3TFO: Eagles @ Cowboys, Week 13
Prepare for a battle between Eagles cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, two talented but frustrating athletes.
3TFO: Eagles @ Cowboys, Week 13
A couple of weeks ago, I went to the theater to see “Silver Linings Playbook.” (Only because it’s a movie about football, not at all because I secretly enjoy romantic comedies). I find it ironic that just when the Eagles are having their most nightmarish season of this century, Hollywood comes out with a movie centered around talking a Philadelphia fan off the ledge.
The last time the Eagles were on Sunday Night Football, in Week 4 against the New York Giants, Lawrence Tynes’ short field-goal attempt sent the Philadelphia faithful home with a lead in the NFC East. Since then, the Eagles have lost seven straight games, seen their offensive roster torn apart by injuries, and are now preparing for an inevitable coaching change.
I’m not sure any team’s outlook swings so drastically from week to week as the Dallas Cowboys. After a victory over the Eagles in Week 10, some pundits saw a clear path for the Cowboys to retake the NFC East (despite the fact that they were under .500 at the time). Now after a Thanksgiving loss to the Washington Redskins has set them two games back of New York again, everyone has left Dallas for dead (despite the fact that they’re just one game out of the playoff race).
With the Eagles trying to salvage something from this season and the Cowboys needing to keep their playoff hopes alive, here are three matchups that could decide Sunday night’s outcome:
Stepping In For Babin
It’s not very often that a team decides it doesn’t need the man who had the third-most sacks in the NFL last season, but that’s exactly what the Eagles did on Tuesday when they released Jason Babin. While at first glance this may look like a pure salary dump for a team out of contention, Andy Reid isn’t lying when he says he needs to get more playing time for his young defensive ends.
Brandon Graham’s ridiculous 18.3 Pass Rush Productivity is the highest among any defensive lineman with more than 10 pass rush snaps. Second-round pick Vinny Curry had a complete game in his NFL debut last week, with one quarterback pressure and three defensive stops in just 22 snaps. Philadelphia still has the only 4-3 DE with a higher PRP than Babin last season with Trent Cole. With one of the best defenders in the game mentoring a group of promising youngsters, Philadelphia fans can be hopeful about the future of their pass rush.
The Cowboys are figuring out how to groom their own young talent on the offensive line. Rookie Tyron Smith’s play at right tackle earned him one of our highest offensive lineman grades in 2011 and encouraged the Cowboys to move him over to the blindside this season. The transition hasn’t been smooth, with Smith allowing 30 QB pressures in 10 games after allowing 30 all last season. Smith isn’t the only one struggling with the move, as Doug Free’s 12 penalties on the right side lead all tackles. In the Week 10 meeting between the teams, Free and Smith combined to allow nine of the Eagles’ 17 QB pressures (two of which came from Babin). It will be interesting to see how Dallas fares against the Eagles’ new pass-rush rotation.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs. Dez Bryant
It’s no secret that Babin will just be the first of many Eagles players shown the door heading into this offseason. Nnamdi Asomugha is likely to follow, as his struggles in coverage can’t justify his $15 million dollar salary in 2013. The leaves the frustratingly-talented Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as Philadephia’s top cornerback. By far the best cover man in the Eagles’ woeful secondary, DRC’s 12.9 Cover Snaps Per Reception is the 12th-best rate of all NFL cornerbacks. Quarterbacks have just a 70.2 rating when targeting him. However, his 10 penalties are the most by any defensive back in the league.
Opposite Rodgers-Cromartie this week will be a man who knows a little bit about being inconsistently talented. Dez Bryant is on pace to soar past 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. He is sixth in the league with a 108.9 WR Rating, and fifth with a 42.1 percent Catch Rate on deep passes. But his play is often punctuated by crucial mistakes that hurt his team, like his seven drops and two fumbles. In a microcosm of his season, in the 2nd quarter against the Washington Redskins last week, Bryant caught a 3rd-down pass to move the chains and then fumbled the ball to give the Redskins possession at midfield. The last time these two met, Bryant beat Rodgers-Cromartie for three catches for 87 yards and a touchdown, including a diving 30-yard end-zone grab.
Bryce Brown vs. Dan Connor and Ernie Sims
If Eagles fans wanted to come away from Monday night’s loss to the Carolina Panthers with one of those aforementioned silver linings, the play of Bryce Brown is a good place to start. The seventh-round rookie torched the Panthers for 178 yards on 19 carries, a stunning 9.4 average. However, in what is becoming a theme in this column, he spoiled his good performance with two third-quarter fumbles that helped cost the Eagles the lead. His 108.2 Elusive Rating and 64.5 Breakaway Percentage are the highest marks among all backs with more than 50 carries. His 12 Missed Tackles Rushing are already as many as Ahmad Bradshaw, Steven Jackson, and Jamaal Charles each have this season. LeSean McCoy will reportedly sit for another week and Reid knows that he can’t lean on Nick Foles right now, so expect Brown to again get a steady diet of carries.
Brown may find tougher sledding against Dallas than he did against Carolina, as he’ll have to dodge arguably the best outside linebacker tandem in the league. Both Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware rank in the Top 10 of 3-4 OLBs with a 9.8 and 7.4 Run Stop rate, respectively. Spencer’s 24.5 Combined Tackle Efficiency is also near the top of the league, as he’s only missed two tackles all season.
Inside the tackles, however, is a different story for Dallas. Having lost inside ‘backers Sean Lee and now Bruce Carter for the season, Dan Connor and Ernie Sims are the Cowboys’ next men up. Connor’s 5.2 Run Stop percentage is a far step down from Lee’s mark of 11.3. And although Sims boasts a lofty 13.3 Run Stop, his three missed tackles in limited playing time give him a poor 7.3 Combined Tackle Efficiency. Brown rushed for 104 yards on six carries into the A-gap versus the Panthers. It will be up to Connor and Sims to prevent a repeat performance in primetime.
Follow Pete on Twitter @PFF_Pete