Sunday Night Football: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) at Dallas Cowboys (8-7)
Sunday night on NBC; Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth
After blowing a 23-point halftime lead at home to Green Bay the Cowboys managed to beat the pitiful Washington Redskins on the last play of the game to keep their playoff hopes alive last week. The positive vibes in Dallas didn’t last long though as Tony Romo has been placed on IR, meaning that the Cowboys will count on Kyle Orton to keep up with the prolific Philadelphia offense. Perhaps that is a bit harsh since Orton is one of the best backups in the league; he is 35-34 as an NFL starter. The thing is that Orton hasn’t played a meaningful game in more than two years, and if he stumbles Dallas has coaxed Jon Kitna off a high school sideline to be the backup. The 41-year old Kitna is well past his expiration date, having last started an NFL game in 2010 – but at least he is a positive role model with quality values. Kitna will donate his $53,000 game check to the high school where he teaches geometry and coaches the football team – a nice life lesson that a few people in all walks of life could learn from.
Back to Romo and his absence. The reason the quarterback position is so important for Dallas is because (a) their defense (league worst 419 yards per game, 25th-ranked 27.2 points per game) stinks, so they need to score a lot to keep up; (b) the Eagles offense is very good, and will score early and often; they rank second in both points (27.9 per game) and yardage (421 yards per game); and (c) Dallas depends so heavily on their passing game: their 21.2 rushing attempts per game is the second fewest in the NFL. Since Dallas defeated the Eagles in week seven they have allowed an average of 31.6 points per game – not the stat of a playoff team that is counting on a rusty backup quarterback.
The Cowboys do have the playmakers like Dez Bryant (85 receptions, 1,134 yards, 12 touchdowns) to take advantage of a porous Philly pass defense (30th-ranked 285 yards per game), but Bryant has been dealing with a back injury. Thus far there is no truth to the rumor that Romo’s back gave out due to the weight of the impending burden of having to answer questions on how and why he quarterbacked his club to what could have been his fourth season-ending, playoff spot-deciding loss in the last six seasons.
Jason Garrett would be wise to run the ball more often despite the poor Eagle pass defense, but considering that there have been plenty of times earlier this year when that would have been the wise choice – the loss to Green Bay two weeks ago is a prime example, but not the only one – I wouldn’t count on it. DeMarco Murray is averaging 5.4 yards per carry, which is best in the NFL for any player with at least ten carries per game – but ranks only 10th in the league with 1,073 rushing yards due in part to injuries, and in part to Garrett’s reliance on passing the ball.
The Eagles should be able to easily counter the Dallas offense between LeSean McCoy (NFL-best 1,476 yards rushing and 2,012 yards from scrimmage), DeSean Jackson (79 catches for 1,304 yards and nine touchdowns) and Riley Cooper (44 receptions, 796 yards, eight touchdowns). Nick Foles has had an outstanding season, completing 64% of his passes with a league-best 9.0 yards per pass attempt and an incredible 25 touchdowns with only two interceptions. The Dallas pass defense has struggled mightily, allowing 65% of passes to be completed (7th worst), 7.7 yards per attempt (8th worst), 291 yards per game (2nd worst), 31 touchdowns (2nd worst) in large part due to lack of pressure (29 sacks, 2nd fewest). When Philadelphia runs the ball it gets no better for the Cowboys. The Eagles are averaging a league-best 162 yards per game on the ground while the Dallas rushing defense ranks 27th at 128 yards per game, and 30th with 4.8 yards per carry. The Cowboys have had too many injuries to their front seven, and not enough quality depth to compensate for those losses.
Pick • Eagles 28, Cowboys 21
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