Eagles – Cowboys: Thanksgiving Day Notes

The Eagles need a win against Dallas.  BUT, it doesn’t HAVE to be today.  What today’s game is really about is whether the Eagles are good enough to make a real run at a bye.  I’m confident they’ll take the division.  To do so, the Eagles just need to win one against Dallas, beat WAS and NYG and have the Cowboys drop a game (they play the Bears and Colts, both very lose-able games).  However, keeping up with the Packers is a taller order, and probably requires the team to go 2-1 over the next three (and win the final two).

Now, to the matchup-

– Dez Bryant scares me.  He’s really good, and Tony Romo is really good as well.  The only QB/WR combo the Eagles have played with as good a combination are the Packers (Rodgers/Nelson).  That didn’t go so well.

But,

In Dallas’ three losses this year, Bryant has recorded a TOTAL of 100 yards receiving.  He can absolutely be contained.  The key is to avoid situations where he gets one-on-one deep.  Normal 50/50 balls turn into 60/40 or 70/30 balls when Dez is involved.  He’s probably not going to beat you deep, but he doesn’t have to.  If the Eagles can jam him at the line and get reasonably responsible Safety play over top, they an hold Dez to a less-than-catastrophic game.

– Dallas’ O-Line is overhyped.  The run-blocking has been great (#1 according to Football Outsiders), but the pass-blocking has not (20th by FO, with an adjusted sack rate of 6.9%).  That’s the key to the game, and something people are overlooking.  The Eagles can absolutely get pressure on Romo, and whether they DO or not will go a long way to determining the outcome.

– Against the run, the Eagles LBs are going to have to play really well.  I’m mostly looking at Barwin and Kendricks here, because its foolish to rely on the other guys.  Also from Football Outsiders, Dallas is #1 in Second-Level blocking.  If the LBs can’t get off their blocks or work around the Dallas O-Linemen when they get downfield, Murray is going to gash this defense.

– Turnovers.  Stating the obvious here, but they’re key.  Mark Sanchez will likely turn the ball over at least once, and I’m betting on twice.  That’s not the important part.  The important part is getting them back on the other side.  Demarco Murray has 5 fumbles this year, and the Cowboys overall have 19 turnovers on offense.  That’s almost 2 per game, and that’s what I think the Eagles need to get to win this game.

– As has been the case in nearly every game this year, the Eagles have a big advantage on Special Teams.  That’s they’re leverage point, and without it I don’t see much of an edge.  Practically speaking, if the Eagles don’t get a couple of big returns or pin the Cowboys back with good coverage consistently, it’s going to be hard for the Eagles offense to keep up.

The Cowboys defense isn’t good (25th by DVOA), but the Eagles’ inconsistency worries me.  A couple of short fields would be a big help, even if it just results in Parkey FGs.

That’s all for today.  Odds breakdown is below, and as you’ll see, I don’t see a strong edge either way.  The opponents in common breakdown strongly favors the Eagles, but their 3 point underdogs, meaning Vegas sees them as roughly 42% to win.  I think the line is off (I’d have it at pick-em or Dallas by 1 point), but the takeaway is the same: this is a very close matchup.  In that case, natural variance will likely decide the winner.  Hopefully you’re feeling lucky.

—————–

My picks record to date:

Line: 5 – 6

O/U: 6 – 5

Reader record:

Line: 6 – 5

O/U: 9 – 2

This week’s lines:

Eagles +3 (+105)

Cowboys -3 (-125)

Over 56 (-110)

Under 56 (-110)

Reviewing last week:

The Eagles took care of business, as did we.  2-0 for the third time in three weeks, putting me in position to make a run at >55%. for the year.  Not much to take away from the game itself, the Eagles are a much better team and the result reflects that.

This week’s game:

This is a big game, no way around it.  BUT, I want to remind everyone that the Eagles don’t “need” this win by any stretch of the imagination.  Looking at the rest of the schedule, as long as the Eagles win against Washington and the Giants to close out the season, going 1-2 over the DAL-SEA-DAL set gets the team to 11-5.  Here’s the key: as long as that win comes against Dallas, the Eagles are in really good shape to win the division.  The Cowboys still have games against Chicago and Indianapolis, and I don’t think they’ll win both.  By virtue of the Cowboys’ loss to Washington, the above results would give the Eagles a tiebreaker over Dallas for the division (better division record).

So…a win tomorrow takes a lot of pressure off the team and keeps them in the race for a bye, but a loss really isn’t THAT damaging.  It would just mean the Eagles need to win at home against Dallas in two weeks.

Now for the breakdown:

DVOA:

Eagles Overall DVOA: 12.4% (8th)

Cowboys Overall: 8.5% (10th)

Eagles Offense: -2.2% (16th)

Cowboys Defense: 6.1% (25th)

Eagles Defense: -5.3% (8th)

Cowboys Offense: 14.5% (5th)

The Eagles STs reclaimed the #1 ranking, with a DVOA of 9.4%.  The Cowboys STs rank 13th at 0.1%.

