With only six games gone in the 2013 season, the NFC East is pretty much down to a two team race between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles. Both teams carry 3-3 records, and both have victories over the other two division rivals. Their game this Sunday will leave one of them in sole possession of the lead for the division, and the only winning record.
The Eagles not only have an identical record overall but have played five of the same opponents that Dallas has, with the same results. They have beaten the Washington Redskins and New York Giants, and lost to the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers. With such similar resumes, the way the teams are graded at Pro Football Focus may be more relevant than for most games, since the analysts there are looking at so many common opponents.
Although the Cowboys are familiar with most of the players for the Eagles, they are facing a new head coach in Chip Kelley. The only member of the Dallas staff who has any real exposure to Chip is Monte Kiffin and we really don't want to see anything similar to the way the Oregon Ducks manhandled the USC Trojans. (Side note: Have you noticed that almost everything written about the SoCal team seems to have a double meaning, no matter how hard you try to avoid it?)
But I digress. We aren't concerned about juvenile humor here. That should be kept where it belongs, in the comment threads. Here is a look at how the grades are for the dirty birds.
One note: I am looking again at the overall scores for the opponent. The last game the Eagles played was against the winless and confused looking Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it was pretty much the best graded game of the season. How much of that is due to Philadelphia improving and how much is because the Bucs are one of the contenders for worst teams in the league is hard to say.
One player whose performance is really affected by that Tampa Bay game is Nick Foles, who is expected to start in place of the still-recovering Michael Vick. That game was his first start of the season and prior to that he came in to relieve Vick when he was injured against the Giants. Foles has very nice numbers - against two teams that are a combined 0-11.
He is a very different type of quarterback than Vick, and actually gives a bit of an opportunity for a passing game shootout ala the game the Cowboys had against the Broncos. Here are his numbers coming into the game.
Jason Hatcher was hoping the Cowboys would face Foles and not Vick. Hope that was a good call.
The most dangerous weapon the Eagles have is LeSean McCoy. He is the number one ranked running back in the league, and his +14.3 overall grade is significantly greater than the next, Darren Sproles' +9.4. (DeMarco Murray is still ranked at #8 with a score of +5.5.) Backup Bryce Brown has not been much of a threat this year, but with McCoy, they don't need much. For a quick look at what makes McCoy so dangerous, you can check out this video review of him from DallasCowboys.com.
The wide receivers and tight ends are also dangerous. It is also a little hard to say which numbers are more important for them. Foles is going to have a different approach to the game than Vick, so the really strong showing across the board last Sunday may be a significant indicator. Or it just could be from playing the hapless Bucs.
These are the primary (as in 94% of all plays) receivers, not counting McCoy, who will also see some balls thrown his way.
|Desean Jackson (WR)||+8.6|
|Riley Cooper (WR)||-3.1|
Jason Avant (WR)
Brent Celek (TE)
Zach Ertz (TE)
Just because a player has a negative number does not mean you can discount them as a weapon, of course. Cooper and Celek had an outstanding game against Tampa Bay, for instance. As I said, they may simply be more valuable when Foles is the quarterback.
Now, here is why I like using the PFF numbers. Look not only at the red and green numbers, but how they are distributed.
Everybody looks good in run blocking (except Jason Peters). This is blocking for McCoy, who is a phenomenally elusive runner, and for Vick, when the read/option was viable. Maybe those numbers are helped a bit by having such talented players carrying the ball.
And the pass blocking scores are worse. In the case of the right time of the line, a lot worse. The rest of the line is not great, but Todd Herremans and rookie Lane Johnson can be had by a good rush. And the quarterback is now much more of a traditional passer for the Eagles. This looks like a weakness that the Cowboys should try to exploit. The big issue is that the team cannot lose track of McCoy, because he will make them pay if they don't keep him contained.
But I like the matchup here. The plan of the Cowboys defensive line, even with the new-name replacements, is to go hard after the quarterback and there is a chance they will be able to get to him against this line. McCoy is going to have to be the responsibility of the linebackers - and Sean Lee looks like he is ready to face him after the way he cut down Robert Griffin III and saved a touchdown against the Redskins (as illustrated so clearly by Bob Sturm in his blog).
The Eagles run a bit of a hybrid defense. Nominally, the positions are designated as if it is a 3-4 but they use a variety of combinations up front. Note the play counts for the line. Clearly, they depend on Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton as their primary, every down linemen, with the rest rotated in as the situation dictates. I've included all the DL players on the roster just to show the full picture of play distribution.
The Eagles run three linebackers for basically the entire game, and Trent Cole and Brandon Graham split time at the right outside linebacker. Cole is more of a situational edge rusher, I believe. For these numbers, the pass defense is the pass rush and pass coverage numbers added together for each player. Once again, the distribution of the grades is worth noting.
Basically, this table says to me that you go after these guys with the passing game. And given the Cowboys issues with running back health, that may be just what they have to do, anyway.
The secondary is also a very vulnerable looking unit, particularly the safeties. Here, I just look at the total PFF grade and the pass defense grade, which is the primary concern.
Alex Henery is very good at kickoffs and place kicks. Donnie Jones is similarly good at punting. Otherwise, there is nothing spectacular about the return teams or the coverage units. Which, of course, may be a good thing for the Cowboys, especially Dwayne Harris.
More from Blogging The Boys:
- Dallas Cowboys News and Notes - Cole Beasley Is "Quarterback Friendly"
- Jay Ratliff: A Retrospective
- Cowboys @ Eagles: First Look At Philadelphia Personnel
- Cowboys Injury Report: DeMarcus Ware, DeMarco Murray, George Selvie Do Not Practice
- Jay Ratliff Done As A Dallas Cowboy; Organization Releases Him