We lead off today's linkfest with this deliciously bold declaration:
Cowboys will make the playoffs - KC Joyner, ESPN Insider
Joyner, the dean of advanced football statistical analysis, looks past the tired Cowboys memes to proclaim that Dallas has what it takes to go unbeaten in their last three games and thus win the NFC East Division. His three reasons? Since it's an Insider piece, I'll give you a taste of each. Here goes:
1) Tony Romo is a road warrior. To wit:
Playing away from Dallas, he has the highest Total QBR (88.2), yards per attempt mark (8.4) and completion percentage (71.8 percent). Romo also has a 15-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in away contests, and has the No. 2 mark in vertical yards per attempt (VYPA, passes thrown 11 or more yards downfield) at 12.7. These are all key reasons why Dallas is 6-0 in away contests this year.
2) Good matchups for Dallas' passing attack. Take the Colts, for example:
...when facing offenses that rank outside of the top 10 in scoring, Indianapolis allows 5.8 yards per dropback, 19.1 points per game and a very impressive 20.5 Total QBR. When facing a top-10 scoring offense -- a group that includes Dallas (26.4 points per game, ranked eighth) -- the Colts give up 8.1 yards per dropback, 33.4 points per game and a 76.5 Total QBR. I'm expecting Romo and the Cowboys' passing game to be effective against Indy.
3) Other NFC contenders have a significant flaw. Here's his reasoning on the Eagles' fatal flaw:
In the case of the Eagles, they will have to overcome the shaky play of Mark Sanchez. A combination of bad decisions, poor mechanics and inaccurate passes have led to Sanchez posting a 3.6 percent interception rate that ranks 30th out of 34 qualifying passers this year. It is a primary reason why Sanchez has yet to secure his hold on this starting job, and could end up forcing the Eagles making a hit-or-miss, late-season quarterback change to put Nick Foles (3.2 percent interception rate, ranked tied for 27th) under center.
Joneses: Sunday's game as big as it gets for Cowboys - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas
Here's the Cowboys owner and general manager:
"I just feel that it's like a playoff game. It's almost one of those that you have to win. I know you can do some math and it isn't necessarily that, but I certainly feel like every player, every coach has to do our very best out there."
I know Dallas has been involved in three de facto NFC East title games in each of the last three seasons but, to me, this feels like the biggest game since 2009...
From the Department of Second Chances:
Dallas Cowboys not uptight heading into rematch against Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night - Brandon George, DMN
From observing a bunch of young guys outside the locker room on Thursday, George concludes that the team is loose.
Dez Bryant: Cowboys "very confident" entering Philadelphia game; "we can't wait until Sunday" - Jon Machota, DMN
"You know me, I don’t really like making any excuses, but we had a short week," Bryant said. "We’re well rested. It’ll be a different story."
Bob Sturm: why I think the Cowboys will play much better this time vs. Eagles - DMN
In a set of answers to interview questions, The Sturminator supplies us with this gem:
I think the Cowboys are a good football team who allowed the game to get away from them on Thanksgiving. But, I don’t believe that properly measured the difference between the two sides – especially with Sanchez. The Cowboys looked shellshocked and gassed on that day and now they have extra rest and film to study. I think the Cowboys will do much better.
Troy Aikman on Cowboys - Eagles: "Don't think game will resemble anything that took place on Thanksgiving" - DMN
I don't have a real good feel for who I like. I expect Dallas to play well. I don't think the game will resemble anything that took place on Thanksgiving. I expect the game to be close. I expect it to be a typical Philadelphia-Cowboys game that's physical and comes down to the wire. And Dallas has had success on the road, at Philly. I expect the extra days of rest to help.
Some scouting reports on the upcoming tilt:
Stats-eye view of Cowboys-Eagles - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas
Toddzilla's weekly stats piece, vis a vis the fine folk at ESPN Stats and Info, presents both uplifting and sobering numbers. Here are some form the sobering category:
No pass defense: The Cowboys' pass defense has been especially poor since Dallas’ Week 11 bye. Since the break the Cowboys have allowed 292.3 pass yards per game [they had been at 239.8, which was 16th overall] and an 85.3 Total QBR [63.1, 23rd in the league], both third-worst in the NFL.
