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Cowboys @ Eagles: Five Things To Look For

Dallas heads to Philadelphia as five point underdogs and are without their big play-making receiver. Here are five things to keep an eye out on.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

What needs to happen for Dallas to come away with a victory in this early season divisional matchup? Here are five things to keep a close eye on when the Cowboys take on the Eagles.

1. Blocking Malcolm Jenkins

Philadelphia is committed to stopping the run and they'll use extra defenders to do it. Several times against the Falcons, the Eagles would have several players stacked in the box. You can point out a lot of things that didn't go right with the play of the Eagles defensive backs against Atlanta in week one, but Jenkins attacking the ball carrier isn't one of them. The Eagles sell out.

The Cowboys will need good blocking from players like Tyler Clutts and Gavin Escobar to make sure these extra run stoppers are picked up. Good blocking from the wide receivers is also important. A lot is made about what Dez Bryant brings to the offense as a receiver, but he is a great blocking WR and that contribution will also be missed. The Cowboys offensive line should do their part well, but the team must get good blocking from the other players on offense.

The Eagles are risk takers on defense. You have to commend them for the confidence they have with defenders handling their one-on-one matchups that allow them to press the line so much. It looks great when it works. But it can be troublesome for them when it doesn't.

Which leads me to...

2. Gotta Beat Them Deep

It may have stupefied you as to why Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis would allow his cornerbacks to take on Dez Bryant one-on-one the last time these teams faced off. It was a horrible idea. Dez abused them. So if he was willing to take that chance like that with Dez, you know he's really going to trust them to handle the Cowboys other receivers. This puts a lot of pressure on these other guys to step up. Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley are good in the roles they play in this offense. Deviating from what they do well wouldn't make a lot of sense. For that reason, the Cowboys may choose to utilize Devin Street for some of the things Dez does. He won't get the targets, especially in the red zone, but the play or two he does make could loom large. Street did well in the preseason when he was the featured wide-out and with Romo throwing him the ball, he could surprise some people.

But for the Cowboys to really take advantage of the Eagles risk taking, they must capitalize on the big play opportunities. If the offensive line gives Romo a lot of time, he must deliver on some downfield throws against single coverage. There are three ways the Cowboys can get splash plays in the passing game.

  1. Terrance Williams beats his man deep.
  2. Cole Beasley uses his quick cutting ability to blaze past his sole defender.
  3. Dump off passes to Lance Dunbar that gets him in open space.

All these things can lead to big plays for the Cowboys offense. They must exploit them. If you let the Eagles defense be the aggressor and get after the run by using more defenders, then you must make them pay for doing such. A patient, more conservative offense similar to what they Cowboys showed against the Giants for three quarters - just won't cut it. Dallas has enough talent to spread the field, but they need to be the ones who are the aggressors.

3. The Reaction of the Back Seven

The Eagles offense uses the field very well. If the Cowboys defense lays off like they did against the Giants to protect against the big play, Sam Bradford will nickel and dime them to death. It doesn't matter how good your pass rush is if the QB is getting the ball out quickly. The Eagles offense is really good about putting the back seven to a decision. The Eagles like to run Jordan Matthews and Zack Ertz underneath, but they also like to shoot their running backs horizontally. This puts a lot of pressure on the Cowboys back seven to react swiftly. The Cowboys don't want the Eagles to complete eight yard pass plays over the middle to set up convertible second and third downs. But at the same time you don't want to leave Darren Sproles hanging out around the sideline with open space. Reacting and tackling is going to be critical.

4. The Ball, the Ball, the Ball

It's a foregone conclusion that teams need to limit turnovers if they want to have a good chance to win. The Cowboys had a minus three turnover differential to open the season last week. Not only do they need to protect the ball and not turn it over, but they will need to create turnovers as well. The Cowboys have the physical play to smash the ball carriers and they were close to creating a couple turnovers against the Giants. DeMarco Murray is well aware that the Cowboys will be looking to get him to put the ball on the ground and it wouldn't be surprising if J.J. Wilcox got a little overzealous in clocking his former teammate.

But the bigger part of the takeaway game may come in the form of interceptions. Both quarterbacks will be pressured. Tony Romo did a great job (for teh most part) of not making any careless throws last Sunday, but he'll be tested a little more with the Eagles pass rush. He is going to have to keep his composure and not make any errant passes. On the other side of the ball, Sam Bradford is a little more vulnerable to making bad passes. He will make sharp throws and pick you apart at times, but if you can get to him he will throw into coverage. Bradford just believes he can get the ball where it needs to be. During those times he doesn't, the Cowboys defensive backs must come away with the pick. If you squander a chance to take the ball away from the Eagles offense, they'll punish you for it. The Cowboys can't let these opportunities slip through their hands.

5. The Other Running Back

While all eyes will be on DeMarco Murray to see if he can make the Cowboys pay for not paying him, there is another runner that will also have something to prove. If Joseph Randle could out rush Murray and lead his team to victory, just think of the things he would want to say to the media after the game. You can count on some sort of carnivorous reference to his "meat on the bone" comment he made earlier. And Jason Garrett would have to do damage control on Monday. Let's hope that's a problem he has to deal with.

Randle has a good opportunity in this game to breakout. There will runs where he'll get his legs taken out from him in the backfield. But there will also be runs where he gets to the second level, and when that happens...look out. If Randle finds a seam he could get his first big run as the featured back in Dallas. Such jubilation will fall upon Cowboys Nation when that happens. Will it happen this Sunday against the Eagles? Maybe. Maybe not. All I know is that DeMarco and Joseph should both find themselves in space at some point during the night and one of them is easier to chase down than the other.

Those are my five things I will be watching closely. What things will you be looking out for?


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