secondary coach and you would think that he knows what his guys can and cannot do in coverage. Still, they continue to make mistakes.
Where the Eagles really struggle is at safety with Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman. There is no question in my mind that Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett will once again try and attack this group in the middle of the field.
On the outside, cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have had their problems as well. Rodgers-Cromartie is a player that can be beat on the double move, while receivers have just run by Asomugha. Neither really like the physical side of the game when it comes to tackling, so look for the Cowboys to try and take advantage of that. On the nickel, Brandon Boykin is a rookie still trying to figure this game out. Overall, this is a group that has allowed a few opposing quarterbacks to have outstanding days.