The Eagles (8-3) are set to face the Cowboys (8-3) in the first of their two meetings on Thanksgiving. Philadelphia will travel to Dallas for a game that will go a long way in deciding who wins the division race. Mark Sanchez will start his fourth-straight game at quarterback and attempt to improve on his 2-1 record on the season.
"Dallas Week" is always exciting and eventful, and just like the de facto NFC East Championship Game from the final week of last season, it's all the more meaningful. Mike Kaye and Dan Klausner are looking forward to the matchup, and that's why the not-so-dynamic duo decided to discuss the major topics heading into this showdown for NFC East supremacy.
1) What is your favorite Eagles-Cowboys memory?
MK: The 2008 season finale definitely stands out to me. I truly felt and still do, that THAT Eagles team was worthy of being a Super Bowl winner. The momentum was ridiculous as the Eagles destroyed the Cowboys, 44-6. The defense was absolutely dominant and Brian Dawkins was incredible. The blowout win was just so fun to watch and I was out for blood. I remember my grandfather was over my house and said "That's it Mike, come out for dinner." I replied that I wanted to win by 60 points and wasn't concerned about food. I just loved that game so much. The two long fumble returns for touchdowns by Joselio Hanson and Chris Clemons were awesome.
DK: I know 2008 is pretty much the go-to here, but I'll change things up and say the 2000 season opener, aka Pickle Juice Game. The opening onside kick, Duce Staley running for over 200 yards, total annihilation on both sides of the ball from start to finish. That was the true changing of the guard in the NFC East, the beginning of the Andy Reid/Donovan McNabb era in earnest and official end of the Cowboys' 1990s dynasty (as well as the game that effectively ended Troy Aikman's career). I still remember not only where I was, but exactly where I was sitting -- I was 12 and at my friend Ross's house, he was a Cowboys fan because he's a schmuck. I was sitting in his dad's leather recliner, he was on the couch. That was a good day.
Underrated memory: November 4, 1996. Troy Vincent finished a pick-six with under a minute left in the game to seal the deal after being on the receiving end of a lateral from James Willis, who intercepted Troy Aikman in the end zone. What was looking like a tied game at best for the Eagles -- who led 24-21 at the time -- became a joyous, delirious 90-yard romp to the house for a 31-21 victory.
2) Which matchup worries you the most against Dallas?
MK: Believe it or not, I am not that worried about DeMarco Murray against the Eagles front seven. I think Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox will play well on Thursday. My concern is Dez Bryant and Terrence Williams against the Eagles cornerbacks. Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams play up to their competition but their lack of speed may become extremely apparent in this game. Bryant is a top five receiver and Williams has emerged as a deep threat, so Fletcher and Williams will be challenged quite frequently. This is a game that the cornerbacks must play better than average.
DK: Always Dez against whatever corner we throw at him, and Tony Romo doing his Houdini act in the pocket to escape pressure and pick us apart. Unlike Mike, I am worried about Murray and the Cowboys' running game. Obviously, that offensive line against the Eagles' front seven is the key matchup, and I have a bad feeling the Cowboys are going to find success on the ground thanks to their road graders up front. Jason Witten is past his prime and on the downslope, but he always seems to go back to his vintage self against the Eagles.
I can't say a specific player on Dallas's defense concerns me, but Rolando McClain has been a revalation this season and I anticipate him making a huge play -- thinking a pick down the seam while covering Zach Ertz.
3) Which matchup are you most excited for on Thursday?
MK: The Cowboys face a similar threat on Thursday with Jordan Matthews and Jeremy Maclin against their mediocre secondary. With the Cowboys tied for 27th in the league in sacks, Mark Sanchez is likely to have time to throw to Maclin and Matthews. Brandon Carr is absolutely awful and I like Maclin against him. While Sanchez hasn't targeted Maclin as much as Nick Foles, this could be a great opportunity to unleash him on Dallas. Maclin is having a career year and I think he will "get up" for this big division game.
