Not many people predicted that both the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, at the halfway point of the season, would be 3-5. Normally, this NFC East matchup is one of the highlights of the season, but based on disappointing performances from both teams the past two weeks, this game is shaping up to be a dud. Whoever wins teeters closer to playoff hopeful—though barely—while the loser sinks into the abyss of a lost season.
The Cowboys are coming off two games that seemed winnable for a stretch but ultimately ended with losses to the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons. The team and the front office seem to be unraveling. Luckily for the Cowboys, the Eagles are essentially in the same predicament. Here are the 10 keys for the game that could earn Dallas a much-needed win.
Michael Vick’s Turnovers
It’s been a dreadful season for quarterback Michael Vick. So bad, his own brother went on a bizarre Twitter rant clamoring for a trade (though, the intent was denied by Vick).
Last week against the New Orleans Saints, Vick performed marginally better, throwing for 272 yards and only one interception. But so far on the season, he’s had nine interceptions and 10 fumbles. His QBR this year is 47.7. Part of the blame goes to Vick’s decisions, but another reason for the high turnover ratio…
The Philadelphia Offensive Line: Can It Get Any Worse?
The situation for the Eagles' offensive line is, to put it bluntly, putrid. Last week against the Saints, Vick was sacked seven times, and he hit the ground 18 times. And the protection for him has just been terrible this entire season, where he’s been knocked down over 130 times. The offensive line for the Eagles has been decimated by injury and doesn’t look like it will be improving anytime soon.
The Dallas Running Game Should Be Minimal
Without DeMarco Murray, the Dallas running game is virtually non-existent. He’s been extremely limited in practices thus far and it appears he needs more time before he can return.
Back as the Dallas starter, Felix Jones isn’t exactly putting himself back into the team’s good graces. With a fumble against the Giants two weeks ago (on a drive that could have sealed a Dallas victory), and just 39 yards against the Falcons, Jones looks depleted.
Special Teams (for Both Dallas and Philadelphia)
Last week, the Philadelphia Eagles nearly accomplished a nifty kickoff return, but it was ruled back due to a forward pass. Dallas has had an inconsistent run with special teams but seems to be back to getting good kick returns with Dwayne Harris. If both these offenses struggle—and there is a very high possibility that could happen—expect special teams to kick into high gear for this game.
Jason Witten Must Score Touchdowns
It’s a shame that Jason Witten garnered a Cowboys milestone on that grim loss last week to the Falcons. (He passed Michael Irvin for the most receptions in a Cowboys jersey.) The last two games, in fact, Witten has looked stellar, and he appears to be over his injury.
The one glaring hole in Witten’s game is that he’s had just one touchdown all season. Witten has always been Romo’s favorite target, and with the lack of success Dallas has been having in the end zone, they need Witten to start scoring.
Miles Austin Has Got to Have a 100-Yard Game
With the inconsistencies of both Dez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree being an issue, it’s got to fall on receiver Miles Austin to give Romo a chance at making a throw for over 20 yards (something the Dallas offense has been struggling with all season). Already he’s been Romo’s favorite target on the deep throws. Austin may have a respectable fantasy season going, but he’s going to need a monster game against the Eagles to make a bigger impact on this life-support team.
Tony Romo Must Have a Consistent Game
It’s been another roller coaster season for Romo. Two weeks ago against the Giants, Romo threw four interceptions (one that was run back for a touchdown by Jason Pierre-Paul). While two of those looked to be bad routes run by receivers, it still doesn’t feel like Romo has a great handle on this offense.
Historically, Romo plays at his worst when the team seems to be heading for a tailspin. If he wants Dallas to win this game, he’s got to avoid the mental mistakes that doomed the Cowboys against Chicago and New York.
The Dallas Defense Needs a Strong Showing
Against the Giants, the Dallas defense allowed only one offensive touchdown (and that came with the ball on the 15-yard line due to a Dez Bryant kick-return fumble). They held the unbeaten Falcons to 19 points and looked sharp during the first half, where they held the team to two field goals.
In the second half, the defense took a step backward and allowed a couple of big plays to Roddy White and Julio Jones.
Specifically with That Defense: Orlando Scandrick and the Dallas Secondary
Last week, Scandrick got burned by running back Jacquizz Rodgers on a 3rd-and-short that turned into a 31-yard run and all but sealed the Dallas loss. He’s not the first Cowboys secondary player to allow a long play, but it’s becoming a bad pattern for Dallas. The Eagles have offensive weapons (Jackson, Celek) that could really thrash Dallas if they continue this sloppy coverage.
And Speaking of…DeSean Jackson
It’s been a mediocre season so far for Jackson (at least based on what he’s accomplished in years past), with just two games of 100 yards catching and two touchdowns. His longest play for the season came in the third quarter against the Saints with a 77-yard reception. It was one of three catches he had for the entire game. Jackson has always liked to talk a big game and against the Cowboys, it would be an opportunity for him to get back on track. And that’s the last thing Dallas needs.