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Cowboys vs. Eagles: Special teams gives Philadelphia an edge over Dallas

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The Eagles' special teams unit could come in handy yet again this week.

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This week's question posed by Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk is here. Find the transcription below.

To be GMC Professional Grade you must know your craft inside and out. On every team, there must be an established veteran presence, that with the work that he does, it doesn’t really show up in the stat sheet. It could be a veteran DB who give that jersey pull or a nice arm lock, so the receiver can’t catch the ball. Or an offensive lineman who’s crafty enough to get the hold real tightly to where the refs won’t call it, but the back, he’s off for a big run. Now, look at your team and analyze. Tell me, who’s that crafty veteran on your team. And if you’re really paying attention, what’s the signature move that he uses?

The biggest veteran edge on Philadelphia's roster can be found on their special teams unit. Darren Sproles, Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos, James Casey, Brad Smith, Chris Maragos, Brandon Boykin, Brandon Graham, Chris Polk, Chris Prosinski, and Malcolm Jenkins are all experienced players. Their veteran presence may have even made on the young players contributing such as Josh Huff and Trey Burton. Heck, even rookie 22-year old Cody Parkey is kicking like he's a seasoned vet.

While I don't think there's one specific trick from this unit that makes them great, I do think it's an asset that they really take pride in their performance. Take a look at this monster block from Graham and Braman on Huff's 107-yard kick return touchdown last week. Keep your eyes at the bottom of the screen as these two veterans completely erase the Titans player off the field and onto the sideline. (GIF via ChipWagon)

The announcement of Huff's NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award earlier on Wednesday marked the third time an Eagles player won the award this season. Not that you needed one, but that should serve as a reminder as to how good Philadelphia's special teams unit has been.

The Eagles special teams could come in handy for the team once again as they prepare to face the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving. According to Football Outsiders, Dallas owns the league's 14th-best special teams unit compared to the Eagles' first-ranked squad.

Philadelphia leads the league in both kick return average (31.1 yards) and punt return average (14.8 yards). Dallas has been solid in kickoff coverage by allowing an eighth-best 25.1 yards per return, but they've failed to cover punts well. Their 10.3 average yards allowed on punt returns is the seventh-worst rate in the NFL. Look for veteran returner Darren Sproles to take advantage of that Dallas deficiency. Cowboys punter Chris Jones has only downed 12 of his punts in the opponent's 20, which ranks second to last.

The Eagles own an advantage over Dallas in the kicking game. The aforementioned Cody Parkey is hitting on 92.5% (23-25) of his field goals this season while highly-paid Dallas kicker Dan Bailey has only made 85% (17-20) of his kicks. Bailey's misses have come at all ranges: one from 50+, one from 40-49, and one from 30-39.

Statistics don't indicate that the Cowboys aren't bad at special teams by any stretch. Instead, they suggest it's a slightly above average unit. But here's the potential problem for the Cowboys: two of their best special teams players will be missing due to injury on Sunday. Backup safety Jeff Heath leads the Cowboys in special teams tackles with eight so far this season. Depth cornerback Tyler Patmon is tied for second with five special teams tackles.

While that might not seem like a big factor, it could be an area that Philadelphia's veteran players look to exploit.

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