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Cowboys-Eagles Preview

Dallas has matchup edge, but Philly is tough at home

Posted: Monday November 14, 2005 12:20PM; Updated: Monday November 14, 2005 4:27PM
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Cowboys QB Drew Bledsoe's 97.4 passer rating ranks fourth in the NFL.
Cowboys QB Drew Bledsoe's 97.4 passer rating ranks fourth in the NFL.
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
Perloff's Primetime Picks
Week Prediction Outcome
1 N.E. 27, Oak. 24 N.E. wins 30-20
1 Atl. 23, Phi. 20 Atl. wins 14-10
2 N.O. 24, NYG 21 NYG wins 27-10
2 Dal. 23, Wash. 19 Wash. wins 14-13
3 Den. 31, K.C. 28 Den. wins 30-10
4 G.B. 28, Car. 24 Car. wins 32-29
5 Pit. 30, S.D. 21 Pit. wins 24-22
6 Ind. 42, StL. 21 Ind. wins 38-20
7 Atl. 31, NYJ. 16 Atl. wins 27-14
8 Pit. 34, Bal. 13 Pit. wins 20-19
9 Ind. 31, N.E. 27 Ind. wins 40-21
Perloff's MNF Record: 8-3

Can the Eagles win without Terrell Owens? Next question. Who in the heck are Greg Lewis, Billy McMullen and Reggie Brown? Next question. Will ABC have the guts to recreate last year's T.O.-Desperate Housewives Monday Night Football intro? Next question. In fact, I'm not going to answer any of those Terrell Owens-related questions right now. I'm channeling my inner-Drew Rosenhaus for this preview and the game must go on ...

This is, after all, a pivotal NFC East battle between two old rivals. The Giants and Redskins both lost on Sunday, so both the Cowboys and Eagles have a chance to move up in the division.

Dallas defeated Philadelphia 33-10 in Week 5. Even with Owens, Philly's offense was totally ineffective at Texas Stadium. Donovan McNabb completed 13 of 26 passes for 131 yards in the loss and the Eagles ran for just 19 yards. Meanwhile, Drew Bledsoe was 24-of-35 for 289 yards and three touchdowns in a game the Cowboys dominated from the opening kickoff.

The Cowboys Win If ...

... they don't come in  overconfident. The Eagles may not be dominating the division the way they have in previous years, but they haven't lost a real game at home since the NFC Championship Game in 2003 (Philly dropped a meaningless Week 17 game at home against the Bengals last year). Plus, they've won nine of their last 10 against Dallas.

The Cowboys welcome back running back Julius Jones, who has been nursing a high ankle sprain. Rookie Marion Barber has done an outstanding job filling in for Jones and probably will remain in the starting lineup. Dallas' wide receivers Terry Glenn and Keyshawn Johnson had their way with Eagles cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown in their last meeting. Tight end Jason Witten also had a big day against Philly and the Eagles have had trouble containing pass-catching tight ends all season.

Thanks to an emphasis on drafting defensive linemen, the Cowboys have a deep rotation that might cause the Eagles major problems tonight. Dallas is tied for fourth in the NFL with 24 sacks, and young ends like Chris Canty and Marcus Spears and standout linebacker Demarcus Ware are just going to get better as the season progresses. Now that McNabb can't run because of injuries, the Cowboys will have the option of dropping back everyone into coverage or blitzing the Eagles whenever they want.

The Eagles Win If ...

Eagels running back Brian Westbrook recently signed a five-year, $25 million contract extension.
Eagels running back Brian Westbrook recently signed a five-year, $25 million contract extension.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

... they play like their season depends on this game -- which it does. And McNabb abandons his no-scrambling policy. And they get some pressure on Bledsoe. Philly's fearsome blitz has been pretty tame this season. The Eagles rank 22nd in the NFL in sacks per pass play. The defensive line has been ineffective and tonight it will be missing starting end N.D. Kalu, who has an injured shoulder. Trent Cole and Darwin Walker will fill in for Kalu, which might end up being an improvement.

The knock on Philadelphia's offense has been its inability to run the ball. The Eagles rank last in the league -- and it's not even close -- with 58.6 rushing yards per game. They tried to run last week during a 17-10 loss to the Redskins, but they just couldn't get anything going. Brian Westbrook leads all running backs with 43 catches for 478 receiving yards, but he doesn't have a chance on a conventional running play. Philadelphia's offensive line isn't built for rushing the ball and Westbrook hasn't seen a hole all season.

McNabb is still suffering through his infamous sports hernia and isn't the same quarterback he's been in years past. In the loss to Washington he had an easy opportunity to scramble for a first down deep in Redskins territory on the game's final drive. McNabb looked like he was moving fairly well in the game, but instead of picking up the first down and probably tying the game, he threw the ball away.

Key Stat

From the Philadelphia Daily News: The Eagles are on pace to run the ball 288 times this year. If you throw out strike-shortened seasons, the last time an NFL team has run the ball fewer than 300 times in a season was the 1946 Detroit Lions -- and that was in an 11-game season.

The Outcome

This is the kind of game that separates the prognosticators from the pretenders. The Cowboys embarrassed the Eagles and appear to have an advantage in every aspect of the game. McNabb is usually pretty timid after he takes a hard hit early in the game and you have to figure Dallas is going to get pressure on him.

But Philly doesn't lose at home and should rally together after withstanding the worst of the Terrell Owens drama. In the Eagles' minds, Dallas may be somewhat responsible for the Owens mess, since former Cowboy Michael Irvin was perceived to be a provocateur. Expect pride to be a huge factor for Philadelphia tonight.

Coach Andy Reid is going to do whatever he can -- short of actually running the ball -- to protect McNabb. Look for Westbrook to break a pass play for a long touchdown and expect tight end L.J. Smith, who should finally be recovered from a concussion, to have several big catches.

Philadelphia 27, Dallas 21