For Eagles, DeMarco Murray is Dallas' top threat

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For Eagles, DeMarco Murray is Dallas' top threat

They don’t have Tony Romo to worry about, but the Eagles have spent the entire week preparing for another weapon in the Dallas offense whose status was never in doubt.

Not only is Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray healthy, but he’s also the single biggest threat to the Eagles’ pursuit of an NFC East title.

If you haven’t noticed, Murray has emerged as one of the NFL’s more impactful ball carriers. In his third season, the former Oklahoma record-setting running back has cracked the 1,000-yard barrier for the first time.

His 1,073 yards rank 10th in the league, but his average of 82.5 rushing yards per game ranks fourth. His 1,384 total offensive yards are eighth-most among NFL running backs.

Murray isn’t often mentioned in the same breath as LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles and Marshawn Lynch, but over the past few weeks, only McCoy has more rushing yards than Murray, an impressive feather in Murray’s cap given McCoy’s 217-yard effort a few weeks ago against the Lions in the snow and his 133-yard performance against Chicago.

McCoy’s 388 rushing yards in that span lead the NFL, but just 12 more than Murray.

“He’s a powerful back,” defensive tackle Bennie Logan said. “He can break tackles. Once he gets to the edge on stretch plays, he can take it to the house. The main thing is, we have to make sure we set the edge and don’t allow him to get started. Once he gets started it’s pretty hard to stop him.”

An MCL injury kept Murray from playing against the Eagles earlier this year, a 17-3 Dallas win at the Linc, but the Eagles figure on seeing heavy doses of him Sunday as the two teams battle to decide the NFC East title at AT&T Stadium.

Without the services Romo and with an NFL-worst defense that has to figure out how to stop Chip Kelly’s offense, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett might elect to put the ball in Murray's hands frequently in an attempt to execute a clock-control game plan.

If that’s the plan, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said he’s ready for it.

“We were anticipating them to do that anyway,” Davis said. “But they might do more. Only they can answer that question. We've got to prepare equally for the run game and the pass game. Each game takes on its own life. Whether they gave him the ball more or not, we'll be prepared to it.”

A third-round pick in 2011, Murray has always been a game-breaking halfback with plus speed and breakaway ability. He ran a 4.41 at the Scouting Combine. Injuries were always his Achilles heel. He suffered various injuries in college, but still set the school’s record for touchdowns and all-purpose yards.

He played 13 games his rookie season in Dallas, sharing carries with Felix Jones, but fractured his ankle in late December. The Cowboys made him their No.1 halfback last year, but he missed six games.

This year, after a brief MCL scare that ended up being just a two-game absence, Murray has finally shown his potential. He busted loose for 175 yards in Week 3 against the Rams. Since Nov. 10, he’s had just one game under 65 rushing yards. Murray’s 5.4 yards-per-carry average is the league’s highest among running backs with at least 110 carries.

The Cowboys are 11-0 when Murray carries the ball at least 20 times, 12-2 when he gets at least 18 carries. When he rushes for just one touchdown, Dallas is hard to beat. The Cowboys are 10-3 in games when Murray finds the end zone.

“We’ve got to stop the run. That’s the No. 1 thing,” outside linebacker Brandon Graham said. “We didn’t see him in the first meeting. He’s very good. He’s somebody we’ve got to attack early. We can’t get him going at all, because he can beat us.

“He’s patient, somebody who waits on the hole to open up. He’s s a 4.4 (speed) guy and you know you don’t want to get him out there in space. He’s somebody you don’t wanna play with.”

Murray has brought some stability to Dallas' offense down the stretch, with 136 yards against Chicago and 134 more against the Packers in consecutive December games, both Cowboys losses in which the play calling drew criticism for ignoring Murray down the stretch.

Last Sunday, Murray rescued Dallas’ season in the final moments of the fourth when he caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Romo on 4th-and-goal that propelled Dallas to the 24-23 comeback win that set the stage for Sunday’s winner-take-all showdown against the Eagles.

Murray’s 48 receptions yards are seventh-most among starting running backs, giving the Eagles another dimension to guard against.

“We just have to make sure we get all 11 hats to the ball,” Logan said, “and just just slow him down from the beginning of the game. We don’t want to give him any momentum going into the second half.”

Eagles Injury Update: Eagles get top running back, receiver back at practice

Eagles Injury Update: Eagles get top running back, receiver back at practice

The Eagles will get a boost on Wednesday as they begin to prepare for Washington and a chance to snap a three-game losing streak. 

Their top running back and receiver – Ryan Mathews (knee) and Jordan Matthews (ankle) – will both practice. 

Ryan Mathews, who suffered an MCL sprain against Seattle, has missed the last two weeks. Jordan Matthews, who hurt his ankle against the Packers, missed the Bengals game. It was the first game he had ever missed in his collegiate and NFL career. 

