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Eagle Eye: Eagles-Cowboys predictions
Nick Foles completed 44 of 66 attempts for 470 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in two games against the Cowboys last season. (AP)
Nick Foles shattered the myth last Sunday that Chip Kelly’s offense can’t thrive without a mobile quarterback.
Foles, who apparently is only a threat to run in games against Tampa Bay, operated the same style of up-tempo, shotgun offense with read-option schemes that the Eagles ran with Michael Vick. He led an attack that produced 31 points on the road against the NFL’s eighth-ranked scoring defense. Although the Eagles’ 425 yards were their fewest of the season, they confronted the best defense they had seen since the Kansas City game.
The Bucs didn’t have to guard against the threat of Foles running, but Kelly deployed his same assortment of packaged plays and kept feeding the ball to LeSean McCoy, who had his third 100-yard game of the season and continues to lead the NFL in rushing. The Eagles also popped the screen game for the first time, capitalizing on Tampa’s zone and two-deep coverage in the first half.
Foles completed 71 percent of his passes and Riley Cooper broke out for 120 yards and a touchdown after being held without a catch the week before against the Giants. Eight different Eagles caught at least one pass.
The Eagles are catching the Cowboys at the right time. Dallas had already been without defensive end Anthony Spencer, the team’s second-best pass rusher, who was lost for the year in September with a knee injury. The team just released four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, who started the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
In Sunday night’s game against the Redskins, the Cowboys lost their best pass rusher and best defensive player, seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Ware, with a knee injury that will either keep him out or limit his impact severely against the Eagles.
At this point, Dallas’ best lineman is veteran Jason Hatcher, a strong defensive tackle who’s very stout against the run. Hatcher has five sacks, which is unusually high for him. He had four all of last year. Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli has done an excellent job given the injuries at his position, but Kelly’s fast-paced offense threatens to exhaust Dallas’ front very quickly and help the Eagles get the upper hand.
If this is the game where all five Eagles offensive linemen play at the level that’s expected of them, they can really do some damage. Right guard Todd Herremans has picked up his play recently and center Jason Kelce bounced back from a nightmarish game against the Giants. With Ware either out or slowed, right tackle Lane Johnson and left tackle Jason Peters won’t be tested as much. This group should be able to establish the run early and keep Foles upright long enough to pop some deep ones to DeSean Jackson against a struggling Dallas pass defense.
The Cowboys haven’t shown to be the pure Tampa 2 team that folks expected when Garrett hired ageless wonder Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator. The grandfather of the Tampa 2 scheme inherited two man-press corners in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne and his schemes have tried to cater to their strengths. The Cowboys vary between Cover 2 and single-high safety.
Dallas jumped up eight spots in the 2012 draft, from 14th to sixth, to pick Claiborne, but the former LSU star has struggled. He’s frequently targeted but has just one interception. Dallas has the NFL’s third-worst pass defense (308.2 yards), right behind the Eagles, which contributes to their third-worst overall defense (413.2) and 11th-worst scoring defense (25.3 points per game).
The Cowboys are better at stopping the run, thanks to Hatcher’s work up front and to linebacker Sean Lee, one of the league’s emerging young inside linebackers. The former Penn State star recently signed a six-year, $42 million extension. He’s a sideline-to-sideline ball swarmer who, when healthy, is very active and disruptive at scrimmage. He’ll get tested in coverage by Eagles tight ends Brent Celek and rookie Zach Ertz, but his prime target will be McCoy in the running game.