3TFO: Cowboys @ Eagles, Week 10
This game will feature two of the most talked about and most hyped 3-5 teams ever. The Cowboys and Eagles enter Week 10 coming off losses and both are now 1-4 in their last five games, making this a virtual elimination game.
Dallas lost at home to the undefeated Falcons and now has to head back on the road in an NFC East battle. The Cowboys have been competitive in recent losses against some of the best teams in the league, losing to the Ravens, Giants, and Falcons all by less than a touchdown, but if they don’t start turning those near wins into actual wins they will be watching the playoffs from home.
Philadelphia has been an absolute mess lately and the pressure hoisted on them in the preseason combined with major injuries appears to be too much for them to handle. Michael Vick spends the entire game running for his life and the defense has been laughable since firing Juan Castillo. There is not better week to turn things around than this week and Eagles fans will be very forgiving of recent struggles if they can defeat the hated Cowboys.
Here are the matchups that will determine which struggling team prevails.
Eagles Offensive Line vs. Cowboys Pass Rush
With four of their original offensive linemen out due to injury, Philadelphia will basically be using their second string line and that could be disastrous against the Cowboys. Even before the injuries started to accumulate, the Eagles’ line wasn’t playing well and is 27th in the league in pass block efficiency (PBE), allowing 109 total pressures in 368 passing plays. That is pressure on 30% of passing plays. To make matters worse, starting at left tackle this week will be Demetress Bell who ranks 56th out of 59 graded offensive tackles in PBE, having allowed 28 pressures in 209 pass blocking snaps. His task is to contain pass rush specialist DeMarcus Ware, who is the second-highest rated pass rushing 3-4 outside linebacker in the league. Ware has 34 total pressures in 205 pass rushing opportunities, making this a mismatch of epic proportions.
In normal weeks it might be easy to provide Bell with help on Ware, but because of the injuries smattered throughout the line, that could be a challenge as there are mismatches all over the line of scrimmage. If Jay Ratliff, who is currently listed as questionable, plays this week he will be matched up against the 32nd-ranked pass blocking center in Dallas Reynolds, which will add to the disruption. It appears the only way the Eagles can compete in the trenches will be to run the ball often and use max protection in the passing game.
Michael Vick vs. Rob Ryan
Compounding the problem from the previous matchup is that Eagles quarterback Michael Vick struggles with blitz recognition and is possibly the worst QB to leave behind a patchwork offensive line. Despite his great escapability, Vick relies on his legs too often to get him out of trouble and holds onto the ball too long — he averages 3.2 seconds in the pocket before throwing the ball, second longest in the league behind only rookie Russell Wilson. Vick has held the ball for more than 2.6 seconds on 223 of his 366 drop backs and his completion percentage is just 51% on those plays.
Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will have the opportunity to distract Vick this week. After being under siege all Monday night against the Saints, Vick will be antsy from the outset and it is up to Ryan to keep him guessing all game. Vick is completing just 41% of his throws when pressured, with one touchdown and five interceptions. Conversely, when not pressured, Vick completes 69% of his throws with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. It seems like an easy task this week, but Ryan must pressure Vick.
Cowboys Offensive Line vs. Eagles Pass Rush
Much like Vick, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo likes to improvise and make plays with his legs. However, Romo also is a more accurate thrower when not pressured, completing 71% of his passes when not pressured and 54% when under pressure. To keep him upright, he will be relying on the league’s 20th-ranked pass blocking line. As a unit, the Cowboys’ line has allowed 92 pressures in 347 snaps, including 12 sacks. They will battle an Eagles defensive line that has been a huge disappointment thus far in 2012. Despite a litany of big names, none of the Eagles’ defensive ends ranks in the Top 14 in Pass Rushing Productivity and only rookie Fletcher Cox ranks in the Top 30 among defensive tackles.
If there is going to be a week for the Eagles rush to break through, it could be this week as the Cowboys’ offensive tackles haven’t been great either. Tyron Smith and Doug Free rank 30th and 47th, respectively in PBE, allowing a combined 54 total pressures in 347 snaps. Romo is near the bottom of the list of starting QBs when under pressure, so getting to him to force mistakes could be the Eagles’ hope in this game.
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