It's Dallas Night: The Two Keys to the Eagles Winning the Game

It's Dallas Night: The Two Keys to the Eagles Winning the Game

When the Eagles are on defense...

What happens when a stoppable force meets a movable object? DeMarco Murray's breakthrough aside, the Cowboys are still facing legitimate questions with regard to their running game. Similarly, the Eagles limited Redskins running backs to just 28 yards on the ground two weeks ago, but that hasn't convinced anybody Juan Castillo suddenly figured it out. So what's it going to be?

Probably a little bit of column A, little bit of column B. With all due deference to Murray, who looks like a legitimate talent, the Dallas interior is a weakness. It's the type of problem that doesn't often correct itself overnight, or with a simple change at running back. That said, stopping the Redskins -- who basically imploded -- doesn't necessarily mean the Eagles have righted the ship either, and they won't be able to over-commit with so many talented receivers on the field.

The Eagles will probably look strong at the point of attack for stretches, but there will inevitably be a handful of plays where Murray gets loose in the secondary. When that happens, the key will be holding him to nine yards, not 90.

When the Eagles are on offense...

As was mentioned a few weeks back, the bigger concern for the Eagles arguably has been the performance on offense, particularly their ability to finish drives with six. They may be racking up yards at a historic pace, but it's only translated into 24.2 points per game -- and they haven't actually scored more than 24 since Week 2.

There is a good chance the Birds won't be able to lean on their most consistent option in LeSean McCoy either. The Cowboys defense is allowing the fewest yards per game in the NFL, and as we saw earlier this season against the second-ranked 49ers, that usually equates to a pass-heavy attack from Andy Reid.

The problem is that's how the Eagles get themselves into trouble sometimes. Mike Vick has already committed more turnovers this season than he did in all of 2010, losing three fumbles and tossing eight interceptions so far, and Dallas certainly has the horses to get after him. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will try to turn the game into a chess match, moving his pieces around the board to give the quarterback different looks in an attempt to disguise their blitzes and confuse Vick.

If they aren't going to be able pound the rock, there still needs to be an emphasis on ball security. As we saw last week, the Eagles can combat the pressure with short drops where Vick gets the ball out of his hands quickly. The offense will have opportunities to take their shots, but if they swing for the fences on every possession, they could be playing right into the Cowboys' hands.

Prediction:

Whichever team wins this game tonight will go on to win the division.

The Giants have a rough road ahead of them, and the Redskins are crumbling. The NFC East is right there for the taking.

It's easy to see how the Cowboys could rise to the top, a favorable schedule in front of them, a potential star breaking out at running back, and a defense that can stop the run and rush the quarterback.

But the Eagles could answer a lot of questions about their identity tonight. Can they at least contain a running back who is capable of hanging 250 on a defense? Can they turn piles and piles of yards into points instead of giveaways? Because those are things they need to do if there is any hope of this team making the playoffs.

That, and beat Dallas.

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).