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

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.