By Shawn S. Lealos
The Dallas Cowboys opened the season 2-0 after beating the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. While that gave the Cowboys an advantage in the division, they lost Tony Romo and then dropped their next five games. Up next is a big rematch with the Eagles, who have passed the Cowboys in the right NFC East race and know that a win will erase any advantage the Cowboys once held. Here is a look at the Eagles heading into this big NFC East game.
As it has been for the last five seasons, the NFC East is a tight race. Last season, things were looking up with the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles playing well, but over the past few years, the NFC East has been about who survived, and normally double-digit wins is an anomaly. This season looks to be no different. After their loss on Sunday, the New York Giants lead the division with a .500 record, at 4-4. The Washington Redskins sit tied with the Eagles at 3-4 and the Cowboys sit in last at 2-5. A win on Sunday night against the Eagles could put the Cowboys back within striking distance. A win by the Eagles could propel them into the lead, depending on the outcome of the Giants game.
Philadelphia Eagles on Offense
The Philadelphia Eagles retooled their offense in the offseason, bringing in Sam Bradford to be their new starting quarterback, DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews to be the new running backs, and letting Jeremy Maclin leave without replacing him at wide receiver. Bradford has struggled at quarterback, with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions, as well as a low 76.4 quarterback rating. While Bradford has thrown six interceptions in the last three games, he was able to lead the Eagles to wins in two of them and the Eagles have hopes that he can turn things around.
While Sam Bradford has been disappointing, DeMarco Murray was the biggest disappointment this season for the Eagles. They signed him away from Dallas one year after Murray led the NFL in rushing. For his part, Murray has rushed for 307 total yards in seven games, with his 3.5 yards per carry over a yard lower than his 2014 totals. Murray does have 132 more yards through the air and has scored four touchdowns, but this is not the production that the Eagles were looking for. On the other hand, oft-injured running back Ryan Mathews has run for 342 yards with a 6.1 ypc average and three touchdowns.
Last year’s super rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews is leading the team once again in receiving with 39 receptions for 398 yards and one touchdown. The problems with the Eagles offense is that their next best receiver is tight end Zack Ertz, with 24 catches for 270 yards, and no other wide receiver has over 13 total receptions in seven games. The Eagles live on the run and short passing game, and that is going to make winning tough games hard.
Philadelphia Eagles on Defense
With the Eagles offense not doing much to win games, it is their opportunistic defense that is making waves. Over the first seven games of the season, the Eagles have 11 interceptions. Walter Thurmond III leads the team with three while Nolan Carroll II has two picks. Malcolm Jenkins leads the team with tackles, with 36 solo and seven assisted, and has dropped runners behind the line of scrimmage seven times while forcing three fumbles on the season.
The Eagles are tied for fifth in the NFL when it comes to turnover differential, but that is a slight to the offensive plights, because they rank first in the league in takeaways with 19. Compare that to the four that the Dallas Cowboys have notched this season, and the clear advantage in this key area goes to the Eagles. As long as they can limit Sam Bradford’s mistakes on offense, the Eagles should win the turnover battle and that will give them an advantage in the game.
Philadelphia Eagles’ Players to Watch
DeMarco Murray – Just like in the first game between the Eagles and Cowboys, DeMarco Murray is the player to watch in this game for the Eagles. Last year, he helped Dallas make it to the playoffs and neither Murray nor the Cowboys have played up to expectations since going their separate ways. In the first game against Dallas, Murray ran for two yards on 13 carries and added 53 yards on five receptions. However, he has really started to show life the last two games, with 205 rushing yards, 51 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He is heating up just in time to meet Dallas once again.
Walter Thurmond III – The key to beating the Dallas Cowboys is by shutting down the run and forcing Matt Cassel to win through the air. If the Eagles are able to slow down Darren McFadden, they then have some great defensive playmakers to make Cassel’s life miserable. Philadelphia has 11 interceptions this season and Thurmond leads the way with three. He also ranks fifth in tackles with 23, four for a loss, and has defensed four passes as well.
The Dallas Cowboys won the first game against the Philadelphia Eagles, 20-10, to jump out to a 2-0 start in the 2015 NFL season. However, it was an ugly game that was marred by turnovers and featured the injury to Tony Romo, who broke his collarbone in the game. This time around, Dallas doesn’t have Romo, and the Eagles are starting to improve offensively. With their opportunistic defense and the propensity for errors by Matt Cassel, this is a game that the Eagles should win.
Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. Examiner.com.