The Eagles have already faced the Giants and Redskins, and tonight we'll finally get to see them up against the Cowboys, who have rounded into a solid if not very good team. Under Rob Ryan, they've bolstered their defense despite maintaining most of the same on-field personnel. On offense, we're looking at a talented, balanced, and yes, dangerous group. Most of the faces are familiar, but worth reviewing to see what they've been up to lately.
Juan Castillo's defense will have its hands full tonight.
QB Tony Romo
The media lightning rod is well known for coming up short of high expectations, but when he's not throwing games away late in the fourth quarter, he can do plenty of damage with the weapons at his disposal. Most Eagles fans probably won't need too much of a primer on the man who's been under center for Dallas since 2006, so we'll just focus on what he's been up to lately. Importantly, Romo has been affected by a rib injury sustained in week 2 of the season. He has played in every game since, but has required pain-killing injections like the one he'll get sometime today. Rotoworld's Gregg Rosenthal reports that Romo's current tendency to shy away from contact has caused the the Cowboys' offense to be more conservative, which sounds good, but when you remember that Romo is somewhat mistake prone when he's being aggressive, there's less to be excited over.
The Dallas offense plowed through the Rams last week on the power of a newly found ground attack, and Romo threw just 24 passes, completing 14 of them for 166 yards and two scores. Against a Patriots team that struggles against the pass the week before, he threw the ball 41 times, and he had a productive/destructive day against the Lions the week before (34-47, 331 yards, 3 TD but 3 INT). In short, Romo has the weapons at his disposal to do some damage regardless of the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing defense, but he still carries the tendency to shoot himself in the foot. The Birds will try to be in his face, on his ribs, and looking for Tony Turnovers.
RB DeMarco Murray
Before last week, we'd have probably jumped right to the Cowboys receivers here. Murray hadn't yet broken Dallas' single-game rushing record, topping a performance by Emmitt Smith against the Eagles. The rookie out of Oklahoma gashed the dreadful St. Louis run defense for 253 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Felix Jones is still out, and Tashard Choice was released this week, so the 'Boys are eager to see what Murray will do with the full complement again. Their offense will likely be tailored to attacking the Eagles' deficiencies in run-stopping, which means a lot of Murray. Unfortunately, Romo's other weapons will make it hard for the Birds to sell out to stop the run, with Miles Austin and Dez Bryant lined up outside and Jason Witten ready to do his customary damage up the middle.
So far, Murray has been uninvolved with the passing game, and he was a non-factor prior to week 7. It remains to be seen how much of that was Murray versus the painfully bad Rams D. His stats were inflated (though not artificially) by two long gainers that amounted for a sizable chunk of his total towage, including a 91-yard TD on his first carry. They can't be discounted though, as he is a home-run threat, and anyway, his YPC was still good even if you take his two biggest runs off the board. This matchup with the Cowboys got a lot tougher when Felix Jones got hurt. But will Murray see as many touches against a better defense (albeit one still susceptible to the run)? Last week was the first time since 2008 that a Cowboys RB got 25 carries.
WR Dez Bryant
While he hasn't truly broken out in any game so far this season, Bryant is a physical threat and a huge day waiting to happen if he isn't snuffed out by stiff coverage. The Eagles off-season overhaul was aimed at stopping threats like the Cowboys' passing game, but so far, the results have been mixed. Bryant had his most complete game of the season last week against the Rams, hauling in five passes for 90 yards and a score, as well as garnering "praise" for finishing the game strong. He's had a tendency to start well, but fade and/or disappear in the second half. The Rams gameplanned to stop Dallas' receiving threats, which didn't entirely work, and it obviously gave way to Murray's huge day. It will be interesting to see how Jason Garrett rolls his WRs, as he likes to give different looks with where Bryant and Austin line up. The Birds are as well-equipped to handle that as anyone, or at least they are designed to be. We expect they'll try to get Nnamdi Asomugha on him as much as possible, but with Austin now healthy and the running game looking dangerous, it will be hard to show him any double coverage if needed.
Bryant will also likely be returning punts for the Cowboys tonight.
WR Miles Austin
Bothered by a hamstring injury that saw him sidelined for two weeks, Austin's had an up-and-down first seven weeks. He got off to a fast start, with 90 yards and a TD against the Jets (mostly coming after New York moved Darelle Revis away from him to shut down Bryant), then absolutely exploded against the 49ers for 143 yards and three scores in week 2. For some reason, the Cowboys tried to get a few late yards out of Austin on the ground too, and he came up in some pain. After missing two weeks and resting over the bye, Austin put up a respectable 74 yards on 7 catches in New England, putting to rest concerns over his hammy for the most part. But, in a juicy matchup against the Rams last week, he was the lone Dallas mouth left hungry, catching just two balls for 16 yards.
In two matchups against the Birds last year, Austin was limited to just two catches in each. In 2009, he hauled in one 49-yarder in the first game and 7 for 90 in the second. One of the two big Dallas wideouts will likely have a juicy stat night, but it's impossible to say which.
TE Jason Witten
It's also fairly likely Witten will rack up a few catches, if not a score or two. He's had success against the Birds in the past, and he's been feasting so far in 2011. He started the season with a pair of 100+ yard games and has found the end zone in each of his last three contests. He's seen more targets than either Bryant or Austin and is a consistent part of the offense for Tony Romo no matter how they choose to attack an opposing defense. The Birds often have trouble accounting for tight ends in the passing game, especially Witten, who caught 7 balls for 69 yards and 2 scores in their first matchup last season, then added a 4/46/1 line against the Philly backups in week 17.
He'll be involved tonight, possibly looking at 7+ catches and approaching 100 yards and a score (if the past is any indicator of the future). He has always enjoyed this matchup, and it's no stretch to assume he will again today.
Photo: Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE