Cowboys vs. Eagles

GAME SET
*WHAT: Philadelphia Eagles (6-8) at Dallas Cowboys (8-6)
WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 24, 3:15 p.m. (CT)
WHERE: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
TELEVISION: Fox Sports (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Pam Oliver)
*

  • 1-on-1

Josh: The Cowboys may need Doug Free's and Tyron Smith's best efforts of the season on Saturday night, as they get to block NFL sacks leader Jason Babin and fellow end Trent Cole. Free has been good for at least one sack allowed in almost every game this year, and if that's the only damage this time, the Cowboys might survive, provided it doesn't lead to an ill-timed fumble. If Babin can repeat the three-sack performances he's had the last two weeks, however, the Dallas offense will be in trouble.

Nick: Someone has to stop Eagles running back LeSean McCoy this time. If that's going to happen, it must be Cowboys middle linebacker Sean Lee, who left the last game against Philly early with a dislocated wrist, but wasn't exactly playing his best before that injury late in the first quarter. Lee is the quarterback of the defense and the guy making the calls. If the Cowboys are going to win, they must contain McCoy and to do that, it must start with Lee.

Rob: Eagles defensive end Jason Babin got two of his league-leading 18 sacks against the Cowboys in Week 8. Can right tackle Tyron Smith keep Babin in check without much chip help from backs and tight ends? Same question for Doug Free vs. Trent Cole on the other side.

  • Don't Forget ...

Rob: The Cowboys can't give extra possessions to quarterback Michael Vick and the Eagles' offense. Fair enough. Philadelphia better keep Tony Romo off the field, too. They've been careless with the ball this season, tallying a league-high 35 turnovers for a minus-12 ratio that ranks second-to-worst.

Josh: In the first meeting between these teams, Miles Austin wasn't even targeted until the fourth quarter. For years Jason Garrett and Tony Romo have professed that their offense is based on taking what the defense gives, but that isn't good enough. It can't be so easy for the Eagles to take away the Cowboys' best weapon.

Nick: Tight end Jason Witten has typically been a huge factor in games against the Eagles, who like to bring pressure with the blitz. The last time out, Witten faced cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha a few times, but was still targeted on 12 pass attempts. Witten has scored four touchdowns against the Eagles in the last four games, so look for Tony Romo to call on his security blanket once again.

  • Cowboys Win If...

Nick: They need to face that Eagles team that turns the ball over more than anyone else in the league. It's Christmas time. Let's see how much of a giving mood Michael Vick is in this time around. If the Cowboys can get a few turnovers, some short fields and grab an early lead and confidence, it will be a huge boost. Sure, they've given up a few leads in the second half, but in a game like this, you take your chances with that over playing from behind.

Rob: The offensive line wins the battle up front. Romo never found a rhythm in the first half of the first game, partly due to Dallas' early deficit but mostly due to pressure. The Eagles sacked him four times and threw off his timing. The Cowboys have the receivers to win one-on-one battles against Philly's talented cover men, but Romo needs time. And it would help to have Felix Jones on the field.

Josh: Rob Ryan's defense has to be much, much better. The game plan and the players themselves were so off that Sunday night in late October that the outcome was never really in doubt. The Eagles could have named their score. The way the Dallas offense is playing right now, you have to have faith that they'll score this time out, at least in the teens or 20s, but the defense is going to have to help a little.

  • Eagles Win If...

Josh: I realize LeSean McCoy had the best game of any running back against the Cowboys this year, and obviously Ryan's group needs to be better against him, but they're also in trouble if Michael Vick is anywhere near as efficient as he was in Week 8. Other than the couple of plays when he scrambled into a sack, Vick was coolly dodging pressure and finding the wide-open guy. If Ryan can't make things tougher on him, Philly will win with relative ease again.

Nick: One of the more consistent players in the last month has been Tony Romo, even though the Cowboys are just 1-2 in December. But Romo has played lights out and that must continue for this team to have a remote chance to win. If Romo struggles to find receivers and forces the ball into tight coverage, creating turnovers for the Eagles, then Dallas won't win this game. Romo has been great, but he has to continue that if the Cowboys are to win.

Rob: The Cowboys' defense doesn't find the right balance in attacking the Eagles' speedy offense. The first couple of drives they were very aggressive; the rest of the game they seemed to play more conservative. Nothing worked. They can't allow big plays on the outside, but they can't let LeSean McCoy run wild and they can't get gashed underneath, either. A healthy Sean Lee at inside linebacker should help.

  • Gut Feeling

Rob: The Cowboys won't scoreboard-watch? Please. Somehow by kickoff they'll know whether the Giants won or lost and whether the NFC East title is indeed at stake against Philly. I've thought all along the Jan. 1 finale in New York would decide the division, which would mean bad news this weekend. But the Cowboys do have a chance to wrap this up Saturday (with help). If Felix Jones can play and be effective, their offense presents the same types of challenges as Vick and Co. Something tells me whichever team gets more possessions off turnovers wins the game in the mid-20s.

Josh: I'm not a believer that the Eagles have fixed all of their problems in the last two weeks, but I also can't simply dismiss 34-7 as a fluke. For whatever reason, probably their overall team speed, Philadelphia matches up really well against the Cowboys' defense, and their ability to get pressure with only four guys is really difficult for Tony Romo to deal with. I do think it will be a much closer game, but I believe the Cowboys have a better chance to beat the Giants in New York next week than to turn things around so dramatically against the Eagles on Saturday.

Nick: There is always a chance for anything to happen. There is a way Dallas wins this one close and blows out the Eagles. There is a way Philly nips the Cowboys at the end, and also a way it dominates the entire game and scoreboard. Everything seems somewhat logical here, but I can't seem to rid myself from the 34-7 game in Philly. I just don't see what has changed so much for either team. I think the Cowboys and Eagles play a great game, but my gut tells me the Cowboys will need to beat those Giants next week to win the division.

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