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Cowboys’ Players, Foles’ Experience Change Week 17

Posted Dec 26, 2013

IRVING, Texas – From the personnel side on the Cowboys to the experience side on the Eagles, the second matchup of the year between the two teams vying for the NFC East title won’t look much like the first. 

In the first matchup in Week 7, Sean Lee led the Cowboys in tackles and picked off a pass, Tony Romo threw for more than 300 yards, Nick Foles struggled mightily for three quarters and didn’t even reach the 100-yard passing mark and Joseph Randle was the Cowboys’ primary running back. All of that helped the Cowboys beat the Eagles, 17-3, and all of that will be different now.

This time around, the playing status of Lee and Romo are in serious doubt while DeMarco Murray is in the midst of one of his most productive stretches of his career. On the other side, a more experienced Foles enters this contest as the unquestioned Eagles starter with 25 touchdowns and two interceptions, looking like a completely different player than the one that started in Philadelphia against the Cowboys.

“We have to do it again,” said defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. “They’re better now, because they’ve learned the system. They’ve gotten better and better. Their quarterback, that day, he got banged up or whatever early, and they put in young (Matt) Barkley, so that made a big difference. But no, they’ll be better this time.”

Foles attributed that first matchup, in what was his worst performance of the year, to just not playing well. He said that film was tough to watch back after finishing 11-of-29 for 80 yards and getting forced out of the game in the second half after taking a hit. While crediting the Cowboys for bringing different looks, he said he failed to execute and missed his receivers.

After another week off, Foles returned to action with a vengeance. He threw for more than 400 yards against the Radiers and helped the Eagles score 49 points. Since he returned, the Eagles have gone 6-1 and scored at least 24 points in every game.

“He knows the offense really well and coach (Chip) Kelly’s done a good job with him,” Kiffin said. “He’s reading the coverages really well. It’s quite evident, he’s not throwing many picks. He’s on fire, there’s no doubt about it.”

It also helps him how LeSean McCoy’s played of late, running for 217 yards against the Lions in Week 14 and 133 yards last week against the Bears. The Cowboys’ defense held McCoy to 55 rushing yards earlier this season.

A major component of that was Lee’s presence on the field and his ability to read. Now, that job will belong to DeVonte Holloman if Lee can’t play after missing practice Wednesday and Thursday. Foles said Lee’s a tremendous player and seems to be everywhere on the field, but he doesn’t expect less from the Cowboys’ defense in this matchup.

“I know that they’ll rally around him not being there,” Foles said. “A lot of teams when you lose a player like that you’ll rally, because you know you need to up your level even more.”

The Cowboys will need to rely on the other veterans they have on the defensive side to create the same pressure that bothered Foles in the first matchup. Jason Hatcher said the Eagles are pretty much doing the same thing on offense they did the first time around, they’ve just gotten better at it and become more efficient.

His focus is on containing McCoy once again.

“We’ve just got to continue to contain 25 and don’t let him get loose, because he’s the best running back in the league,” Hatcher said. “He can do some awesome stuff. I saw him do a run in the snow against somebody, I forgot who it was, it was unbelievable. We’ve got our work cut out.”

With Lee, Romo and Sims potentially out and Holloman, Kyle Orton and Kyle Wilber likely in and DeMarco Murray on the field, the biggest changes this time around will undoubtedly be the Cowboys’ players who take the field.

“There are some new faces on the defensive side of the ball that we didn’t see last time,” Kelly said. “Obviously, in the first game, DeMarco Murray didn’t play against us, so that’s different. We just can’t look at them offensively against us the last time and say this is what they are going to do again, because Murray didn’t play. And we don’t know what Romo’s status is.”

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