With the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys scheduled to face off on Thursday, I reached out to the writers over at Blogging The Boys for some inside perspective. Dave Halprin kindly took the time to answer my questions.
1) To what extent is it fair to say the key to beating the Cowboys is shutting down their run game?
It's fair, everything the Cowboys want to do this year is based on being able to run the ball. The Cowboys have been using DeMarco Murray and the run game in multiple ways. One way is just to have success on first and second down, to stay on schedule and be able to convert third downs. But it's been working so well that they also get explosive plays out of it. Once they get that going, defenses are forced to move guys into the box, 8 and sometimes 9 depending on the formation, and that leaves a lot of one-on-ones in pass coverage. That's something Tony Romo has taken full advantage of. It's been very effective and it all starts with the run. And for much of the season, the run game has helped limit the number of snaps the defense has to face each game, keeping them fresh and helping to overcome the lack of true star power on that side of the ball.
2) The Cowboys defense doesn’t seem as bad as it was expected to be coming into this season. Then again, only three teams allow more yards per play than Dallas does. What’s your confidence level in that unit?
I never have full confidence in that unit because there have been times this season when it looks like they could easily revert to 2013 form. But somehow, and much of this credit goes to defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, they manage to do enough to hold the team in the game, allowing the offense to win it. They don't have eye-popping numbers like sacks, but they manage to get enough pressure on QBs to move them around, just enough to make them uncomfortable. With the help of the ball control offense, they are middle of the pack in points allowed. They are average on turnover margin at a -1. They have some players who stand out, like Rolando McClain and Henry Melton, but overall they are work-pail bunch who manage to get it done through dogged determination and effort. Sometimes it looks really bad, like most of the first half against the Giants on Sunday, then they can turn it around like they did in the second half. We just keep hoping it holds together week after week. We have gotten some players back healthy and off suspension, so they might be getting better down the stretch.
3) What’s going with the health status of Tony Romo? I was reading a few weeks ago that he had to wear flip flops because he couldn’t even bend down to tie his shoes. He’s seemed to play pretty well since missing a game, but how much of a beating can he take against an Eagles pass rush that ranks second in sack percentage?
Romo looked fine on Sunday against the Giants, didn't show any real effects of the back injury and he got knocked around a few times. Obviously the Cowboys don't want him getting knocked around a lot on a regular basis, they wouldn't want that in general but they certainly want to limit his back exposure. But it's there and as fans we just can't worry about it; unless something new happens to his back he looks really good right now. He's having a tremendous year, he's got a running game he can depend on, and the offensive line is very good, so all the elements are there for him to succeed the rest of the year. Still, one crazy hit on the right spot on his back could change everything. Every player faces that issue, Romo just a little more right now.
4) If you could take one player off the Eagles roster and put him in the Cowboys lineup who would it be? Why?
Never just one, I'm greedy! Give me some defensive line help (Cox, Barwin, Cole) to make our d-line a little more dynamic, or maybe Darren Sproles to give Murray a real break on occasion and spice up the special teams. Teaming Jeremy Maclin up with Dez Bryant would be a fun experiment.
5) Let’s hear a score prediction. Who wins this game and why?
Most of the time, in a game between division rivals with identical records this late in the season, you would say the advantage would go to the home team. Yet the Cowboys are only 3-3 at home and 5-0 on the road. But, I can't trust Mark Sanchez yet. We'll have to see how he handles this huge game for control of the division on Thanksgiving Day. I think it's going to be a very close game, with the score something like Cowboys 34 - Eagles 31. Dallas will be able to run enough to force the Eagles to commit to the box, and the Cowboys passing game will do enough to grab a victory. Sanchez will battle, but a couple of key mistakes by him will let the Cowboys defense off the hook.
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