It's only week two of this early NFL season and already the blood is pumping for the big divisional rival game with the Philadelphia Eagles. When the Cowboys venture into Missing Linc Stadium on Sunday, they will be looking to jump out to a quick two game lead. In a division most see as a two-team race, a start like this could be huge for the Cowboys as they seek out back-to-back divisional titles.
But beating this Eagles team will not be easy. After all, they are coached by the already legendary Chip Kelly and feature a slew of great collegiate players. With so many hypothetically great things stacked up against them, how will the Cowboys pull off such a feat? Well, here are a few things that will be instrumental in returning to AT & T Stadium undefeated.
ON OFFENSE - Tony Romo, the professor
We all witnessed two flawless drives to that gave Dallas 14 points in the last eight minutes of the game, with the second one opening the floodgates of pandemonium...at least in my living room. Romo was quick, decisive, and on target. You could count on Jason Pierre-Paul's hand how many passes Tony had that were off-target. Granted, one of those passes was deflected by Jason Witten that turned into a costly interception. But for the most part, Romo was slinging it well.
But it wasn't just his accuracy that was impressive. It was also his decision making. Time and time again, Romo would use every single second of the play clock to decipher the defense. He would change the play, direct his teammates, and sniff out the matchups that would give the offense the best chances.
Here is one of the few bubble screens the Cowboys executed on Sunday Night. With that type of soft coverage, this is a high percentage play. Dez Bryant takes out his defender and Lance Dunbar easily gets the yards need for a first down.
Romo will have to find a way to sustain this good play against the dice-rolling defense of Philadelphia. The Eagles do a good job of bringing pressure and really mix up their coverage personnel. Romo showed that he can spread it around to find the open receiver. Eight different Cowboys' players caught a pass, with six of them having more than 40 yards receiving, yet not a single one of them caught a pass greater than 25 yards. Romo couldn't get anything deep so he kept milking the Giants secondary. Philadelphia will take more chances and there will be opportunities to cash in a big passing play. It will be up to Tony Romo to make it happen.
It's way too early to bring this up, but if Tony Romo keeps the Cowboys rolling and is once again in the running for MVP consideration at the end of the season - it will be these games without Dez (and DeMarco) that will carry a lot of weight in pleading his case.
ON DEFENSE - Contain the outside
The biggest difference between the quality of the offensive line of the Cowboys and the Eagles is what is in the middle. The Cowboys have two Pro Bowlers in the middle with Zack Martin and Travis Frederick. The Eagles, on the other hand have a couple of weak links. It was only one game, but the Atlanta Falcons embarrassed the Eagles guards. Left guard Allen Barbre was being shoved in the backfield regularly. If he wasn't being pushed around, it was probably because he missed his assignment all together, allowing the defender a clear path to the running back. And right guard, Andrew Gardner didn't fare much better. If the Eagles did have a nice run, chances are one of these guys was holding. They both got flagged for playing a little grabby-grab.
DeMarco Murray deserves better than this.
Chip Kelly seemed to recognize the interior struggles because everything started going to the outside. In fact, in the Eagles final two drives - DeMarco Murray didn't touch the ball. The Eagles had to rely on out running defenders, which meant a big dose of Darren Sproles. The Cowboys are going to have to keep a close eye on that wascally fella or else he could run off a huge gain. It's kind of odd that DeMarco Murray was such a big factor for the Cowboys and now that the $40 million RB is in Philadelphia, the bigger concern...is Darren Sproles.
But it won't just be Sproles. The Eagles will use all kinds of short passes to get their players room to run. All three of their running backs will get plenty of screens. The Cowboys back seven did a great job of tackling against the Giants, but it will be even more crucial against the Eagles. A missed tackle against New York could mean a first down. A missed tackle against Philadelphia could mean a touchdown. Josh Huff made a big play against Dallas last season and he's the type of player that can flip the field in an instant.
Without meaning to insult either one of them, Sam Bradford is very Eli Manning-ish. He can make some real nice throws, but add some pressure and he turns into Brucie from the "Longest Yard" and that is not good for the Eagles. To avoid those type of situations, Bradford will be looking to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
The Cowboys have the defense to match the Eagles high-tempo offense. With so much speed on the Eagles, the Cowboys could counter with more dime packages. Sean Lee and six defensive backs - that could be the look the Cowboys employ to chase down the runners. The Eagles will not over power anyone with their running attack. Tyrone Crawford and Nick Hayden are going to seem like they've gotten stronger when they face off against the Eagles interior line. The Cowboys real task will be chasing. Chasing their old friend DeMarco. Chasing Sproles. And chasing Huff. The Cowboys are going to want to have the legs out there to be up to the task.
This is going to be a good game. It's going to come down to limiting turnovers and making good tackles. The Cowboys are coming off a three-turnover game so it would be surprising if they didn't clean that up. So the real test will be the ability to bring down the Eagles ball carriers. If the defense can play like they did on Sunday night, they will be up for the task.