How can Eagles defeat Cowboys?
Dez Bryant has caught 34 passes for 459 yards and six TDs this season. (USA Today Images)
The challenges are obvious. The Cowboys throw the ball well in part because they have several quality pass-catchers that present matchup problems for opposing defenses.
“It’s unique. Sometimes you face a team that’s got one guy,” Chip Kelly said. “They certainly have two All-Pros in terms of Dez [Bryant] and [Jason] Witten. … That passing attack, overall, will be real difficult for us because of how many weapons there are. You just can’t say, ‘Hey, if we double this guy, we’re in good shape,’ because there are other guys out there who can hurt you.”
Kelly mentioned two other receivers -- Miles Austin and Terrance Williams -- as part of the problematic pass-catching equation the Eagles must solve. Austin, who has been a big part of the Cowboys’ offense in the past, has dealt with a hamstring injury for much of the season. As a result, he’s played only in parts of four games, and he hasn’t caught more than three passes since Week 1 against the Giants. With Austin mending, Williams has gotten more work, grabbing 18 receptions on 21 targets for 309 yards and two touchdowns.
The Cowboys are 12th in the league with 282.2 receiving yards per game. They’ve registered 14 receiving touchdowns (second most) to help post 30.5 points per game (second most). The Eagles, meanwhile, have allowed 315 passing yards per game. Only Denver has been worse.
“We got our hands full this week,” Bradley Fletcher said. “They’ve got Dez Bryant. They’ve got Witten at tight end. These guys can play some ball.”
Bryant has 34 receptions (sixth among receivers) and 459 yards (12th) this season. He also has six touchdowns (second). Bryant, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 222 pounds, has been especially dangerous when the Cowboys are deep in their opponents’ territory. He has six red-zone catches, five of which have been touchdowns.
“The combination of Dez with his size and speed -- sometimes we’ll face a bigger receiver, but he doesn’t have that top-end speed that Dez has,” Kelly said. “Or we see someone with top-end speed but they don’t have the size. He certainly is a guy who is kind of unique in what his skill set is.”
The same can be said of Witten, who has been one of the most prolific and durable tight ends of his era. Witten has missed just one game in his 11-year career and that was during his rookie season. Last year, Witten caught 110 passes. Since 2007, he’s had 94 or more receptions in four separate seasons. In his “worst” season over that span, Witten caught 79 passes for 942 yards.
This year, Witten has 31 receptions (tied for fifth among tight ends), 340 yards (seventh) three touchdowns (tied for fifth).
“Witten is a big, 265-pound tight end that just has sure hands,” Kelly said. “He has a great understanding of the game. It seems like him and Romo are always on the same page. It seems like he’s a little bit like Tony’s security blanket because he always knows where he is. And he always knows that if he throws in his direction he can get that big catch.”