On Thanksgiving Day, the Dallas Cowboys hosted the Philadelphia Eagles in what turned out to be a fairly complete failure for the home team. One week later, the Cowboys rolled into Soldier Field and rolled over the Chicago Bears. Three days after that, the Seattle Seahawks flew into Lincoln Financial Field and were the far superior team. Now comes the rematch for the Cowboys and the Eagles, and this one is going to be more about heart and desire than anything you can glean from the statistics.
Whoever comes out of this game with the win will have the lead for the NFC East and will control their own destiny, as the overused cliche goes. Nothing will be guaranteed at that point since there are two more games to go, and anything can happen in the NFL, but the winner has a huge advantage.
It is just this guy's opinion, but there are a lot of things the Cowboys have in their favor going into this game. For your consideration, here are some.
The Thanksgiving Day debacle was an aberration caused largely by the schedule. This is a hotly debated item that is labeled "excuse" by many, but the way the Cowboys played just a week later lends it some credence. We already know about Tony Romo and his unique practice schedule, including taking "Romo Wednesday" off each week. The difficulty of preparing for a team with a somewhat unique style of play with only three days between games and the very late return to Dallas are factors. But Jean-Jacques Taylor may have pointed out something that makes the most sense in light of the visibly sluggish play the Cowboys, especially the offensive line, displayed. (Yeah, that last sentence still seems a little weird to me, too, when I read it.)
A short week means dead legs most of the time. Dead legs against Philadelphia usually equals a blowout.
Although he doesn't address that issue specifically, Tryon Smith made a remark about what happened that game that fits with the idea that the team was not able to perform up to their full abilities.
"We just weren't ourselves the way we played that game," Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith said during a Tuesday morning visit to Cook Children's Medical Center. "There are just things we've got to clean up, technique things we've got to clean up and play as one."
Technique is another thing that suffers when you are fatigued. Once the team had a normal six days between games, the offensive line was able to play more up to its own standards.
The Cowboys ran the ball 33 times, not including two Romo kneel downs, for 196 yards. They had two rushing touchdowns. Romo was sacked once in 27 pass plays and threw three touchdown passes. He wasn't intercepted. The Bears had just three tackles for a loss.
"I think we're closer," center Travis Frederick said when asked if that was more like them. "I don't think we're there yet. But I think we're certainly closer. We just need to keep working on that and hopefully we can do something like that against Philly."
Now, the Cowboys roll into the City of Brotherly Love and Pelting Santa with Batteries after getting an additional ten days to recover from the Bears game. And they did not exactly keep their foot down all the way through the game in Chicago, either. They are rested, ready, and raring to go. Like the quarterback.
The quarterbacking should be advantage: Dallas. Against the Seahawks, Mark Sanchez did not have a very good game. He only was able to muster 96 yards passing the ball. After the game, Seattle's Michael Bennett was downright mean about that performance.
"Tell the Philadelphia police to put an APB out," Bennett told USA Today Sports. "Sanchez is trying to impersonate a good quarterback."
It is highly doubtful that the Cowboys can put the kind of pressure on Sanchez that the Seahawks did, but hopefully the defense will also be more themselves after the extra rest. Dallas has been bending but not breaking in many of its wins this season, and that is what the team needs this game.
And it needs Romo to have a better game. In the first Eagles contest, he was not sharp at all. His inability to make plays he normally can allowed the Eagles to put eight and nine man fronts up against DeMarco Murray, and that left the offense sputtering. While Romo was still having some issues with the long ball against the Bears, he was more than efficient enough the rest of the game to force Chicago to respect the pass, freeing Murray to get back to his league leading ways.
The extra rest may help Romo get a little closer to healthy. After his back surgery, fractured transverse processes, and rib cartilage damage, he can use all the rest he can get. But despite the physical problems, he has still been playing at a very high level. And beyond the numbers he is putting up, he has continued to demonstrate that he is one of the toughest players in the league at any position. Still, he knows he has a finite number of games left in him. That seems to just make him more determined to make the most of them.
Now, some wonder why Romo continues to throw himself in harm's way when the risk is so considerable and his financial future had already been secured with a $108 million contract extension he signed in 2013.
