IRVING, Texas – So much has changed for these two teams since the last time they met. It almost doesn't even feel like the same football season.
But with seven games' worth of tape to watch, there are plenty of the same strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. There are always variables in any football game – and especially when a backup quarterback is playing. But overall, I think some of the same things that decided that 20-10 matchup in Week 2 will show up here in Week 9.
Here's a look at my keys to the game:
Dallas Cowboys Win If:
If there is one thing Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford is prone to – it's mistakes with the ball. In my opinion he is similar to what you get when you face Eli Manning. As a defense you have to be ready when you get the opportunity.
Even without pressure, Bradford tries to make throws that he has no business attempting. He believes that he can fit balls into tight windows and this happens regardless of where he is on the field. The Sean Lee interception in the last meeting was a prime example of what a disregard Bradford has for protecting the ball. For a quarterback that relies so much on his accuracy – he is far from it. Of the starting quarterbacks this defense has faced, Bradford makes his receivers work for the ball far more than others.
Where Dallas will win this game is if they can make these Eagles receivers have to make contested catches and force Bradford to throw the ball into tight coverage. I do like this Cowboys front seven getting pressure on Bradford through the middle of the pocket, but like I also mentioned earlier – he will make mistakes on his own without pressure.
These two teams are evenly matched, but as we saw in the previous meeting, by turning over the Eagles offense and stealing a possession or two, it makes a huge difference in the outcome of the game and this one will be no different.
Philadelphia Eagles Win If:
Defensively, the Eagles are good enough against the run to make the Cowboys one-dimensional and force them to have to throw the ball. Then the question for them becomes – can they cover Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and the receivers?
Where the Eagles have had success in the games that I have studied is when they have played man coverage. In my opinion they are not the same defense when they play in zone. Opponents have just made more plays because Byron Maxwell and Nolan Carroll do not run well enough or are not quick enough to drive on the ball -- especially when receivers go inside on them. It is similar to what you see from Brandon Carr when he has to play in zone: there is that separation, thus the success.
The Eagles win this game if they are able to challenge these Dallas receivers -- make them have to fight for space and get open on routes. This approach puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Matt Cassel to make some accurate throws, which hasn't exactly been his strength in these previous starts. As poorly as the Eagles have appeared at times in the secondary, they are still better than what the Giants ran out there two weeks ago.
We all observed the issues they created with turnovers -- which was the downfall of the Cowboys in that meeting. The Eagles will create pressure, but how well their secondary holds up will be the key.