GAME SETWHAT:: Dallas Cowboys (3-3) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-4)
WHEN: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. (CT)
WHERE: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa.
TELEVISION: NBC Sports (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Michele Tafoya)
Josh: Let's see what Dez Bryant can do against Philadelphia's corners. He's never faced any of them in a game, having been injured before the two Eagles games last year, as well as the Christmas night contest against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's Arizona Cardinals. At times this season, good cornerbacks have erased Bryant for extended stretches, and that just can't happen this game.
Nick: So much has been made of DeSean Jackson and his speed, but sometimes it's the quiet guy that ends up hurting you. Give me the matchup of Jeremy Maclin and Mike Jenkins, a more physical battle. Maclin has the chance to hurt this Cowboys defense just as bad, and with so much attention placed on Jackson, who scorched them for 210 yards last year, I could see Maclin having a big night as well.
Rob: This is more "3-on-3" than "1-on-1." The Eagles' cornerback trio of Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has taken some criticism this year, but they're still a talented group that gives defensive coordinator Juan Castillo a lot of flexibility. Their matchup with Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten will determine much of what the Cowboys can do offensively. Does Asomugha (6-2, 210) try to take Witten away at least part of the time? Witten has had big games against Philly working the middle of the field before.
- Don't Forget...
Rob: The Eagles have been working with a young offensive line, too, featuring rookies Danny Watkins and Jason Kelce. Veteran left tackle Jason Peters' expected return from a two-game hamstring injury will help – of course, his first assignment back is DeMarcus Ware – but the line has had some early-season problems protecting Michael Vick.
Josh: Michael Vick is always a threat to take off and scramble, but since his comeback, the Cowboys have done a better job of limiting him on the ground than any other team he's played. In the one matchup last year, he was held to only 16 rushing yards. Of course, that was a different defensive system and there were a few different players. DeMarcus Ware says this week's plan is different.
Nick: Field position will be a huge factor in this game and that's where David Buehler might factor back into the equation. As good as Dan Bailey has been on field goals, hitting 16 straight, he hasn't been as effective on kickoffs, with just six touchbacks. Buehler has kicked off in only two games, but has five. That's his forte, so look for Buehler to be activated this week for that sole purpose.
- Cowboys Win If:
Nick: All this talk about Dallas stopping the Eagles and limiting big plays. Well, they need to be rather good on the offensive side, too. The crowd will be into this game and the best way to quiet them is for the Cowboys to make a few big plays themselves. Dez Bryant and Miles Austin have to be able to stretch the defense just enough to allow Witten to work the middle of the field, and possibly open a few running holes for DeMarco Murray.
Rob: The defense can finish the job they started last December. In that 30-27 loss at Cowboys Stadium, they held Vick to 16 rushing yards but also allowed five plays of 20 yards or more, including 60- and 91-yard receptions from DeSean Jackson. Part of that is scheme; part of it is being sure tacklers.
Josh:This week is all about big plays. They've got to keep DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy from beating them with catch-and-runs, as well as deep balls over the top, not to mention slowing down Vick. Philadelphia can score from anywhere on the field, and the Cowboys have been really good at limiting opponents' big plays. If the secondary keeps everything in front of them, I think they'll be alright.
- Eagles Win If:
Josh: Perhaps Philadelphia is starting to come around on defense. They held Washington to only 13 points before the bye, and picked off Rex Grossman four times. The Cowboys' offense is better than that of the Redskins, of course, but the Eagles have a lot of talent at a lot of positions, and could be starting to play together. It's certainly possible that their defense turns in a dominant game, especially if they can stop the run.
Nick: Not that Tony Romo hasn't shown us the ability to come from behind in games, doing it twice already this year, but if the Eagles grab a big lead early, it won't be an easy process for the Cowboys, who are trying to find more balance. If the ball is placed in Romo's hands for the majority of the second half, it plays right into what the Eagles want you to do. Where they have struggled is against the run and therefore the Cowboys can't afford to play from too far behind.
Rob: They can stop the Cowboys from running wild again and controlling the pace of the game. The Cowboys' offense is historically more efficient when it's getting balanced production. Prior to their Week 6 win over Washington, the Eagles were allowing 140.2 rushing yards per game. They did a much better job against the Redskins by narrowing that "wide nine" look. On offense, Vick needs time to find his speedy receivers downfield.
- Gut Feeling
Rob: The Eagles badly need this game, but this is a statement opportunity for the Cowboys. If they can come back from a convincing win over St. Louis and beat a hungry rival on the road, it sets the tone for what could be (and needs to be) a midseason move in the NFC East race. I think they pull it off if they limit big plays and take care of the football.
Josh: Maybe the Cowboys can smell blood, and a victory for them would come close to burying the Eagles. There have definitely been some good feelings around Valley Ranch following the blowout win over St. Louis. But the Eagles are not the Rams, dude, and these NFC East road games are awfully tough to win. It's hard to go against Andy Reid's 12-0 record coming off a bye.
Nick: While it'd be easy to say the Eagles are 2-4 for a reason, I still think Andy Reid is one of the NFL's best coaches, especially coming off the bye. Yes, the Cowboys ended their 11-game streak of playing games within four points, but something tells me that starts up yet again this week. It'll be close because neither quarterback has shown the ability to bury teams when he has a lead, and can throw his team, or opponent, back into the game. I think the Cowboys have the personnel to win, but it appears to be an awfully tough challenge this week.