Didinger's Eagles-Cowboys scouting report
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Sizing up Sunday’s game between the Eagles (3-8) and Dallas Cowboys (5-6) at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.When the Eagles have the ball
Rookie Bryce Brown put on a show in his first NFL start, rushing for 178 yards on 19 carries against Carolina. He demonstrated speed and power but he also demonstrated a lack of awareness when it comes to protecting the football. He lost two fumbles, and as ex-Eagle Brian Westbrook said in watching the tape, he could have fumbled two or three more times with the way he carried the ball.
Brown has yet to learn how to switch arms with the ball. Too often he has the ball in the arm facing the defensive pursuit. What’s more, he carries it loosely. The Panthers saw it early in the game and they kept ripping at the ball every time he touched it. They forced two fumbles and those turnovers contributed to the 30-22 loss to the Panthers.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan surely spent this week watching tape on Brown and instructing his players to go for the ball Sunday. But if they think too much about stripping the ball, they might forget about tackling and that could lead to a lot of broken tackles and yards after contact for the 220-pound Brown, who runs very hard.
The Dallas defense ranks eighth overall, 13th against the run, ninth against the pass. It is weaker against the run since losing linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter to injury. Ex-Penn Stater Dan Connor will take over for Carter, who led Dallas with 10 solo tackles in the 38-23 win over the Eagles three weeks ago.
The Eagles have been a turnover machine this season, and they turned it over three more times against Carolina. It could have been twice that number if rookie quarterback Nick Foles had not been so lucky. At least three of his passes should have been intercepted, but they clanged off the hands of Carolina defenders.
Foles has been less than scintillating since taking over for the injured Mike Vick. He is completing a decent percentage of his passes (59 for 99) but it is mostly dink-and-dunk stuff. He is averaging just 5.5 yards per attempt (Vick averaged 6.9) and his longest completion against Carolina was a 16-yarder to tight end Brent Celek.
DeSean Jackson is lost for the season with broken ribs, so that takes away the Eagles' best deep threat, but given the way the coaches are calling the game for Foles, it almost doesn’t matter. In his two starts, Foles has completed eight passes to Jackson and Jeremy Maclin for a grand total of 69 yards. Foles’ biggest play came against the Cowboys in relief of Vick when he hit Maclin for a 44-yard touchdown, but since becoming the starter he has not gone downfield very often.
When these teams met the last time, rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne was a disaster. He was coming off a stretch of bad games that seemed to hurt his confidence. The Eagles picked on him with great success. Claiborne was flagged for three penalties -- one for lining up offsides, one for holding and one for pass interference. Look for the Eagles to target Claiborne again Sunday.When the Cowboys have the ball
The Cowboys probably were surprised this week when they heard the Eagles released defensive end Jason Babin. That’s because they probably did not realize he still was on the roster.
When the Eagles and Cowboys met three weeks ago, Babin didn’t even make it onto the final stat sheet. He had no tackles, no sacks, no hurries, nothing. He played 28 snaps but was basically invisible. So now he’s gone.
Will anyone notice? It seems like an odd question to ask about a player who was: A) a two-time Pro Bowler, B) among the sack leaders last season with 18 and C) leading the team with 5.5 sacks this year. But this was a case the Eagles feel of addition by subtraction, releasing a one-dimensional 32-year-old veteran and replacing him with younger, hungrier players.
Andy Reid said he made the move because he wanted to give Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry, who was impressive in his first game Monday, more playing time. That is true, but he could have done that without axing Babin. He could’ve just continued to play the young guys more and Babin less. Reid did not have to cut Babin, but he did. I think he wanted to send a message to shock the other players out of their collective stupor.
While Reid has been consistent throughout this losing streak, saying he feels the effort is there, yada, yada, he isn’t blind. He watches the film and sees all the missed tackles and blown assignments. He sees the same softness the fans see, a softness that has as much to do with the 3-8 record as the 27 turnovers. He sees a lot of guys who are making a good buck and appear happy to just coast to the end of the season.
By cutting Babin, Reid put the players on notice that he is still paying attention and while he may not trash them in a press conference, he isn’t happy with what’s going on. You may say it is a little late for an accountability check -- I agree with that -- but I think that’s what the Babin move was about. Reid hopes it will shake this lifeless team awake enough to win a game or two.
It was so obvious when Curry was on the field against Carolina. Not that he made anyone forget Reggie White -- or Mel Tom, for that matter -- but at least he was flying around the field (five tackles). It stood out because, frankly, we had not seen that kind of effort in a long time.
The Eagles' defense has been awful since the change in coordinators. Quarterbacks have completed 76 percent of their passes in the last five games. They probably had more trouble completing passes in 7-on-7 drills during the week. It is like playing pitch and catch on Sunday, the receivers are that wide open.
The Eagles' linebackers and secondary break down so totally that it is impossible to tell what the coverage is supposed to be. That is no exaggeration. When we watch tape to prepare for "Eagles Extra" on Comcast SportsNet, we rerun plays dozens of times trying to figure out what the heck the call was. Is it Cover 3? Is it Tampa 2? The DBs and linebackers are so scattered and confused, there is almost no clue.
The Cowboys have the NFL’s lowest-ranked running game. That is because their best back, DeMarco Murray, has been sidelined by a foot injury. In the six games Murray missed, the Cowboys rushed for 85, 19, 65, 101, 63 and 35 yards. The 101-yard game was against the Eagles. Felix Jones (16 carries, 71 yards) took Murray’s place in that game.
Murray practiced this week but it is still unknown whether he will be available Sunday. If he can’t go, Jones will fill in again. Either way, Tony Romo probably will throw the ball a ton and considering the state of the Eagles' pass defense, that’s not a bad idea.
Romo didn’t throw much in the last game against the Eagles -- 19 of 26 for 209 yards and two touchdowns -- but he was very efficient (122.1 passer rating). He may air it out more this week, especially with Dez Bryant riding a hot streak (20 catches, 290 yards, three touchdowns in the last two games).Special teams
Alex Henery has converted his last 19 field goal attempts, a club record. He is 20 for 21 on the season, 44 for 48 in his career. Brandon Boykin had his best kickoff return of the season, 44 yards, last Sunday but fumbled it away. It has been that kind of season for the Eagles' return teams.
The big play in the last game between these teams was the 78-yard punt return for a touchdown by the Cowboys’ Dwayne Harris. The Eagles are allowing an average of 13.5 yards per punt return, 30th in the NFL.Intangibles
Don’t worry if you can’t get home for the start of the game. You won’t miss much with these teams. The Eagles have scored just 17 first-quarter points. Dallas isn’t much better in the first quarter (30 points).
Also, the Cowboys seem to play worse at home. They have 18 turnovers at home this season compared to just five on the road. Romo has thrown 12 of his 15 interceptions at Cowboys Stadium.
The Cowboys are two games behind the Giants in the NFC East and one game out of a wild-card spot, but they aren’t going to the playoffs. Owner Jerry Jones talks about the Cowboys making a run to the postseason, but they aren’t good enough. Sorry, Jerry, but you’ll be watching the playoffs on TV with the rest of us.Prediction
The Cowboys are a mediocre (at best) team that isn’t very well coached and plays lousy at home but, let’s face it, they are playing the Eagles.Cowboys 30, Eagles 17
E-mail Ray Didinger at firstname.lastname@example.org