The Dallas Cowboys continue the 2014 NFL season with a home game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 13. Here are the five storylines to watch entering the game.
Getting better at home. The Cowboys are a blazing-hot 5-0 on the road, but just 3-3 at home. Yet, there’s reason for optimism. Why? Tony Romo is healthy. Stay with me. Consider the three losses at home. First, there was the San Francisco game when Romo was barely a shell of his usual self. Then came Washington, where Romo left the game for a long stretch, came back and wasn’t himself. Then came Arizona, where Romo didn’t play at all. See the common thread? If Romo is, well, Romo, then the Cowboys have a real chance of beating the Eagles. And with Romo coming off a 275-yard, four-touchdown performance against the New York Giants, it’s safe to say he’s Romo again.
Time of possession. For this game the debate isn’t who will win the time of possession battle. It’s whether it even matters. The Cowboys are sixth in time of possession with an average of 31 minutes, 39 seconds. The Eagles are No. 30 at 27:31. Yet when you look at points per game the Eagles are No. 3 (31.1) and the Cowboys are No. 7 (26.5). The Eagles and head coach Chip Kelly just don’t care about how much time they have the football, only that they score every time they touch it. You might initially think the best defense in this game is the Cowboys’ offense. But that’s not the case. The best defense in this contest will be the Cowboys’ defense, but only if it plays like it did in the second half of the Giants game.
Will the real Shady please stand up? Eagles running back LeSean McCoy has not quite been himself this season, especially when it comes to rushing the ball. It took him six games to clear 100 yards in a game, coming against the New York Giants. Since then he seems to have become more consistently productive, with three 100-yard rushing games in the past six contests. But in the midst of this run was a 12-carry, 19-yard effort against Carolina. Coming off a 130-yard effort against Tennessee, it would appear that McCoy is riding a surge. The Cowboys run defense isn’t Top 10, but it’s close at No. 13 in rushing yards allowed. Plus, it’s coming off a solid game against the New York Giants, holding them to 89 rushing yards on 32 carries for a 2.8-yards-per-carry average. If the Cowboys could hold McCoy, and his backfield mate Darren Sproles, under 100 yards total, it bodes well for a Cowboys win. The Cowboys have held four opponents under 100 yards rushing and have won all four games.
Fumbleitis. Thursday’s game is a battle of the two best teams in the NFC East. It’s also a battle of the two worst teams in the NFL, in terms of fumbles. Both the Cowboys and Eagles lead the NFL in fumbles lost in 2014, with 11 each. For the Cowboys, the main culprit has been DeMarco Murray, who has five of them. For the Eagles their worst culprits are their quarterbacks, the injured Nick Foles (3) and the current starter, Mark Sanchez (2). Ball protection is critical when you have two teams with starkly different identities. Neither can afford to give up a possession.
New opportunities. Both safety Jeff Heath and defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford underwent separate thumb surgeries that should keep them out for at least a couple of weeks. What does this mean? Well, with Heath, the Cowboys must find a new backup nickel corner and that would appear to be Jakar Hamilton, who hasn’t been active in a game all season. As for Crawford’s position, this could open up playing time for Josh Brent, who was inactive for Sunday’s game but has practiced fully this week. Losing Crawford hurts, but the Cowboys have options there. Losing Heath really puts the Cowboys in a significant depth issue in the secondary, since Hamilton hasn’t played all year. I suspect you’ll see less rotation in the secondary than in past weeks.