Let's start this morning's linkfest (Turkey sausage, natch) with a stroll down memory lane, shall we?
Eatman offers a goodly list of the best, most memorable, or most important of the Cowboys many Thanksgiving contests through the years. I'm pleased to say that I was in attendance at two of these. Here's his assessment of one of those two:
6) 2006 – Cowboys 38, Buccaneers 10
Romo-mentum. The Cowboys had it and without a doubt the struggling Buccaneers weren’t going to take it away on this Thanksgiving Day.
About a month after being named the team’s quarterback, Tony Romo gave Dallas new hope after winning three of his first four starts, including a 21-14 victory over the unbeaten Colts and Peyton Manning. Four days later, Romo lit up the Bucs secondary for a career-high five touchdown passes, as the Cowboys were too much for Tampa Bay.
Although the Buccaneers reached the end zone first, the Cowboys responded with two touchdown passes to Terry Glenn. Romo found Barber for two short touchdown throws as well before a final scoring strike to Terrell Owens.
Sturm's weekly dollop of defensive awesomeness. Here, he leads with some sobering evidence of Dallas' recent defensive drop-off:
Over the last month – from the Washington game until today – the Cowboys are the worst team in the NFL (32nd) at getting off the field on 3rd Down. They have allowed teams to convert 3rd Downs on 30 of 59 occasions for a 51% conversion rate. Prior to that Washington game, the Cowboys were actually slightly worse than league-average (40.9% is the NFL 3rd Down conversion rate) at 3rd Down defense, allowing 35 of 84 for (41.7%). That puts them now at 29th for the entire year.
They have also fallen down the charts all the way to 31st in Red Zone defense as well. In a league where 55.7% of all drives that enter the red zone are converted into touchdowns, the Cowboys are allowing 7 points on 67.7% of occasions. Indianapolis is worse, but that is the only team that can claim as much. Dallas has only allowed 31 opponents’ trips inside the 20 (league average of 35), but have then allowed 21 touchdowns (league average is 19).
Want some good news? Take a look at the gallery of .gifs detailing Number 55's superb work against the Giants. That kid can play...
The same four defensive players who haven’t practiced all week didn’t practice again Wednesday. LB Dekoda Watson (strained hamstring), S Jeff Heath (fractured thumb), DE Jack Crawford (fractured thumb) and CB Tyler Patmon (sprained left MCL) aren’t likely to play against the Eagles.
In Archer's piece, Brandon Carr puts things into perspective. Hyping Odell Beckham's TD grab as the latest "greatest catch ever"? Not so much. Extending thoughts and support to former Chiefs teammate Eric Berry, who has recently been diagnosed with lymphoma? Most definitely:
"It makes you put things in perspective. As far as just life, what's really important. At the end of the day, your health matters the most. We've got a passion to play this game and to do great things. But you know, the change of focus is for health and the battle has shifted gears, shifted battlefields so to speak, shifted arenas...."
Dwayne Harris turned in his best performance of the season against the New York Giants. Harris returned four punts for 68 yards with a long of 20. He also made a nice tackle on Odell Beckham Jr. on a punt return and downed another punt inside the 10.
"It looked like he got his swagger back and he was making the plays we’re used to having him making," Jason Garrett said. "It’s always a collective effort...The return unit has to get the return started, and he has the unique ability to make guys miss and get north and south. I felt we were real close to making a couple of big plays."
The Cowboys could use a similar performance Thursday against Philadelphia's league-leading special teams unit.
Remember the memes that sprung up in October - that the Cowboys were running Murray into the ground, and that he couldn't possibly last if he continued at that rate? Well, those memes seem to have died out as Murray's workload has leveled off a bit. But that doesn't mean he's worn out:
"I feel great," Murray said. "As the year goes on you feel better and I definitely feel like I've gotten stronger throughout the year and I got to continue to work hard during the week and continue to show up on Sundays."
Or, for the next two weeks, on Thursdays, we hope...
As Archer notes, running backs know running backs:
"I like his game," McCoy said. "He runs hard, he finishes very well. They're a good team. They're giving him some lanes to run in. I think the way he finishes runs and how strong he is, that's what makes him an elite back. I think we have different styles, so I wouldn't want to take anything from his game. I like it how it is."
