Big game today for reasons so obvious I won’t list them. The Eagles are favored, though I disagree with that. To date, the Cowboys have a better resume, though the gap isn’t huge. Both teams have, in my mind, proven their mediocrity. Trying to parse mediocre teams is an exercise in futility, so I think the best way to frame the game is as a true toss-up. There are, however, a few areas I’m particularly interested/concerned in/about.
– Fletcher Cox. Great game last week. Was it a fluke? Was he just taking advantage of a poor interior O-Line and a rookie QB? Is he finally adjusting to his new role? We don’t know, but today will shed some more light on the subject. I said preseason, and I maintain today, that Cox is currently the most important “piece” on the team. The Eagles need him to be a difference-maker, otherwise this defense is going to take a long time to come around. Keep an eye on him.
– Nick Foles. Stating the obvious here, but it needs to be said. The Foles detractors have just one objective card to play, small sample size. With every game, that becomes less relevant. Now one more game isn’t going to change too much, but with every good performance, the chances of Foles being as good as his numbers increases. He had some good “luck” last week, so dial back the expectations a little bit. But, he’s got plenty of room to “come down” and still have a good game. In particular, watch the deep throws, which have been his biggest weakness thus far. Hit hit a couple last week, but one was under-thrown (Cooper).
– Special Teams. The Eagles’ special teams have not been good (-7.9% DVOA, 29th overall). The Cowboys’ have been very good (6.5% DVOA, 4th overall). In what looks to be a close match, that’s a red flag for anyone rooting for the Eagles. Hopefully Alex Henery is on his game, touchback-wise, but if not, hold your breadth, cause this could get ugly.
– Onside Kick. Related to the last point, this is a good opportunity to go for a “surprise” onside kick. Check with Henery pre-game, but if he can’t kick every kickoff out of the end-zone, the risk-reward tradeoff for an onside kick looks pretty attractive. Given the STs disparity, you have to assume that every Cowboys return has a significant chance to result in a big play. Assume that these kicks will give the Cowboys field position at the 35 yard line (that might be conservative…). Well a failed on-side kick will likely give the Cowboys the ball somewhere between the Eagles 45 and the 50 yard line.
There’s some dispute as to what the success rate of surprise onside kicks is, but AdvancedNFLStats.com says that when the WP of the kicking team is between .4 and .5 (when its early or the game is still close), the rate is close to 60%.
Would you give up 20 yards of field position (remembering how bad the Eagles defense is) in exchange for a 60% chance of regaining possession? DEFINITELY.
– That covers the areas of focus. Obviously the DBs will be important, but not much left to say about them. If the Eagles can hold the Cowboys to less than 30 points, they’ll be in good shape.