“He’s good to play,” head coach Doug Pederson said about Ryan Mathews. “We’ll find out today, but he’s cleared and ready to go.”

In the two weeks without Mathews in the lineup, the Eagles had their two worst rushing performances of the season: 81 yards against the Packers and 53 against the Bengals. 

Obviously, getting behind in those games skewed those numbers plenty. But it should still be a boost to get Mathews back. 

“We fell behind so it gets us out of that mode a little bit,” Pederson said. “But I like where we’re at. I do lean on that offensive line quit a bit. I do talk to them during the week and say hey this might be the week that we need to rush the ball 30-35 times and they’re up for the challenge, obviously. 

“With the addition of Ryan coming back, it gives us depth and a bigger [running back] back there and hopefully we can get back to running the ball like we did a few weeks ago.” 

With Jordan Matthews out against Cincinnati, undrafted rookie Paul Turner made the most of his opportunity. He caught six passes for 80 yards, while playing in the slot. 

Pederson said that even with Jordan Matthews’ returning, the Eagles will still try to find ways to keep Turner involved. 

The team will practice indoors on Wednesday because the fields at the NovaCare Complex are too saturated thanks to Tuesday's constant rain. 

CSN's NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys surging, Eagles continue to fall

CSN's NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys surging, Eagles continue to fall

With Week 13 behind us, it's clear that there is major separation at both the top and the bottom of the league, led by the surging Cowboys and anchored by the lowly Browns. However, With just a quarter of the season remaining, the race for the Wild Card is closer than ever. 

After taking in all the action from this past week, here's CSN's NFL Power Rankings for Week 14, compiled by Derrick Gunn and John Boruk.

1. Dallas (11-1)
While others in the conference struggle, Dallas continues to glide through its schedule and became the first team in the league to clinch a playoff spot. - Gunn (1)

Impressively, the Cowboys beat the Vikings despite just 13 first downs and 264 total yards. - Boruk (1)

2. New England (10-2)
If the Patriots get home field advantage in the AFC, I’d bet on them to win the conference even without Gronk. - Gunn (2)

Best first quarter team in the NFL. Easy to win when you make your opponent one dimensional. - Boruk (2)

3. Oakland (10-2)
The Raiders can get physical or play the finesse game. Their six-game win streak and overall record are no joke. - Gunn (3)

They dominate the trenches.  Oakland has allowed 13 sacks, fewest in the NFL. - Boruk (3)

4. Seattle (8-3-1)
The loss of Earl Thomas for the season will hurt, but this team is so good at dealing with adversity. - Gunn (4)

The loss of Earl Thomas will be huge to that secondary.  He covers up a lot of their flaws. - Boruk (4)

5. Kansas City (9-3)
The Chiefs' last two wins over Denver and Atlanta were quite impressive and set the stage for a huge showdown Thursday with Oakland. - Gunn (5)

Safety Eric Berry has been one of the top-five defensive players in the league. - Boruk (5)

6. Detroit (8-4)
The Lions' defense was a weakness but now is a strength. In their last four outings, the Lions haven’t allowed more than 83 yards rushing in a game and have held their last six opponents to 20 points or less. - Gunn (6)

Detroit’s offense is 100 percent in the red zone this season – a TD or FG on every drive. - Boruk (7)

6. Denver (8-4)
The Broncos are solid everywhere, but quarterback play could hold this team back. - Gunn (7)

Denver has been bad against the run.  How will they stop DeMarco Murray/Derrick Henry? - Boruk (6)

8. Baltimore (7-5)
The Ravens stopped the Dolphins' win streak at six and control their own playoff destiny. - Gunn (8)

Have won four of their last five, lead the AFC North and as of today, they’re 43-1 odds to win the Super Bowl. - Boruk (8)

9. Pittsburgh (7-5)
When the Steelers' offense is on point it can be lethal. - Gunn (9)

11-1 over their last 12 December games. Can Ladarius Green follow up on his performance against NYG? - Boruk (9)

10. N.Y. Giants (8-4)
G-men have potential to be really good, but last four games vs. Dallas, vs. Detroit, at Eagles and at Washington are not an easy road to travel. - Gunn (10)

Steelers snapped the Giants' six-game winning streak. Allowed 24 points for the first time since Week 4. - Boruk (11)

11. Atlanta (7-5)
Falcons have lost two of last three. - Gunn (11)

They found ways to win earlier this season.  Now, the Falcons are finding ways to lose games. - Boruk (12)

12. Tampa Bay (7-5)
During their current four-game win streak, the Bucs have beaten the Chiefs, Seahawks and Chargers. - Gunn (13)

Four-game winning streak. Defense has stepped up and allowed just 53 points during the streak. - Boruk (10)

13. Washington (6-5-1)
Will Jay Gruden chewing out his guys after a second straight loss wake the Skins up? Time will tell. - Gunn (12)

