The Philadelphia Eagles 2015 regular season football schedule continues this week with a huge game. The Eagles are set to take on the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Sept. 20 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. In preparation for the game, I reached out to our acquaintances over at Blogging The Boys. Dave Halprin kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming contest.
Let's take a look at his answers.
1) Dez Bryant being out is obviously a huge loss. How do you think the Cowboys will attack the Eagles defense without him?
I really don't think the Cowboys will alter what they do with Dez out, there will be certain tactical moves to accommodate his absence, but the overall strategy will be the same. The Cowboys want to run the ball effectively enough to force teams to move up in the box, then they want to beat them in the intermediate and deep range. They'll still try that, and they'll ask Terrance Williams to up his role in the offense. He certainly has the talent, but his consistency has always been an issue. He runs hot and cold in production. And Dallas will still utilize Jason Witten and Cole Beasley, both very good weapons in the passing game. They may try some tactical moves, one that everyone is guessing about is utilizing tight end Gavin Escobar more. He has size but is also pretty fluid in route-running, they may use him in the slot more or send him into patterns from two-tight end sets. They will also rely on Lance Dunbar like they did in the Giants game. He's proving to be a very good receiver as a running back.
2) Bryant isn't the only player missing from this game. Greg Hardy, Randy Gregory, Rolando McClain, and (possibly) Ronald Leary will also be out. Can you briefly touch on what those losses mean as well?
The absence of Hardy and now Gregory is a blow to the pass rush. Everyone knows what Hardy can do, but Gregory was also starting to look like a real player as a pass-rushing defensive end. In preseason, training camp, and in the first game all he did was produce. The Cowboys still have options at defensive end, like DeMarcus Lawrence and Jeremy Mincey, but Gregory will be missed. Especially since Dallas loves to rotate its defensive line and they'll need to with the uptempo Eagles. McClain's absence is not that bad. Anthony Hitchens was a total steal as a fourth-round draft pick last year. He got plenty of playing time last year because of Cowboys injuries, so he's experienced and he's good. Dallas can cover for McClain. Leary is a little bit of a blow, but Mackenzy Bernadeau has played well in his last couple of stints of subbing for injured players. He handled his job last week after Leary went out, so it shouldn't be a disaster. But Leary is a powerful run blocker, so it's definitely a little bit of a concern.
3) To what extent will the Cowboys miss DeMarco Murray this season?
Right now, that's the impossible question to answer. The Cowboys running game wasn't awful last week, but it wasn't dominant either. Dallas fell behind so in the second half they threw the ball a lot. We didn't really get to see them totally commit to the running game. They did use the backs in the passing game quite a bit, and that option worked very well against the Giants. Overlooked in all of this is that Joseph Randle averaged over 4 yards a carry on 16 attempts. That's not bad. I'll will say this, I think last year was a magical year for the Cowboys running game. Everything clicked, Murray, the o-line, the play-calling, I don't think the Cowboys could be expected to repeat that this year. I always expected to have some dropoff even if Murray had returned.
4) The Eagles struggled to run the ball against the Falcons in Week 1. Do you think Murray will have more success against the Cowboys' defense or will the struggles continue?
I think he will have more success than he did last week, that's for sure. Mainly because the stats from that game were so bad. The Cowboys were pretty good against the run last week. Having Sean Lee back is a big reason why. He was a tackling machine once again, leading the team with 9 and Hitchens had 8. Those two linebackers patrol the middle very well. The Cowboys also have a lot of team speed on defense, they like guys who can run so they can get sideline-to-sideline. They were also sure-tacklers against the Giants. I think Murray will get some yards, but I don't think Philly will gouge the Cowboys on the ground.
5) Name one matchup that really favors the Cowboys and one that really favors the Eagles.
For the Cowboys, it's their passing game versus the Eagles secondary. Philly continues to struggle containing the pass; the Cowboys, with Tony Romo playing so well over the last year, are among the better passing teams in the NFL. This favors Dallas as long as they protect Romo. For the Eagles, I've always liked Philly's front seven on defense but the Cowboys offensive line is pretty good, so that is more of a standoff than an advantage. I think the Eagles up-tempo offense, when it clicks, is really demoralizing for defenses. That short passing game, especially when Darren Sproles is involved, can be devastating. If the Cowboys can't get in Sam Bradford's face and disrupt the timing, it could be a long day for Dallas. Dallas is short on pass-rushers right now, so the Eagles could exploit that.
Bonus: Score prediction?
Dallas 31 - Philadelphia 30