The 2015 home opener is against the division rival Dallas Cowboys, a perfect opportunity to erase the burden of defeat from the Falcons game. The last time these teams met up, Dez Bryant and Tony Romo connected for three touchdowns, completely embarrassing the Eagles on their home field and on national television.
A lot has changed since last season, the former Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is now a Philadelphia Eagle and Dez Bryant won’t be on the field Sunday after breaking his foot week one against the Giants. There is no secret to the magnitude of what this game represents. The Philadelphia Eagles don’t want to start the season 0-2. Most consider the NFC East a two team race, and with Dez Bryant set to miss a significant amount of time with the injury, many are prematurely handing the division to the Eagles on a silver platter.
On offense the Cowboys still have a very talented quarterback in Tony Romo who looks to stand tall behind one of the best offensive lines in the entire NFL. Jason Witten is a savvy veteran who undeniably will be the guy that Romo looks for early and often, especially in the red-zone. It’s a running back by committee approach with Dallas, with Randle likely to lead the team in touches, but possesses very average talent. Terrence Williams is a big body wide receiver who will be asked to step up his game, but he is a player not likely to win 1:1 matchups, rather someone who benefits from finding space when other playmakers are creating it. Two players that could cause damage on Sunday are wide receiver Cole Beasley and tight-end Gavin Escobar. Beasley is that pesky smaller receiver that has enough energy to run all day, while Escobar is a terrific athlete that is trying to erase some of the stigma that he was a wasted second round pick.
One of the underlying issues the Cowboys offense presents for the Eagles is the pace in which they run their offense. It’s a slow, methodical pace, they want to control the clock and sustain long drives. This presents a big challenge for the Eagles defense, especially with the secondary that unlike the front seven, don’t have the depth to rotate players.
On defense, the Cowboys have a good system in place, but their talent across the board is nothing all too impressive. They play well as a unit, try to minimize mental errors, avoid taking bad penalties and giving up the big play. The loss of rookie Gregory reduces the pass rush, but second year defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence was a player I liked for the Eagles to draft, and someone who I think has the athleticism to give the Eagles offensive guards issues if he stunts to the inside. The return of Sean Lee was big for the linebacker core, but the loss of Orlando Scandrick was huge to the continuity of the secondary.
The Eagles were unable to generate a rushing attack week one, and had to rely heavily on the pass as the game went on and with being down in the scoring column. With how the Cowboys run their offense, the Eagles can’t afford three and outs and must keep the clock moving by establishing and effectively collecting first downs with running the football.
Demarco Murray won’t come out and say it, he lets his actions speak, but I’m sure he wants nothing more but to have a big day against his former team. Ryan Mathews and Sproles should also be a big part of the game plan on Sunday as the Eagles try to work out the timing pattern with Bradford and the receivers.
Minus Jordan Matthews, there was very little contribution from the rest of the receiving core against the Falcons, some had to do with the timing, but I also see a lack of depth. Agholor is ready to make an impact, and he should be targeted more against the Cowboys as he is likely to have plenty of space with Dallas looking to stop the run. Ertz, Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor should be the trio of receivers the Eagles rely this Sunday, mixing in plenty of Sproles in the slot and out of the backfield.
On defense the Eagles “must” get pressure on Romo, when he gets knocked around, he becomes turnover prone. The Eagles defense is a bend but don’t break unit that relies on forcing turnovers and sacking the quarterback. Even with the loss of Dez Bryant, there are enough weapons for Romo to be successful if the Eagles allow him time to stay in the pocket and go over his reads. It will be essential for the Eagles defensive line to shut down the run game and force Romo to try and makes throws.
I expect a win on Sunday. The Eagles are a better team than the Cowboys, and the game is in Philadelphia.
I don’t expect the Eagles to shut down the Cowboys offense, but I expect them to limit the big plays and force a pair of turnovers. I do expect the Eagles to look much like the team that played in the second half of the Falcons game, and also showcase the rushing attack that was absent week one.
Eagles 38 Cowboys 27