"Football for me, it's my life's work," he said. "That's my career. I'll be a husband; I'll be dad, and I'll have been a football player at the time when I finish on this Earth. In some ways, I want to give everything I can into being the best version of that I can be. There's only 16 games a year, 16 days, that you're guaranteed, and you're really not even guaranteed that...You just want to make sure you give everything you can. It's a great, rewarding experience if you're able to do that at a level that you feel proud of."
On a bit of a side note, it is going to be interesting to see how a much younger player responds in a similar situation.
"Further testing revealed that Cam Newton has two transverse process fractures in his lower back and no further internal injuries," the Panthers said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
The injury suffered to Newton is the same back injury that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo suffered earlier this season. Romo missed one game this season for the injury, however no timetable was given for how long Newton will be out, if at all.
While Dallas came out of Chicago in good shape, Philadelphia was in a very physical fight. Dallas expects to get back all the players who missed the Bears game due to injury except reserve linebacker Dekoda Wilson. And no disrespect to Wilson, but Jeff Heath, Tyler Patmon and DeMarcus Lawrence all could play much bigger roles this week than he ever would. Heath has been a key special teamer, and the Cowboys need special teams to step up against the Eagles, who have won some games largely on the strength of their ST play this season. They did have a much better day in Chicago. Lawrence, of course, would hopefully help in getting some pressure on Sanchez. And Patmon's return is the likely reason that Micah Pellerin was released. For that matter, getting Heath and Patmon both back changes the options the defense has in handling coverages.
With Patmon and safety Jeff Heath (thumb) out, the Cowboys have not used a dime package in the last two games.
The Eagles, of course, are missing quarterback Nick Foles, but there is also a cumulative effect that happens to teams when they play physical defenses. Everyone knows about Seattle's reputation in that area, and this season Dallas has also shown both the ability and willingness to hit people. It is hard to say just how much that will affect Philly, but it may be important. I'll just put these two tweets up here, one from before the Seahawks-Eagles game, and one from after.
Teams are 2-9 the week after playing the #Cowboys & 0-5 when they play a team w/ a winning record. The Eagles play the 8-4 Seahawks on Sun.— Jordan Ross (@TheJordanRoss) December 6, 2014
According to @ESPNStatsInfo, Since week 7 teams are 0-7 the week after playing the Seahawks.— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) December 8, 2014
In Garrett we trust - especially when he is coaching for his job. I am not claiming that Jason Garrett is the best coach in the NFL. But he has shown over his brief career that he has an ability to reach his players and get them to buy into his program. A large part of that program is that you take everything one game at a time. With the myriad permutations possible concerning the playoffs, and the fact that Dallas is currently sitting on the outside looking in, that is exactly what the Cowboys need to do. If they win out, they are in the playoffs. Any other path has uncertain results. Garrett may be one of the truly boring coaches to listen to, but you can never say he is not consistent in his basic message.
"One of our jobs as coaches is to try to help our team think the right way. A lot of that is taking care of the process along the way," Garrett said. "Get locked into this drill or this rep or whatever it is to give ourselves the best chance to play our best on Sunday night and we'll continue to reinforce that message."
His quotes may be bland and repetitive, but he also never fails to support his people. His composure has always seemed completely unshakable. In this coaching matchup, he may already be ahead of his counterpart across the way, who seemed to have a little trouble with some recent criticism.
There's an old joke about the football coach who explains a loss by shrugging and saying, "I coached good; my players just played bad."
Chip Kelly didn't quite go that far Monday, but he basically said just that about his Philadelphia Eagles' performance in Sunday's loss to Seattle. Asked if he would approach the game plan differently, Kelly said that wasn't the issue.
"No, we just need to execute," Kelly said.
It may have been just a bit of awkward explanation, but it is hard to imagine Garrett not putting his own role in things first. Does that matter to the team? You'll have to make your own judgement about that.
All these are intangibles about the game. Intangibles that could be important. Stacked up, they look to be in the Cowboys' favor. Now, all Dallas has to do, is go to Philly and actually win the game.