As you can see, the DVOA suggests a really close game.  The Eagles offense has struggled to find consistency, but the Cowboys defense is in the bottom third of the league.  On the other side, the Cowboys offense looks really good, but the Eagles defense is playing well also (notwithstanding the Packers game).  As has been the case several time this year, it really could come down to special teams, where the Eagles have a large advantage.

In general, though, the numbers point to a tossup, which squares with the spread (2-3 points for home field).

Opponents in Common

Here’s where things look interesting for Eagles fans.  These teams have EIGHT opponents in common.  Being in the same division will do that for you.  Anyway, here are the results:

Jacksonville – Eagles won at home by 17.  Cowboys won on the road by 14. (Tie)

Washington – Eagles won at home by 3.  Cowboys lost at home by 3. (Advantage Eagles)

49ers – Eagles lost on the road by 5.  Cowboys lost at home by 11. (Eagles)

Rams – Eagles won at home by 6.  Cowboys won on the road by 3. (Tie)

Giants – Eagles won at home by 27.  Cowboys won at home by 10.  (Eagles).  The Cowboys also beat the Giants on the road by 3.

Arizona – Eagles lost on the road by 4.  Cowboys lost at home by 11. (Eagles).

Houston – Eagles won on the road by 10.  Cowboys won at home by 3 in OT.  (Eagles).

Titans – Eagles won at home by 19.  Cowboys won on the road by 16. (Tie).

Now you see why I thought they were interesting for Eagles fans.  Of the 8 comps, the Eagles clearly performed better in 5 of them, with the other 3 a coming out as ties (with each exactly accounting for a 3 point home field advantage).

Basically, this says to me that the Eagles, in a vacuum, are probably a slightly better team than the Cowboys.  Of course, that doesn’t mean a head-to-head matchup would play out that way.

Score Projection

The Cowboys defense ranks 25th by DVOA, just behind Washington and just ahead of Carolina.  Against those teams, the Eagles scored 37 and 45 points, both at home.  The only other worse defenses the Eagles have played are the Giants and Titans, against whom the Eagles scored 27 and 43.  That’s a pretty bullish signal for the Eagles offense.

Meanwhile, the Eagles offense ranks 16th, slightly better than San Francisco and Houston.  Against those teams, Dallas allowed 28 and 17 points, both at home.

Those are tough results to reconcile.  On the season, the Eagles are averaging 31.1 ppg, while Dallas is allowing 21.8 ppg.  Facing a poor defense, it seems unfair to expect the Eagles to perform below average, but you could say the same thing from the other perspective.  Overall, I think an expectation between those averages is reasonable, but the results point strongly to the high end of the range.  With that, I’m setting the Eagles projection at 28-30 points.

The Cowboys offense ranks 5th by DVOA, a few spots below GB but with a large value gap (10% DVOA).  Unfortunately, the next highest ranking offense that the Eagles have faced is Indianapolis, now ranked 13th with a DVOA of 3.1%.  Against them, on the road, the Eagles allowed 27 points.  Against GB, the Eagles allowed 53.  For obvious reasons, I think the Colts is a better comp, but neither of them is a really strong match.

From the other side, the Eagles defense ranks 8th, just behind Seattle and a few spots ahead of Jacksonville.  Against those teams, the Cowboys scored 30 and 31 points, both on the road.  Knock those up a couple of points for home/road and combined it with the Indy comp and we’re left with a range of 29-31 points.

On the season, the Cowboys are averaging 26.5 ppg, so a range starting at 29 against a good defense seems generous.  The Eagles are allowing an average of 25 ppg, but have only played one offense better than Dallas, against whom they were destroyed.  Factor in home field and I don’t see any good reason to adjust the range.  I’m setting Dallas at 29-31.

That gives us a score projection of Dallas 29-31, Eagles 28-30.  In other words, a razor thin margin, and well within our relatively wide margin of error.  We also haven’t adjusted for the STs advantage, which I think is worth 1-2 points.  That puts us dead on a 50/50 game. In that case, take the points.

I’m terrified of Dez Bryant against the Eagles’ secondary, and Tony Romo is a much better QB than most Philly fans like to admit.  HOWEVER, the Dallas O-Line hype-train is a little out of control right now.  The run-blocking has been great, but that plays into the Eagles strength (relatively).  The pass-blocking, on the other hand, has not been good.  Romo is taking sacks at a rate of 6.3%.  Demarco Murray has 7 TDs…but 5 fumbles.

I’d feel a lot better if Nick Foles was the QB, since I think 2 interceptions is inevitable for Sanchez, but the Cowboys could very easily give those TOs right back.  In all, buckle your seat belts, because this should be a wild game.

The O/U is 56 at Bovada, but you can get it at 55.5 other places.  Regardless, my projection points to a range of 58-62, depending on how you factor the Eagles STs.  That means take the over, which the Eagles have now hit in 8 of 11 games this season.

 

 

 

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