Defense has allowed 62 points in a two-game losing streak. Should bounce back against Eagles. - Boruk (13)

14. Minnesota (6-6)
The Vikings are 1-6 over their last seven games. An Adrian Peterson return could save their season. - Gunn (14)

One win over their last seven games. They get Jacksonville this week to remain in the playoff chase. - Boruk (17)

15. Miami (7-5)
Getting smacked by the Ravens wounded the Dolphins. Key players are banged up. - Gunn (16)

There goes that six-game winning streak. Completely manhandled by the Ravens on both sides. - Boruk (15)

16. Indianapolis (6-6)
In a three-way tie with Houston and Tennessee in the AFC south. If Luck stays healthy, I look for the Colts to win that division. - Gunn (18)

A healthy Andrew Luck certainly goes a long way. They’ve scored 311 points and have allowed exactly 311 points. - Boruk (14)

17. Green Bay (6-6)
Rodgers says the pack can run the table. So far, two in a row and counting. - Gunn (15)

WRs aren’t usually this consistent, but Jordy Nelson has a TD and at least 90 yards in five of his last six weeks. - Boruk (22)

17. Buffalo (6-6)
QB Tyrod Taylor holds the Bills back. - Gunn (21) 

Tough loss for the Bills who were leading 24-9 midway through the third quarter before losing to Oakland 38-24. - Boruk (16)

19. Tennessse (6-6)
Marcus Mariota has really improved. He has 5th best passer rating (101.9), and it helps to have the No. 2 rusher DeMarco Murray behind him. - Gunn (19)

We’ll see if the Titans can benefit from a Week 13 bye with the Broncos coming to Nashville. - Boruk (20)

19. San Diego (5-7)
If only the Chargers could stop turning the ball over. Tied for the league lead with 25. - Gunn (20)

Shocking...Chargers blow another fourth quarter lead. Haven’t been at .500 since Week 2. - Boruk (19)

21. Houston (6-6)
How is this team at .500? Offense has scored more than two touchdowns in a game just once this year. - Gunn (22)

Still in the AFC South race with three of their final four games against divisional opponents. - Boruk (18)

21. Arizona (5-6-1)
The Cardinals team that just beat Washington... where’s that team been all season? - Gunn (17)

Love watching David Johnson play. The Cards' RB is on pace for 2,300 yards from scrimmage. - Boruk (23)

23. Cincinnati (4-7-1)
Had to move Bengals ahead of Eagles for obvious reasons. - Gunn (23)

Dismantled the Eagles at one point, leading 29-0 just 34 minutes into the game. - Boruk (24)

24. New Orleans (5-7)
Drew Brees' record streak of home TD passes in 60 games has ended. - Gunn (26)

When was the last time Drew Brees didn’t throw a TD pass at home? It had been nearly 8 years. - Boruk (21)

25. Carolina (4-8)
How the mighty have fallen. The defending NFC champs are at the bottom looking up in NFC South. - Gunn (25)

A piece of advice for Cam Newton...wear a tie. Don’t show teammates the rules don’t apply to you. - Boruk (25)

25. Eagles (5-7)
Can't sustain drives. Can't get to the QB. Can't defend the pass. Can't get off the field on third down. Can't win! - Gunn (24)

Defense allowed five passing plays over 20 yards in Cincinnati’s first six possessions, and that’s an offense without A.J. Green. - Boruk (27)

27. L.A. Rams (4-8)
Rams Head coach Jeff Fisher says his team is close. I ask close to what!? - Gunn (27)

Rams managed just 25 yards in the first half, the fewest by a team in a game this season. Forget about having Eric Dickerson on the sideline, get him in the game. - Boruk (26)

28. Chicago (3-9)
When the Bears beat the 49ers, it was first time this season they held an opponent to single digit points. - Gunn (28)

Jordan Howard, a Fifth-round pick from Indiana, just another example why you don’t draft RBs early. - Boruk (29)

29. N.Y. Jets (3-9)
I Wish I could rank them lower after their embarrassing performance against the Colts. It’s the Bryce petty show for the rest of the season. - Gunn (30)

Jon Gruden’s dissection of the Jets' defensive line mailing it in was some of the best analysis I’ve seen this season. - Boruk (28)

30. Jacksonville (2-10)
The Blake Bortles era has been brutal. Could be coming to an end. - Gunn (29)

Jaguars fans deserve some sort of a refund on their tickets this season. Just dreadful to watch. - Boruk (30)

31. San Francisco (1-11)
The positive this season for chip Kelly is...thank goodness the Browns are worse. - Gunn (31)

Colin Kaepernick was sacked more times (5) than he had passing yards (4). - Boruk (31)

32. Cleveland (0-12)
If rumors are true that RG3 could be returning, does it enhance the Browns' chances of winning a game? - Gunn (32)

Battle of Ohio. Putting it out there: Browns get their first win of the season this week. - Boruk (32)