By Kevin McGuire
First place in the NFC East will be on the line when the Philadelphia Eagles host the hated Dallas Cowboys this Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. Despite some humbling moments in the first half of the NFL season, the Eagles and Cowboys both managed to arrive at this match-up with identical 3-3 records, and they have taken similar paths to get here.
So who exactly are these Dallas Cowboys?
The Cowboys enter the weekend with a 3-3 record that is similar in composition to the Eagles. Two wins have come against the NFC East division rivals from New York and Washington and all three losses have come at the expense of the AFC West. The Cowboys lost games to Kansas City, San Diego and Denver. Sound familiar? It should. Those are the same results the Eagles had against all five teams. The one difference in the schedule has been a home game against the St. Louis Rams for the Cowboys. Dallas defeated the Rams, 31-7, in Week 3.
Dallas swept the season series last season, scoring 38 points in each victory.
Cowboys on Offense
The Cowboys bring the NFL’s 14th best offense to the Linc on Sunday with a cast of familiar names for Eagles fans. Quarterback Tony Romo has thrown 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions through six games, but he is still prone to a mistake at a costly time as his performance against Denver demonstrated. His top targets are Dez Bryant, one of the top receivers in the NFC, and the always-trustworthy tight end Jason Witten. Both are leading the Cowboys in receiving with a combined nine touchdowns.
Running back DeMarco Murray is not expected to play this weekend with a sprained MCL, which is a bonus for the Eagles. Murray is the leading rusher for the Cowboys. His top back-up is Lance Dunbar and he could be held down by a hamstring injury. The running game could be put in the hands of third and fourth stringers Phillip Tanner and Joseph Randle, who combine for 16 carries for 20 yards this season.
Cowboys on Defense
The Cowboys are tough against the run, ranked 13th in the NFL and allowing just 105 yards per game. The 4-3 defense could be shaky though if DeMarcus Ware does not play this weekend. It is expected he will miss the game with a quadriceps injury, but the team will hold off on that decision as late as possible. If the Eagles can take advantage of the weak pass defense of the Cowboys, they could turn in some big plays.
The Cowboys rank 30th in the NFL against the pass. But their worst games came against Eli Manning and Peyton Manning, and another was against Phillip Rivers – all formidable quarterbacks who can do some damage in the air. If there is one focus for Chip Kelly’s offense this weekend, it should start with attacking the scrambling secondary of the Cowboys.
Cowboys Players to Watch
Tony Romo, Quarterback: Throughout his career the Dallas quarterback has been known for his unfortunate results late in the season and in the postseason. It is fair criticism, but Romo may actually struggle in the month of October more than any other month. For his career, Romo has thrown more interceptions in October (34), than any other month of the season. Romo averages fewer yards per attempt in October (6.94) and passing yards per game (203.9) than any other month during the NFL’s regular season. His career passer rating in October (89.5) is just two tenths better than his December rating (89.3) and well below his career average overall.
Sean Lee, Linebacker: The former Penn State linebacker continues to be playing solid in the NFL. Entering the weekend the defensive captain will be ranked third in the NFL in tackles with 60. Lee always seems to be around the football due to his excellent ball awareness.
The Cowboys have their flaws and they will come to Philadelphia a bit worn down at key positions. But this is far from a team the Eagles can take lightly of course. While this may be Chip Kelly’s first rodeo with the Cowboys, there are enough players on the roster who should know what is at stake when the star comes to town. The Eagles look to have the kind of offense that can cause some problems for Dallas, especially if the Cowboys fail to bring any sort of pass rush with the possible absence of DeMarcus Ware.
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Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.