Different Paths, Same Goal: NFC East Comes Down To Eagles, Cowboys
By Kevin McGuire
So it has all come down to one game. On Sunday night the Philadelphia Eagles will look to fire back at the Dallas Cowboys after being defeated at home by the NFC East division rivals earlier this season. The Eagles and Cowboys have traveled different paths to get to this NFC East Division winner-take-all finale and both look to be a little different from last time they locked horns on the field.
Here’s a brief rundown of what the Dallas Cowboys have been up to since mid-October.
Cowboys Season Record
The Dallas Cowboys are just above .500 with a record of 8-7 but have dominated in division play. The Cowboys are 5-0 against NFC East opponents, including their win at Philadelphia on October 20. Immediately after knocking off the Eagles the Cowboys were stunned the following week by the Detroit Lions. New Orleans and Chicago also dominated Dallas on the road and they let a game against the Packers slip away in the second half. On Sunday the Cowboys managed to get out of town with a road win at the Redskins, winning by a score of 24-23 thanks to some late heroics delivered by quarterback Tony Romo, who incidentally, will miss the remainder of the season, including the Eagles game, due to a herniated disk.
Cowboys on Offense
The biggest problem for the Cowboys seems to have been consistency on offense. Against the Packers the Cowboys jumped out to a big halftime lead but failed to finish the game off in the second half. The offense was no match for New Orleans or Chicago. The Cowboys have some talented players with Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray, but if the Eagles can hold them to 17 points the way they did earlier in the season it may result in a much different outcome. Dallas enters the week with the NFL’s 21st ranked overall offense and is 23rd in the league at converting third downs.
Cowboys on Defense
The Cowboys defense is going to be dealing with a much better offense this weekend than they faced back in October. The Eagles have been flourishing on offense since being held to just three points early in the Nick Foles run this season. If the Eagles are playing at the level they have been on offense, they should thrive against this Dallas defense.
Dallas is ranked last in the NFL in defense by allowing 418.6 yards per game and they are ranked 26th in points allowed. To be fair, the Eagles defensive numbers are nothing to gloat about even after their victory over the Chicago Bears, but the Cowboys will be fortunate to have the same success they had against Foles earlier in the season. If this game turns into a shootout, the Eagles could have the advantage, especially with Tony Romo sitting.
Kyle Orton, Quarterback: With Tony Romo out for the rest of the season, the Cowboys will have no other choice than to call Kyle Orton off the bench to run the offense. That should be good news for the Eagles because Romo is capable of making more big plays than Orton. With Orton leading the offense look for Dallas to rely more on shorter to medium range plays over the middle and to get running back DeMarco Murray heavily involved running the football. The key for Dallas will be to not have Orton relied upon to win the game for them. If the Eagles can force Orton to be the play maker, Dallas could be in trouble.
Brandon Carr, Defensive Back: Nick Foles has been picking apart opposing defenses since becoming the clear choice as starting quarterback for the Eagles. This weekend he will look to keep that trend going against the Cowboys secondary. One player who has struggled at times this season has been Brandon Carr. Carr was ill for the last game against Washington and saw his replacement come in to make a big play in his absence covering Pierre Garcon. Garcon torched Carr for 144 yards and a touchdown.
Forget everything about what happened in the earlier meeting between the Eagles and Cowboys. The Eagles were in the midst of a quarterback revolving door between Foles and Mike Vick and had not quite found their offensive identity. That has changed now. The Eagles offense is firing on all cylinders and should be able to play well against this Dallas defense that really struggles to stop much of anything. The Eagles are actually a favorite in this match-up, which suggests the perception of the two teams is pretty clear, but the Eagles cannot afford to take anything for granted, as they learned at Minnesota. It will be important to not get carried away with the performance against Chicago, because Dallas is undefeated in NFC East play.
It’s all down to one game. Which team do you think has the momentum in a win-or-stay-home division championship scenario? It sure seems like the momentum is on the side of the Eagles.
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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.