By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Eagles and Cowboys rivalry is the one that usually brings out the most passion in Philadelphia fans. You may notice that there’s a little something missing this time, and it’s probably because both teams are struggling. I
If both teams are playing well, that’s great. Even if one team is playing well, that’s something. This time, well, there’s not much of anything. Eagles fans are too busy focusing their ire on their own team to worry about the Cowboys.
Even if the week leading up to the game seems a little less exciting, after the game begins, it’s still Eagles and Cowboys.
Spike: As you can be sure we’re asking ourselves here in Philadelphia with the Eagles, I’ll ask you the same question about the Cowboys: is this problem coaching, talent, or both?
KD: Well it’s a little bit of everything to be sure. The most frustrating part of the season is that as bad as we’ve looked in several spots, we’re only about three feet away from being 5-3. One wide left kick and one fingers-out-of-bounds landing will do that, until you remember the blunders that made those plays game-deciding. The coaching hasn’t looked stellar, with several questionable in-game decisions. Talent-wise, I think there is more than enough on both sides of the ball. Sure there are areas to improve in, but it’s definitely enough to win. The problem is the mental makeup of the team. Drops, penalties, not understanding the game situations. The problem is that there are several instances where this just isn’t a very smart team.
Spike: What are the odds that Jason Garrett is the coach of the Cowboys for game one of the 2013 season?
KD: Right now? 90%. There is very little chance that Garrett isn’t retained. Jerry Jones is extremely loyal, as has been witnessed by his handing out contracts to players that have little chance of having a positive ROI. He also has a track record of giving coaches a chance (Dave Campo, three consecutive 5-11 seasons) and has publicly regretted firing Chan Gailey after just two years.
More importantly, outsiders (and many Cowboys fans to be honest) don’t understand that this is a team in transition. There are only 21 players left from the 2010 roster. That’s a LOT of turnover. The wool over the eyes is that we have a core of upper-end talent, but the middle and bottom of the roster were completely barren. In addition, Garrett is trying to rebuild the culture of the franchise, as it had become an entitled bunch based on being picked for the Super Bowl for years. Players had become lazy, forgotten how to practice. Barring a Sean Payton power move, Garrett will have every opportunity to incorporate his three-year plan.
Spike: How much of the problem with the offense is Tony Romo?
KD: Enough that he deserves criticism, but not to the level that he’s received. Ever see a successful quarterback that has absolutely no running game? Me neither. Romo seems to be playing nervous; not trusting his offensive line to protect him, not trusting receivers to catch the ball or run the right routes. Then you say… well, he has every reason to feel that way! It’s a slippery slope. You can dissect at least half of his interceptions and say that the receiver’s failure to be where he is supposed to be is at the most fault, but the quarterback still throws the ball so he takes the brunt of the blame. Interceptions are fickle though; they are a volume statistic that are always open to regression to the mean. Romo and the Cowboys rank 6th in the league in passing efficiency, so it’s not as if nothing is working. It’s just that nothing is working enough to win the majority of the games. Sample sizes within NFL seasons are too small to draw conclusions from about a players ability, but we’re forced to because there are only 16 games on a schedule.
Spike: The defensive line is playing very well, does the Eagles depleted, very bad, offensive line have any chance?
KD: Sure it does. The ankle sprain to Jay Ratliff, on the same leg he suffered a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the first part of the season is a concern. Without The Rat collapsing pockets for them, the Cowboys can sometimes struggle to get pressure outside of DeMarcus Ware. Look at the first matchup last season, Ware had four sacks but did you feel the Cowboys defense was wreaking havoc? The early season loss of Barry Church has also changed the way our secondary plays. We have pretty much abandoned the strength of our corners Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, press coverage, in an effort to keep plays in front of everybody. Which comes first, chicken/egg pass rush/coverage? For this team they are hand in hand and a cushion to go along with an extra split second in the pocket can cure the warts of a porous offensive line.
Spike: Give me the most likely scenario in which A) the Cowboys win this game and B) the Eagles win this game.
KD: The Cowboys will win if they limit their mistakes on offense and get physical against the smaller Eagles receivers. They did this against Atlanta, but against a team playing that well it isn’t enough to just not turn it over and cut down on penalties. Against the Eagles that should be enough considering the talent level in Dallas.
The Eagles will win if Michael Vick plays like the Michael Vick people have in their heads instead of this version. If he’s a dynamic dual-threat, than he’s a problem for virtually any team in the NFL, but he’s (pardon the pun) playing like a beaten dog. It’s funny that both quarterbacks need to be moved from the pocket in my opinion. Romo because he throws well from outside the pocket and Vick because his running should be a much bigger threat.
I see the Cowboys squeaking out a close victory here though, 24-20.