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By now, the dramatic stakes to this match-up are almost universally known. The Cowboys went into this game controlling their own destiny, while the Eagles have managed to surprisingly remain in the hunt, despite initially appearing to be the disappointment of the year. The last meeting between these two teams resulted in the Eagles enjoying a one-sided 34-7 win at home, which only adds fuel to the fire for Saturday’s game in Arlington.
Ever since that week eight game in Philadelphia, the Eagles have remained somewhat inconsistent, but established themselves as a dangerous team after last week’s blowout victory over the Jets. This will prove to make things rather difficult for the Cowboys team, who still has a bad taste in their mouth after the disappointing losses at the last second to the Cardinals and the Giants. In the event of a Giants loss to the Jets, a win this week would not only guarantee a playoff spot for the Cowboys, but also provide them with much needed momentum.
Although the Eagles made a strong statement last week with a dominant win over the Jets, there is still reason to question their defense. This comes off as a bit ironic considering the main off-season acquisitions that dubbed the Eagles a “Dream Team” were the defensive acquisitions of Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, and Jason Babin. In spite of these acquisitions, the Eagles have consistently struggled against the run due to the poor LB play as well as Juan Castillo’s poor usage of the Wide 9.
In the passing game, Nnamdi Asomugha has proven to be less effective playing zone as opposed to when he was able to shut down opposing receivers in man-to-man with Oakland. Even so, Asomugha has not had a bad season, by any means, contrary to what many have claimed. He and Asante Samuel are arguably the best CB duo in the league, but most of the liabilities on the back end have belonged to the safeties. Whether Kurt Coleman has played alongside Jerrod Page or Nate Allen, neither combination has managed to be an effective security blanket for the Eagles.
Luckily, Jason Garrett’s Coryell offense is one that relies on combining a power running game with a deep passing attack. The idea, of course, is to stretch the defense vertically with the running game, effectively opening up deep passing lanes. Based on how the Eagles defense has been described earlier, this type of offense is one that can induce the biggest mismatch for them. Their poor run defense should allow the Cowboys to vertically stretch the safeties, while the poor safety play should be the perfect catalyst for the Cowboys to expose the defense with the deep ball. A key match-up to watch for during this game will, therefore, be Miles Austin versus Asomugha/Samuel. If Austin can use his deep speed to his advantage, it will be very hard for the Eagles to defend the Cowboys’ vertical passing attack.
Of course, this is all dependent on which version of Felix Jones decides to show up, as well as whether or not Doug Free and Tyron Smith are able to stop Trent Cole and Jason Babin, respectively. Both match-ups will prove to be huge x-factors in the outcome of the game. Jason Babin currently leads the league in sacks with 18, while Tyron Smith is a highly regarded prospect who, despite being disappointing at the start of the season, has proven to be a huge rookie sensation. Watching him try to block Jason Babin will be interesting, considering Babin got the best of him in week eight.
While Jason Babin on Tyron Smith may be the more interesting match-up, Trent Cole on Doug Free will likely be more crucial. Doug Free is having an off year after playing so well last season and has especially struggled the past two weeks against Jason Pierre-Paul and Adrian Clayborn. If this pattern of struggling heavily against good pass rushers continues, Trent Cole is going to have a field day. This will prove to be a critical component to the outcome of the game, since Romo will not be able to expose the highly suspect safety play of the Eagles if he is not given enough time to let the vertical routes develop.
On the opposite side of the ball, a very good match-up will be DeMarcus Ware on Eagles Left Tackle Jason Peters. Assuming that DeMarcus Ware plays through his minor injury suffered a couple weeks ago against the Giants (he is listed as questionable), this match up will display the premier pass rusher in the NFL against someone who has played like a candidate for the premier offensive tackle in the NFL since joining the Eagles. When these two went head-to-head in week eight, Ware was able to pick up four sacks against Peters. However, these numbers are a bit misleading considering most of the sacks were of the coverage variety.
D-Ware has to be able to put Michael Vick under pressure consistently in order for the Dallas defense to even stand a chance against the Philadelphia offense. It is doubtful that the Cowboys will be able to contain LeSean McCoy, and the Eagles’ receivers will likely wreak havoc on a very shoddy Cowboys secondary. As such, DeMarcus Ware’s performance is, in fact, crucial towards the Cowboys’ success in this game. Taking into account all other aspects of the game, however, it appears as if things are a lot more certain for the Eagles. Simply put, it is much safer to say that Trent Cole will be able to get pressure against Doug Free than it is to say that Ware will be equally good against Peters. In addition to that, one can feel a lot more confident in LeSean McCoy being able to run on the Cowboys, than the inconsistent Felix Jones being able to run on the Eagles. With these factors in mind the Eagles may have a slight edge over the Cowboys going into this game despite the home field advantage favoring the Cowboys.