Before the Eagles game I mentioned that Dallas has played 3 back-to-back division games with Jason Garrett as Head Coach. We went 1-1 in 2010, 0-2 in 2011 and 1-1 in 2012. After handling the Redskins at home they then went into Philly and swept their first back-to-back division sweep. Going into it I thought the game against the Eagles was our most important of the season so far. This victory makes Dallas 3-0 in the East this year with a game and a half lead after 7 weeks. That's a solid position to be in.
Myself and basically everyone else in the thread who predicted scores for the game were way off. We all predicted a high scoring contest (around the 30's). Instead a combination of good D play, poor Quarterbacking from Nick Foles and some poor play from Eagles receivers led to the normally productive Eagles offense being almost completely shut down.
The ineffectiveness of the Eagles ground game was the most interesting. The Eagles rushing game and LeSean McCoy were league leaders in nearly every category related to running the football coming into that game. The Dallas D kept McCoy at 55 yards and kept the eagles under 90 yards as a team. They also kept McCoy very quiet in the passing game despite the Eagles trying to get him free (6 catches for only 26 yards). That was impressive.
Sean Lee was outstanding, it was his highest grade of the year from PFF (+3.8). Bruce Carter also had his first well graded game since Week 1. Carter's pass coverage grade was particularly encouraging (+1.7) and his best on the year. Since the debacle and benching at San Diego Carter has steadily improved. Jason Hatcher's grades the last two weeks have been incredible: +5.6 against the Skins and +6.0 against the Eagles. He's ranked #1 by PFF for interior Dline players. He's playing All-Pro level football right now. George Selvie also deserves a mention with another good performance (+1.6 pass rush). After 7 Weeks Selvie is the 11th rated DE (of 33 who've played at least 50% of snaps). Impressive for a guy who who was signed off the street in late July.
RG3 and Foles are certainly no Rivers/Manning but shutting down those teams and their dangerous running games was instrumental in both victories. After two very bad weeks the D has bounced back with two strong ones. Before the season many of us commented that the first month or two could be difficult defensively because of the new scheme and the injuries to the front four. Through the first 5 weeks we saw exactly that but maybe now we're seeing that corner being turned?
After the Broncos game I commented:
The good news is that we won't face Rivers or Manning every week. Over the next month Dallas faces Griffin, Vick, Stafford and Ponder. While those guys present some challenges in their own ways they're clearly not in the Rivers/Manning class. I don't expect us to hold them scoreless or anything but I also don't expect to give up 51 points a game to those guys either. With continued strong offensive showings we have a chance to win all four games. How's that for optimism?
We dealt with RG3. We handled Vick's replacement Foles (who'd looked promising until he played our D). Now we have probably the biggest challenge of this four game stretch: Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. This game isn't as important as last weeks but it should be a tougher test for our Defense. The strong armed Stafford (6th ranked PFF) is no Manning/Rivers but he's certainly more than RG3/Foles. Throw in a big play WR like Calvin Johnson (7th) and an explosive RB like Reggie Bush (13th overall but 6th receiving) and there's some legit challenges for our Defense.
What's interesting is the Lions and Eagles are sort of opposites in regards to their offensive lines. The Eagles ranked very poorly at pass protecting but excellent at run blocking where as the Lions rank as good pass blockers (7th) and poor run blockers (20th). No surprise then to see that Stafford is ranked first in the league with roughly 41 passing attempts per game and Detroit's NY/A (Net Yards Gained Per Pass Attempt) ranks them a solid 10th (Dallas is at 12th). Defensively Detroit sits at 27th for DNY/A (Net Yards Allowed Per Pass Attempt) while Dallas has moved out of the bottom third and into 17th for DNY/A.
The young Safeties, Church and Wilcox, who've played quite well really, certainly better than what we've seen in recent years back there, will surely get tested deep by Stafford and Johnson. Dline pressure is the key to giving those Safeties a chance to make a play. So I really hope DeMarcus Ware (still ranked 9th in pass rush despite missing the last game and a half) can make it back for this game. While Selvie and particularly Hatcher have done some good work since Ware's been out, having a third threat on the Dline would be a huge boost to pressuring Stafford and limiting Johnson's chances.
Offensively Dallas has been a solid but unspectacular unit. The last two weeks I thought the offense would need pretty big performances to win, wrong on both counts. The Special Teams sealed the Washington victory and the Defense sealed the Eagles victory. Despite that I still feel once again that this next game will need a good offensive showing for victory. PFF has graded Tony Romo's last two performances as his two worst of the season. It's a credit to Garrett and the team that they've found victories anyway. I don't think we can survive another underwhelming performance though. With the improvement in the Defense I can see Dallas keeping the Lions under 30 points but definitely not under 20 points. I think Dallas will need at least 27-28 offensive points and no more than 1 turnover. I think it'll be close but I think we should win and then it's just the Minnesota Vikings in Dallas to seal a four game win streak. Post your best guess in the comments.