Historically, it's always been tough for Dallas quarterbacks to play against their division rivals. And even when the Cowboys do win against Philadelphia, their passing statistics are often still miserable, at least since I've been a fan.
One of my first memories is of Danny White going 31-12-127-0-1 and a couple of critical fumbles in the 1980 NFC Championship Game. A few years later, White's Cowboys beat a bad Eagles team but he was 25-8-112-1-4 in the process! Or when Gary Hogeboom helped blow a 14-6 lead at Veterans Stadium in 1985 with a couple late interceptions, or when Steve Pelluer's team choked away a 20-0 first half lead with horribly timed sacks and a critical interception. And of course, it still hurts being 2-8 against Buddy Ryan's Gang Green defense.
Even legendary Troy Aikman was perenially awful to mediocre against the Eagles. His lifetime passer rating against Philadelphia is 20 points lower than his career average (61.8 to 81.9), and he went 10-11 as a starter against the Eagles. Even when the Cowboys were at the peak of their powers, from 1991-1996, Aikman's performance improved only slightly, going 6-4 with a passer rating of around 65. Aikman was undoubtedly helped by the remarkable running of Emmitt Smith during this times frame, as the NFL's All-Time Leading Rusher had games of 163, 237, 172, 105, 158, 108 and 113 during this 10 game stretch (the Cowboys went 5-2 during these big Emmitt days).
Tony Romo's career against Philadelphia has been quite different than Aikman's. He's never been able to have a bad or even mediocre day against the Eagles personally and still have the team win, like Aikman had the luxury to do several times. No, the Cowboys have lost the three games in which Romo played poorly and won the four games in which he played spectacularly. There really wasn't any in-between:
- 2006: 29-14-149-1-2 (42.5) lose 23-7 at DALLAS
- 2007: 25-20-324-3-1 (141.7) win 38-17 at Philadelphia
- 2007: 36-13-214-0-3 (22.2) lose 10-6 at DALLAS
- 2008: 30-21-312-3-1 (123.2) win 41-37 at DALLAS
- 2008: 39-21-183-0-1 (55.8) lose at Philadelphia
- 2009: 34-21-307-1-1 (88.8) win at Philadelphia 2009: 34-34-311-2-1 (106.4) win at DALLAS
In almost all these games, Romo did not have an adequate running game to accompany his hot/cold passing days (with the exception of the 2009 season finale). In the seven regular season games in which Romo started against the Eagles, the team rushed for a total of 656 yards, or 94 yards a game, and the 179 yards in the second 2009 game really skews the stats. So the relative lack of running success shows that Romo CAN pass the team to a victory by mostly passing, yet with some of the decisions and throws that #9 has made so far this season, how many of us would be comfortable with that potential scenario? Probably not too many. That's why I am somewhat encouraged by the surprising return of Montrae Holland and the potential shown by DeMarco Murray and Tanner last week.
It's obvious and simple, but if the Cowboys running game can somehow stay on track on Sunday night, then Dallas might not need "Super Romo" to bail them out. They might just take "Average Romo" (or a slightly above average typical Aikman game) to drive the bus uneventfully but successfully through the City of Brotherly Love.
I couldn't end this post without noting for the record that despite Aikman and Romo having struggles against the Eagles during the course of their careers during the regular season, in their three playoff appearances against Philadelphia they had excellent performances, going 3-0 and racking up a combined passer rating of around 105. Of course, it also helped that in these three games the defense allowed a total of 35 points and the offense averaged 170 yards rushing per game (160, 153, 198). These substantial rushing totals may have been partially a function of playing with a large lead, but they were also the result of just a finely tuned, efficient overall offense. Let's hope that the playoff-calibre Cowboys offense shows up on Sunday night.