The NFL is a game of matchups. Every week coaches try to find the player-vs-player battles that will be an advantage and hope that they come out the victor when it's all over. In recent history, the Cowboys have enjoyed a 3-2 record over the Chip Kelly Eagles and one of those Eagles' wins came in a week 17 matchup without Tony Romo. Sound a little familiar? It was these same Eagles that knocked Romo out in week two and put the franchise quarterback on the shelf until November 22nd. The Cowboys have lost five straight since then, so what makes anyone sure that they can snap that streak come Sunday night at AT&T Stadium? Well, for the Cowboys, they just hope that they have some good matchups. Let's take a look at a few:
Tyrone Crawford v.s. Matt Tobin
Matt Tobin mainly handles the right guard duties for the Eagles, but he has truly struggled in giving the quarterback a clean pocket this season. PFF grades Tobin out as a -1.5 overall with -5.8 in pass blocking but +3.2 in run blocking. Tobin has also been tagged with six sacks given up this season. Crawford hasn't been lighting it up all that much this season either with only two credited sacks but it's been hard for these defensive tackles in recent weeks with quick release quarterbacks. The Eagles had a hard time with the Cowboys defensive alignments in week two and with Greg Hardy in the fold, it should only get worse. When Tobin is off the field, the Eagles will employ Dennis Kelly and he's had an even worse year than Tobin according to PFF. Crawford can give guards trouble with his power rush moves and the Cowboys need him to step up in this game. Sam Bradford is strictly a pocket passer and that means the Cowboys must collapse it as much as possible. Crawford could have a pretty big game against these guards now that the Cowboys' rushmen are at full-strength but he must play with power.
Dez Bryant v.s. Byron Maxwell
Maxwell has stated that he doesn't feel it necessary to shadow Bryant like Richard Sherman did last week. He also said that he will lineup on the left side and that will be his duties with some expected safety help over the top. As Bryant works himself back into condition, he'll only get better. This is a matchup that the Cowboys could certainly exploit as even without Bryant in week two, Maxwell had one of his worst games against the Cowboys. According to PFF, Maxwell had an opposing quarterback rating of 134.5 and gave up 14 yards a pop to the Cowboys' receivers and a 66% completion rating. Again, this was all without number 88 on the field. For the Cowboys to get back in the win column, they will have to get Dez Bryant back in rhythm. With Malcom Jenkins needed to cover Jason Witten and help in run support, this could be a day where Bryant gets back to being himself again. Hopefully, Matt Cassel and Dez have worked out their timing issues because some of those passes last week were near picks. With someone like Dez who has a catch radius so large, it's time to feed the monster.
La'el Collins v.s. Fletcher Cox
The Eagles' tackles have done a nice job at putting pressure on opposing offensive linemen. The Cowboys have an All Pro tackle in Tyron Smith to help but Collins is still a rookie. Collins has played outstanding football this season but struggled against the Eagles in week two. For the Cowboys to have offensive success, they must block Cox and Bennie Logan who have given them fits in the past. The Cowboys have PFF's best rated offensive line and they will certainly have to play like it. Collins has also been very high on PFF's radar as they have likened him to Larry Allen. It's way too early for that type of comparison but what he did to Bobby Wagner and then Earl Thomas against Seattle was insane. This guy plays with power and athleticism with the nastiness to take defenders head on. If Collins gets to moving against these ends, the Cowboys could have a big day rushing on the left side. Fletcher Cox is a tough match for anyone as he's such a powerful and physical presence on that defensive line and his motor never quits on him. Cox can also be move all along the defensive line if needed where he's had some success.
Greg Hardy v.s. Lane Johnson
Geoff Mosher of the Fanatic has already stated the Eagles plan to move Lane Johnson to left tackle for this game as Jason Peters' back spasms are keeping him out of practice. If that's the case then expect his first start at left tackle to be a difficult match as he draws Greg Hardy. Johnson made headlines this week when he claimed "Hardy is lucky to be in the league." Well he looks to get his chance against the rush demon known by his 'Kraken' moniker. This move also likely means that struggling lineman Dennis Kelly will be manning the right tackle duties for Johnson. Kelly, as mentioned earlier, is graded as PFF's worst lineman on the Eagles roster this season. Hardy creates so many problems that it's hard to pinpoint just one. His impressive athleticism was on display last week where he tipped a Russell Wilson pass in the air to make the interception himself. Already this season in only three games, Hardy has three sacks, a forced fumble and a pick. If there was ever a worse time to be without the All Pro Peters, I'm not sure of the when it was. Hardy is a hard guy to handle and with the defensive line as close to full strength as possible, it could be a long day at the office for Johnson, who has already given up three sacks and nine hurries this season.
Matt Cassel v.s. Sam Bradford
This game may just come down to who can protect the football better. Bradford has ten interceptions already this season while Cassel has three coming in one game. The Eagles' defense is an opportunistic bunch of birds, having already 19 takeaways to their credit, good for first in the league in case any of you were wondering. The Cowboys' only multiple takeaway game came against the Eagles in week two. Neither quarterback really inspires much confidence but that's unfortunately not going to change for at least two more weeks for Dallas. They have to figure out a way to get in rhythm and get the Cowboys receivers humming. Defensively, Bradford was knocked around and forced into compromising positions last time around due to the outstanding play from this defense. Tom Ryle wrote a fantastic piece on this very matter already:
"For the first time, Cassel is trading series with a quarterback that is playing at a much more comparable level to his. He has a defense that is now in the top ten in passing yards allowed per game and showing a much improved pass rush with Greg Hardy playing and DeMarcus Lawrence starting to step up. Expect the Cowboys' staff to be trying to find a happy medium between the first two starts for Cassel, opening up the passing game more while still working on protecting the ball."
Tom couldn't have put it any better, this is exactly what the case will be Sunday night. The Cowboys will have to find a way to move the ball without putting Cassel in bad positions. Finding a happy medium is exactly what will be needed. Also, it would help a lot if the Cowboys can generate a multiple takeaway performance, again. Hopefully, Cassel can do enough to get it done and the Cowboys defense can attack the Eagles offense with ferocity.