Scouting reports abound:
The Broad One presents a few keys to victory. As the headline suggests, one key is for the Cowboys to turn the smashmouth dial to eleven:
People can talk all they want about the pace with which the Eagles run their offense. They can talk about how much pressure their defense can generate on the pass rush, but to me it’s very simple – the Cowboys need to turn this into a 60-minute fist fight on both sides of the ball...I am talking about the type of game where, at the podium, the first words out of Jason Garrett’s mouth is how proud he was of the physical toughness that his team showed that day.
In the weekly head-to-head Q & A, Archer joins Eagles beat man Phil Sheridan (who is an excellent, fair read, by the way). Here is Sheridan on Mark Sanchez and what he brings to the offense:
Kelly takes pride in adjusting his offense to fit his quarterback. So yes, there have been some changes. The Eagles' 43-24 win over Tennessee on Sunday marked the first time they didn't run a single read-option play in a game since Kelly has been here, for example. Some of that was a response to the Titans' defense, but it also seems to be something Sanchez isn't (A) as good at or (B) as comfortable with.
The Eagles haven't been throwing the ball deep as much, either. The coaches say that isn't deliberate. The quarterback has deep-to-short options on many plays, and Foles seemed more comfortable taking the deep shots while Sanchez has tended to wait and come back to the shorter throw. That might even out over time as Sanchez plays more.
The main thing Foles and Sanchez have in common is turnovers. Foles threw 10 interceptions and lost three fumbles before breaking his collarbone. Sanchez has thrown six picks and lost two fumbles since replacing Foles. Talk about consistent production from the quarterback spot!
See what I mean about fair? And here's Archer on what is different about this year's Cowboys squad:
I'm not sure I've figured this team out, and maybe that's because of the Cowboys' recent past. It's almost as if you're just waiting for things to fall apart. But they haven't. They were down big at St. Louis and they came back to win. They were trailing at Seattle and came back and won. They were down against the Giants and came back.
They have definitely shown more resiliency than they have in the past. Coach Jason Garrett often talks about the "right kind of guy." There has been quite a bit of changeover since he has become the coach. I think that's been a part of it, but I think it's something really simple, too: They're playing better. They might not be the most talented, but they play hard. They understand the formula that it takes to win. Perhaps most importantly: They have bought into Garrett's week-to-week mantra.
Incidentally, both predict a Cowboys victory on Thursday. Sheridan says 33-30; Archer goes with 27-23.
J-Ro's list of keys to victory are simple but make great sense: control the clock (win the tempo dictation game); protect the ball (the Eagles have generated a lot of turnovers); keep the Philly RBs in check (make the Iggles one-dimensional); limit big plays on special teams (Philadelphia's 'teams lead the NFL in big plays, scoring plays, etc.). Here's Ross on protecting the ball:
The reason the Eagles have been able to survive with such a low time of possession is because of the fact that they consistently create turnovers...In their three losses, the Eagles have forced a combined two turnovers. Comparatively, the Eagles have forced at least two turnovers in six of their eight wins and have 17 total turnovers in their wins this season.
Given the Cowboys difficulty in winning the turnover differential battle thus far in 2014, I agree that this will be a critical factor.
The tempo at which Philadelphia plays worries the Cowboys; defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli offered a basketball analogy:
"You remember Loyola-Marymount with coach (Paul) Westhead, that pace?" Marinelli said. "They just run the pace and run their system, run the pace and run the system with speed....We’ve got to align, get set, get ready to get our feet in the ground and we have to play fast. So we’ve got to match that. The challenge is there."
The Goose writes that the Cowboys need to proceed with caution when it comes to Darren Sproles, who provides quality moreso than quantity:
Sproles has five rushing touchdowns in only 44 carries, including a 49-yarder against Jacksonville. Sproles also has a 152-yard receiving game this season against Indianapolis, catching seven passes including one that stretched 52 yards...Sproles only touched the ball three times on offense against San Francisco. But he still had an impact on the game, returning a punt 82 yards for a touchdown. He touched the ball on offense just twice against Carolina but again had an impact, returning another punt 65 yards for a score. He also had a 43-yard non-scoring punt return against the Giants.
