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

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

In the eighth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 8 is Mathews to Means.

Ryan Mathews
Cap hit: $5M

Roob: The Eagles have to get better, younger, faster, healthier, more durable and more reliable at running back. I love the way Mathews runs when he’s healthy. The guy runs hard and he runs physical and he runs aggressive. Then he always gets hurt. Mathews actually has the third-highest per-carry average among running backs in Eagles history, but they just can’t rely on him anymore. How can you count on a running back who misses significant time every year? Time to move on. Factor in the cap savings — $4 million if the Eagles release him — and it’s a no-brainer.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $4 million in cap room to cut the running back who needed serious neck surgery after his season was ended in the Giants game. Mathews played pretty well in his two seasons with the Eagles, but, as has been the case during his career, health was an issue. And now he’s 29 and will turn 30 early into next season. Time to move on. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Matthews
Cap hit: $1.57M

Roob: Matthews is going into Year 4 and I’d still like to see him make a jump and become a 1,200-yard type of receiver. Maybe it will happen with another year under his belt with Carson Wentz. Matthews has the 11th-most catches in NFL history by a player in his first three seasons — 225, or 75 per year — but his 2,673 yards are 50th most. Matthews is as hard a worker and as committed a player as you’ll see. He'll get the most out of his ability. I’d just like to see him take his game up one more level, and I think he will.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s a shame the Eagles don’t have any legitimate threats at their outside receiver positions, because if they did, so much of the burden wouldn’t fall on Matthews. No, he’s not a great receiver, but he’s a very good one who has been solid in his first three years in the league. In his first three seasons, Matthews has 225 catches for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns. There have been just 10 receivers in the league to put up those numbers or better: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Doug Baldwin, Mike Evans, Randall Cobb and Brandon Marshall. Matthews isn’t going anywhere and it’s time to think about an extension. 

Verdict: STAYS

Alex McCalister
Cap hit: $557K

Roob: McCalister, a seventh-round defensive end, spent the year on injured reserve but considering the Eagles’ lack of pass-rush potency, he’ll definitely get a look this summer. McCalister had 17½ sacks at Florida, so he’s got that going for him. Still a long shot.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: This is tough because McCalister was a seventh-round draft pick who was placed on IR with a injury that didn’t appear to be serious. The last year was a redshirt season for the defensive end who has some pass-rush ability but needed to work on packing more muscle onto his frame. Haven’t seen enough to think he sticks. 

Verdict: GOES

Leodis McKelvin
Cap hit: $3.45M

Roob: The Eagles have to do better than McKelvin. He made a few plays, gave up a lot more, and as far as I’m concerned, the Eagles should hang onto Jalen Mills and get rid of all their other corners. Not to mention the $3.2 million in cap savings the Eagles would gain if McKelvin is released. See ya.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $3.2 million by cutting McKelvin, which will probably happen. If it doesn’t, it’ll be because the Eagles think his lingering hamstring issue played a big role in his play and because defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz goes to bat for him. Ultimately, I think McKelvin’s days in Philly are over. 

Verdict: GOES

Rodney McLeod
Cap hit: $5.6M

Roob: McLeod played really well most of the season, tailed off the last few weeks, and goes into next year a question mark because of that inconsistency. When he’s right, McLeod is a sure tackler, willing run supporter, big hitter and capable in coverage. But those last few weeks raised some eyebrows. There were times you just wondered what he was doing out there. If the Eagles can have the first-10-games McLeod for a full season, they’re fine. But he has to be consistent. He’ll be here through 2017 but after that is anybody’s guess. Another mixed year will likely spell the end here for McLeod.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: There were a few plays that showed questionable effort from McLeod this season, which was shocking based on his past. He was an undrafted rookie who worked his way into the league and into a contract with the Eagles. This ended up being a pretty good signing; he had a nice season. He’s under contract through 2020 and the Eagles hope he hasn’t yet fulfilled his potential. He and Malcolm Jenkins should only get better after more time playing together. 

Verdict: STAYS

Steven Means
Cap hit: $690K

Roob: Means, a veteran journeyman defensive end, played only 36 snaps all year. He did pick up one sack against the Vikings, but as far as his future? Most likely, he won’t be back.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Means did everything in his power last training camp to make the 2016 roster. He flashed every day and in the preseason games. But in 2016, he didn’t get to play very much and was clearly buried on the depth chart behind Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith. The Eagles need to upgrade at the defensive end spot, which might be bad news for Means if more bodies come in. But for now, he's a good depth piece. 

Verdict: STAYS

Temple names Keith Gaither wide receivers coach

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USA Today inage

Temple names Keith Gaither wide receivers coach

Temple head coach Geoff Collins on Monday added two new members to his coaching staff.

Keith Gaither will take over as the wide receivers’ coach and Kyle Lane is the new video coordinator. 

Gaither comes to Temple with 21 years of coaching experience. He spent last season as Army's wide receivers coach. Prior to that, he spent time with Tusculum College (1998-99), Thomasville City Schools (2000-04), Winston-Salem State (2005-08), Elon (2009-10) and Ball State (2010-14).

Gaither spent his collegiate career at Elon, where he was a four-year starter and voted all-region at defensive end before graduating in 1997. Collins originally had retained Frisman Jackson from the 2016 staff, but Jackson was hired by the Tennessee Titans. 

Lane is a Temple alum who spent time with Kansas during the 2016 season as its assistant video coordinator.