Scout's eye: expect the Cowboys to once again to look in Beasley's direction - Bryan Broaddus, The Mothership
Now that we are back to the regular weekly schedule, Broaddus' posts come to us in the expected fashion. On Thursdays, he offers up a match-up post. The two key head-to-heads this week? WR Cole Beasley vs. Eagles CB Brandon Boykin and S Barry Church against Philly TE Zach Ertz. Here's what Broaddus has to say about the latter of these battles:
What makes Ertz so difficult to deal with is that he doesn’t always line up as a true tight end. Kelly likes to flex him out or in tight bunch formations and allow him to work from there. He is a physically gifted player that, when coming off the line and working down the field, is like covering a wide receiver and for a safety to have to carry a player like that all night is never easy. Look for Church to get up on Ertz and play him extremely tight in not allowing him free access off the line.
Cowboys 100: Facts and Figures for Eagles II - Mark Lane, Cowboys HQ
Lane authors his weekly list of gotta-know stats about the upcoming game. Here are a few that caught my eye:
- The Cowboys have been 9-4 seven times in franchise history. The Cowboys made the playoffs 7/7 times with their most recent being 1993, a Super Bowl season.
- Last week, Romo threw for a 138.0 passer rating. In weeks after passer ratings of 138.0 or higher, Romo has a 95.4 passer rating on average.
- Mark Sanchez has committed a turnover in seven out of his last 10 December games.
- At 123.5 rushing yards per game, Murray has far and away set the best yards per game average in Cowboys history.
- Murray’s 320 carries are only ninth-most in a single-season in Cowboys history.
- This makes the 11th-straight season that Cowboys-Eagles has been featured on prime time television. No other division rivalry, and not even Manning-Brady, has been featured as often in the same span.
Role players giving Cowboys offense a boost - Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPN Dallas
Scott Linehan's offense revolves around the big three of DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. But without a group of big-play role players -- Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Gavin Escobar, Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle -- JJT argues, it’s unlikely the Cowboys would be 9-4 and tied for first place in the NFC East.Here's their head coach:
"One of the best things we’ve done on offense," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, "is use our complementary players. Sometimes, those guys don’t get an opportunity in a game or, maybe, it’s a couple of games, but when they get their opportunity they cash in on it."
Last week, it was Beasley (which no doubt occasioned this article); this week? Who knows, but one or more of those guys will need to step up big.
26 Players named to USA Football's 2014 All Fundamentals Team
Cowboys OG Zack Martin was listed to the All-Fundamentals team, which honors players who demonstrate exemplary techniques for youth players to emulate. Martin was chosen by a committee comprised of such luminaries as Charles Davis, Herm Edwards, Merrill Hoge, Carl Peterson and Bill Polian.
Nice job, rook...
Cowboys give "clear indication" Jason Garrett will remain head coach - David Moore, DMN
Stephen Jones, Wednesday night on "The Ticket" (KTCK-AM):
"I think Jason has grown leaps and bounds. We are so comfortable — you know, comfortable can be a bad word, you want to be on edge too — but I really think Jason is the right guy for this job."
Garrett had no interest in such talk. When pestered by reporters about Jones' comments, he replied:
"All I have interest in is this practice that starts in 10 minutes"
Mark Sanchez needs to return to form against Dallas - Phil Sheridan, ESPN.com
Sheridan, the Eagles' answer to Todd Archer, opines that Sanchez needs to play better against Dallas than he did against the Seahawks. Philly's backup QB knows, however, that it won't be as easy the second time around:
"You can’t expect the same exact Dallas team, energy-wise and enthusiasm-wise," Sanchez said Thursday. "They know what’s at stake. That last performance wasn’t really indicative of the kind of talent they have, the coaching and the players they have. We’re expecting to have a great matchup."
No, indeed; I'm expecting to see more from our Cowboys, enthusiasm-wise.