The Dallas Cowboys have a crucial game with the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend, where the losing team will suffer a huge setback in staying in the playoff race. The Cowboys are going to need to do a lot of things right and here are three keys to coming away with a win Sunday night.
1. You got to run north and south to win the east
The running game is going to be very important to both teams as it is essential for both offenses to not have to lean too heavily on their quarterback to make plays. Fortunately for both teams, the running game has started to take off for them recently. Over the last three weeks the Eagles have rushed for 521 yards, where their running back duo are taking turns doing the damage. During this span, DeMarco Murray has gained 260 yards and Ryan Matthews, 210 yards.
The Cowboys are starting to get their ground game going too as they have rushed for 482 yards over the last three games. Darren McFadden is now the team's lead back after the release of Joseph Randle, so he'll get his chances to pluck as much meat off the bone as he can. With the change out of La'el Collins at left guard, the offensive line has slowly started to re-establish some dominance.
But for these teams to have success on the ground, they are going to have to pound it in the middle. The shot-gun runs from Murray is just hideous. The Eagles found zero success against Dallas the last time they attempted this, and it's not going to get any easier as Greg Hardy will man the edge and Rolando McClain will be out there chasing him down. For Philadelphia to have success, they must run between the tackles. The Cowboys will need to stay strong in the interior to force the Eagles to get fancy and run outside.
And it's no different for Dallas. The Eagles defense has a pretty good run stopping group themselves. The Cowboys will need to get better play from their tight ends so they can secure the edges. The Cowboys were stopped three times last week from a Seattle Seahawks defender slipping inside and getting to the running back before they could even hit the line. James Hanna fell victim twice, and Jason Witten another time. The Cowboys have to be committed to the power running game and keep Cassel in manageable third downs.
2. Be opportunistic when the offense tries to give you the ball
Sam Bradford has thrown 10 interceptions so far this season, which is good for fourth worse in the league. Strangely, the only guys who have thrown more picks this year are also former first overall picks (Andrew Luck, Matt Stafford, and Peyton Manning). Bradford thinks he can thread the needle, but he cannot. Not only does he attempt to throw in tight coverage, but he also can't seem to put the ball where it needs to be. Bradford is going to give the Cowboys chances to take the ball away, but the defense has to follow through and pull them down. The Eagles have turned the ball over 15 times this year, which ranks them 29th in the league (per game average). The Cowboys have struggled all season creating turnovers, but the Eagles sloppy offense could be a sight for sore eyes for Dallas as the defense took the ball away from them three times in week two.
The Cowboys have had their careless moments as well as they rank 23rd in average giveaways per game, with a total of 12 turnovers. While they have a slight advantage in taking care of the ball, the Eagles defense is very good at taking the ball away. The Eagles lead the league with 2.7 takeaways per game, with a total of 19. Last week, Matt Cassel followed a three-pick game by pulling back the reigns quite a bit. This week he should be more inclined to take some chances as the Eagle's secondary isn't anything like Seattle's. Cassel will need to be sharp and the Cowboys will need to keep the ball secured because Philadelphia's defense can make them pay the price.
3. Cassel must have his reading glasses on
While the playmakers on defense lie on the front seven, it could be the play of the secondary that dictates the winner. The Cowboys will need to tighten up their coverage and not allow the Eagles offense to get any big catch and run opportunities. Bradford doesn't need a pass rush for him to hurry his throws so the Cowboys should be able to be disruptive with four guys rushing the quarterback. Instead, more resources in the secondary should be used to crowd the receivers.
Byron Jones will be making his second straight start at safety and he is progressing really well. While Jones has demonstrated the athleticism to hold down a corner spot, he is very astute with his reads and has more value at his new position. If Bradford puts too much air under his throws, Jones could have an opportunity to get his first career interception.
On offense, Cassel is going to have to find the seams. The Eagles defensive is going to come at you, but their secondary can be exploited. Cassel will have to trust his protection and let the route develop. If he has the patience and can make the correct read, the offense will be able to make a big play.
Even with a tough Seattle secondary, the opportunities were there. Here are a few of Cassel's missed opportunities last Sunday.
Before the first Dan Bailey field goal, Cassel missed a big chance. On third down, he chose to throw to Jason Witten underneath and the Cowboys offense came up a yard short. He missed Cole Beasley for a wide open touchdown.
And if he waits a split second longer, he would have had Dez Bryant for a wide open touchdown.
Here is another play where Cassel dumped it off to McFadden instead of hitting Gavin Escobar who was wide open over the middle.
And even though Cassel scrambled to his right to get the first down, how does he not see Dez wide open on this play?
Cassel is capable of seeing the field. He's just got to have confidence in his ability to make the play. On the last drive, Cassel saw Witten and was looking his way, but Cliff Avril bull rushed Doug Free and was able to disrupt the throw. If the protection was there on that play, this could have resulted in a big gain with Dan Bailey setting up for a game winning field goal attempt. And just like that, Cassel would have been the hero.