DK: The Eagles passing offense against the Cowboys defense. I think this is a matchup that bodes well for us there. The popular narrative has been how improved the Cowboys defense is, but the truth is that the unit can't get to the quarterback and is still giving up a lot of yards per play (5.9, tied for third-to-last in the NFL) -- it just hasn't spent as much time on the field. A clock-chewing offense is a good defense. As with Mike, I like our wide receivers going up against a Cowboys secondary that gets little help from its pass rush and is surrendering 7.4 yards per pass attempt (26th in the NFL). The Cowboys are giving up 4.3 yards per rush, 18th in the NFL, and aside from a good first half on the ground against the Titans, the Eagles haven't been able to do anything on the ground since the Giants game. I expect Chip Kelly will choose to attack the Dallas defense through the air.
Another matchup I'm excited for is the special teams battle. The Eagles have the best collective special teams units in the NFL and recorded yet another touchdown with Josh Huff's 107-yard return of the opening kickoff against the Titans. They've blocked multiple field goals and punts too (although none since the Rams game), while the Cowboys' special teams have been up and down and currently rank 14th in Football Outsider's Weighted DVOA. Interestingly, the Cowboys have had 11.11 percent of their field goal attempts at home blocked this season. Maybe Brandon Bear can get a paw on a Dan Bailey kick? The Cowboys are also allowing 10.6 yards per punt return, tied for fifth-worst in the NFL, albeit with only a long of 37 yards and no touchdowns. The Eagles, meanwhile, are tops in the league with a robust 14.8 average yards per punt return and two touchdowns. How about a Darren Sproles' punt return touchdown? Please and thank you.
4) Who has been more impressive so far this season, Philadelphia or Dallas?
MK: Both have been terrific this season. The Cowboys are pretty self-aware in that they stick to running the ball to keep their mediocre defense off of the field. While Tony Romo is still effective, the Cowboys are sticking to their strength in Murray and the offensive line. The Eagles on the other hand, have won despite not having talent at the team's most important position, quarterback. Philadelphia is winning games with special teams and their front seven, while trusting their offense to make things work. The Eagles have lacked great passing and running performances for most of the season and are 8-3.
With all of the above information, I think I'd side with the Eagles. The Cowboys have done an incredible job of masking their weaknesses and shortcomings. However, the Eagles have won games with all three phases of their team. The special teams unit is the best in the league by a mile and the defense ranks second in the league in sacks. The Eagles have caused turnovers in every game this season and have been able to make plays when needed. It's hard to bet against the more complete team.
DK: It's a relative-to-expectations thing for me. I thought Dallas was going to be one of the worst teams in the league and that the Eagles would be battling for first place in the NFC East until the very last game. So, through that prism, the Cowboys have been more impressive. Then again, the Eagles are a train wreck, held-together-by-tape-and-bubble-gum situation at quarterback and lead the NFL in turnovers with 27 and are a -8 in differential. For perspective, the next six teams with the most turnovers committed are, in order, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, New York Giants, Chicago, Oakland, Washington and New Orleans. Those teams have a total record of 16-50. What the Eagles have managed to do so far this season while weathering what should be crippling turnover issues is beyond impressive. Unsustainable in the long run against better teams, but beyond impressive nonetheless. Then again, you've heard of maybe two players starting on the Dallas defense and they're not the worst unit in the league. So that's also impressive. Tough call. However, I expected the Eagles to be in this position and thought the Cowboys would be sporting the record the Giants and Redskins have, so unfortunately I have to give Dallas the nod here.
5) Which is the better overall team? Will that team win on Thanksgiving?
MK: I think the Eagles are the better overall team, as they have shown pretty decent depth at major spots this season. They make plays in every phase of the game. The Cowboys ride a running game and allow Romo to pass to Bryant and Witten when necessary.
That said, I just have this feeling that the Cowboys will be ready for this one at home and the quick turnaround doesn't help the Eagles much. The Eagles are 2-3 on the road and Sanchez hasn't proven he is an upgrade over Foles. I think it'll be close but I am leaning towards Dallas getting the win, 23-20.
DK: Eagles are the overall better team, but I don't have the best feeling about this game since they have to go on the road on a short week and the Cowboys' weapons on offense concern me. But I see Mike's already been the Debbie Downer here, so screw it, I'm going with an Eagles win on a Cody Parkey field goal as time expires, 30-27.