I cannot disagree...
Reports from the enemy camp...
For Eagles fans, it doesn't matter where the Dallas game falls on the schedule. It's tied for game of the year with the other Cowboys game. Just ask Mark Sanchez:
"It's huge," Sanchez said. "Fans on the street, back in June, were like, 'Hey, man, you've got to get Dallas.' I'm like, 'We haven't played a game yet. I just signed here. What are you talking about?' You start to see how important the rivalry is."
The Iggles' mothership offers a highly - and I mean highly - detailed look at the Thanksgiving day clash. Here's one key match-up that we can't help but like:
Casey Matthewsvs. TE Jason Witten
Yes, DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant are having outstanding seasons for the Cowboys, but there's still tight end Jason Witten to contend with. Witten is among the all-time best tight ends in terms of production, but is still productive with 43 catches for 461 yards and four touchdowns this year. The Eagles allowed Titans tight end Delanie Walker to catch five passes for 155 yards last week. Walker was the second tight end to go over 100 yards in the last three games against the Eagles.
Another match-up piece, with a focus on numbers and league rankings. Here's a taste, from a familiar menu item:
Per Pro Football Focus, only 12.7 percent of Sanchez's throws have gone 20+ yards downfield; that ranks 16th. Nick Foles threw 18.9 percent of his passes downfield; that ranked second. In other words, the offense does look different depending on the quarterback. It's worth noting though that Sanchez's 8.1 YPA would rank fourth if he had enough attempts to qualify.
Duffy offers readers a .gif-tacular look at the Cowboys, with a focus on the offensive line. Much of this has been covered by Cowboys writers, including the fine staff here at BTB, but it's nice to see other teams acknowledge it.
Kapadia returns with a nice Xs and Os piece, where he makes the case that the Eagles will have to stop the run to be successful on Thursday afternoon. The key, according to defensive coordinator Billy Davis, will be gap discipline:
"The stretch run is all about gap discipline and having the bodies in the right place and everybody having their face in their gap and then holding it because it moves quick on you. So you have to keep your feet...That's the other thing when people start getting cut out in the stretch run... so you gotta be athletic enough and strong enough to continue to keep your face in the gap to make sure you have that gap integrity."
As Frank points out, with Nick Foles as the Eagles QB, Jeremy Maclin averaged 5.7 catches, 97 yards, 17.1 yards per catch and one touchdown per game. With Sanchez as the signal-caller, however:
Maclin’s catches are about the same — slightly higher actually at 5.9 per game. But his yards are down to 74 per game and — here’s the big difference — yards per catch are down to 12.6 with just two TDs, about half a touchdown per game...That’s a 26 percent decrease in yards per catch and 24 percent in yards per game.
I have no problem with this.
Going Deep: Billy Davis' Eagles defense has been victimized by the big play all season. The Eagles lead the league in plays allowed of 20 yards, or more, 30 yards, or more and 60 yards or more. Add another one to that list when the Cowboys hit the Eagles for a 50-yarder.
The Eagles are giving Dallas some bulletin-board material. What gives? Kulp shares his theory:
There’s a reason everybody is talking about those guys. They’re really good. It looked like an actual wall was in front of Tony Romo at times as he was guiding his team to a comeback victory over the Giants this past Sunday. Hell, DeMarco Murray has been held to less than 100 yards rushing in just one game all season.
You know who tends to yap a lot? Teams that feel the need to pump themselves up...
If you haven't yet submitted your picks, it's high time you do. Keep in mind that the games start early on Thursday, and you need to have your picks in by 12:30 pm ET. Here's the link to the entry form.
If the link above doesn't work for whatever reason, use the following alternative, which does not autofill your BTB user name into the entry form.
We've logged 248 responses so far, which means that a lot of people still need to submit their picks. So far, the Cowboys are favored by 94% of the vote, with just 15 of the 248 responses picking the Eagles.