By Matthew Postins
Opponent preview: Philadelphia Eagles
The Dallas Cowboys (5-6) will face the Philadelphia Eagles (3-8) this Sunday. Here’s a look at the Eagles entering the contest.
On Offense: Since the Cowboys last left the Eagles in Philadelphia, things may have actually gotten worse. Quarterback Michael Vick hasn’t played due to a concussion he suffered against the Cowboys. He hasn’t practiced so far this week, which means it’s likely the Cowboys will see rookie Nick Foles against on Sunday night. Foles, as one might expect, has struggled since he took over as the starter. He’s gone 0-2 and has a passer rating of 65.3. His passing yards have actually decreased since he threw for 219 yards in a half against the Cowboys and he hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since facing the Cowboys. One thing he doesn’t do is run the ball, so the Cowboys can take a more conventional approach when it comes to defending the quarterback. Running back LeSean McCoy is not practicing due to a concussion and probably won’t play. Another rookie, Bryce Brown, started for McCoy last week and torched the Carolina Panthers for 178 yards and two touchdowns in a loss. Brown is a different type of back. He has 15 pounds on McCoy and invites contact, so he’ll be a threat between the tackles and will be difficult to bring down. It’s still a bit unclear how they Eagles will use him in the pass game, as he caught four passes against the Panthers but caught just one pass before last week. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson is out for the season due to a rib injury. They still have wide receivers Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and Riley Cooper, but losing Jackson means the Eagles have lost their key deep threat. The offensive line is still a mess, but they may have two opening-day starters in the lineup this weekend, which would be a step up from the one opening-day starter that played against the Cowboys a few weeks ago.
On Defense: The Eagles made news earlier this week by releasing their Pro Bowl pass rusher, Jason Babin, in a move that many speculate was about whether Babin was still giving 100 percent to the team as the season slipped into nothing. Babin told ESPN Radio that head coach Andy Reid told him that he wanted to give rookie Vinny Curry a chance to get more playing time and give Babin a chance to latch onto a new team. Jacksonville claimed Babin on waivers. Not exactly a step up for Babin. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is nursing an injured tailbone and may not play. If the rookie can’t go then another rookie, Cedric Thornton, would start in his place. The defensive unit hasn’t gotten appreciably better since the Cowboys last met the Eagles, even with new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. The departure of Babin means the Cowboys have less usable tape of the Eagles’ pass rush and that could create some surprises. The Eagles will lean on middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans to make things happen against the run game. If the Cowboys are without DeMarco Murray and turn to throwing the football as they did against Washington, then it’s up to an underachieving group of defensive backs, including Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha, to try and slow down Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. That may end up being the matchup of this game.
On Special Teams: This has actually been the steadiest part of the team, with kicker Alex Henery, punter Mat McBriar and return specialist Brandon Boykin manning their posts all season. McBriar, as most Cowboys fans know, can be a great field position weapon. The Cowboys held Boykin in check in their first meeting.
Overall: Reid is coaching for his job, though some believe his fate is already sealed as the Eagles are trying to avoid their worst losing streak since 1968. Brown has given the Eagles’ offense a little bit of a boost and it should be interesting to see how they use him after his big performance against the Panthers. The Cowboys are banged up in the middle of the defensive line, but if Jay Ratliff is, as expected, able to man the nose, that should make things more difficult for the Eagles’ run game. The Eagles insist that Reid hasn’t lost them. But there’s such a dearth of talent on the offensive line and the defensive line due to injuries that Philadelphia has its work cut out for it on Sunday.