Eagles Opposition Report: Dallas Cowboys Offense

Eagles Opposition Report: Dallas Cowboys Offense

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

Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Catcher Jorge Alfaro is making his second straight start after Saturday's 10-8 win.

Alfaro, the Phillies' top catching prospect, has gone 0 for 11 with a walk in his three career starts, all coming in the last two weeks since he was called up. Alfaro was acquired in the Cole Hamels trade last July and is 1 for 13 with a walk in five games. 

The 23-year-old will catch Jake Thompson in a game that means a lot more to the Mets (1:10/CSN).

Giving Alfaro playing time allows Phillies fans the chance to get a glimpse of the future. Roman Quinn has received plentiful playing time after was called up in the mid-September and Alfaro, like Quinn, is trying to leave an impression on the Phillies' brass before spring training.

Quinn is not in the lineup on Sunday as Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche man the corner outfield spots. Freddy Galvis moved up to second in the lineup after staying in the bottom half of the lineup in recent games.

Ryan Howard will bat fifth, playing likely his final game at Citi Field with the Phillies. While he has batted just .203 in 52 career games at Citi Field, he alos has 11 home runs there after smashing 12 homers at Shea Stadium, the Mets' previous stadium.

Here's the full lineup that will oppose Robert Gsellman and the Mets.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. Aaron Altherr, RF
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Jake Thompson, P

For more on today's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes

Phillies-Mets 5 things: All the pressure on Mets, Gsellman

Phillies-Mets 5 things: All the pressure on Mets, Gsellman

Phillies (70-85) at Mets (82-73)
1:10 p.m. on CSN

After two rough losses for the Phillies and their pitching staff, the offense picked them up and came through with a 10-8 win. 22-year-old Jake Thompson takes the hill this afternoon while Robert Gsellman starts a crucial game for the Mets.

Here are five things to watch on Sunday.

1. All the pressure on New York, Gsellman
The Mets remain 0.5 games up on the final National League playoff spot. 

While their pitching staff was falling apart at the seams going into (and during) this series, the one saving grace for New York was its soft schedule, facing the Phillies seven times in its last 10. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals have to deal with the MLB best Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants end the year vs. the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.

However, a loss on Saturday (thanks in part to Noah Syndergaard getting scratched with strep throat) puts the Mets in a precarious position. They're tied in the loss column with the Cards and Giants while fighting for one of two playoff spots and their rotation most closely resembles their Triple A team from Opening Day. 

Gsellman is one of those pitchers who started the year never having tasted the major leagues. In fact, he started the year in Double A. His first career start came at Citi Field last month against the Phillies and resulted in his first career loss after he allowed four runs in six innings. 

He's been better since that start, carrying a 3.13 ERA into Sunday. The 23-year-old righty will likely start vs. the Phillies again next weekend, meaning the Mets' season rides in part on a rookie with just 31 2/3 innings in the majors. 

2. Young man on a roll
While Gsellman lost his last start, Thompson has won his last two starts. The young righty is on a hot streak as his season nears an end.

Thompson's ERA has goe down in each of his last five starts, a stat made less impressive by the fact that he began that run with a 9.78 ERA. He has gone at least five innings in his last eight starts and has shown glimpses of why he was such a valued prospects.

In September, Thompson is 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA over four starts. He's still allowed 33 baserunners in 23 1/3 innings during that span, but it's been much better than his lackluster August.

While Thompson is in line to start next weekend against the Mets as well, today could be his final start of the season. He has already set a career-high in innings and the Phillies may not want to extend him one more start.

3. What to look for in the season's final week
Including Sunday, the Phillies have just seven games left in their season. They're eliminated from playoff contention, but there's still plenty to watch as the Phils take on Braves and Mets.

Ryan Howard's final fairwell: With his five-year, $125 million deal coming to a close this year, Howard is almost certainly playing his final games in Philadelphia next week. He'll get plenty of starts and may even face the Mets' Bartolo Colon, who he's smacked three home runs off of in his career.

Playing spoiler: As mentioned above, the Mets have everything on the line both today and next weekend in Philadelphia. There are few better ways to end a postseason-less season than knocking a rival out of playoff contention.

More looks at the kids: Roman Quinn's emergence over the last two weeks has been fun to watch and Jorge Alfaro may get more chances in the last seven games. Beyond them, Thompson, Tommy Joseph and others close out a nice first season. 

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Maikel Franco has looked more like his 2015 self over the last few weeks. He's batting .310 in September with three home runs, matching his August total. His 15 RBI this month are his most in a month other than July. 

Mets: Asdrubal Cabrera has been on fire this month as well. After battting .405 in August, he's batting .333 and has five home runs, including the walk-off homer on Thursday. He's slugging .628 this month after putting up a .786 slugging percentage in August. 

5. This and that
• In Gsellman's August start vs. the Phillies, he only allowed one run while he was in the game. However, he left the bases loaded in the 7th with no outs before A.J. Ellis knocked in the decisive two-run double to give the Phils a lead they would not relinquish.

• Six different Phillies batters had hits off Gsellman, including Jimmy Paredes who went 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI. 

• Despite pitching injuries, the Mets have the eighth-best team ERA in September with a 3.64 average. The Phillies are 15th in baseball with a 4.10 ERA this month.

• The Phillies are 6-9 against the Mets this year. They're already ensured of a better finish than last year's 5-14 mark vs. New York.

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