The Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) head to Dallas to take on the Cowboys (2-5), and the loser might effectively be eliminated from the NFC East division race. If the Eagles lose, and drop to 3-5, they will have three losses in the division -- a nightmare for a future tiebreak situation. If the Cowboys take their sixth loss, they will need to nearly perfect the rest of the way to repeat as division champions.
Running back DeMarco Murray is returning to Dallas for the first time since leaving the team as the NFL's leading rusher in 2014 and signing with the Eagles this offseason. The Cowboys will be using their third quarterback (Matt Cassel) against the Eagles in two games this season.
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Here are three keys to the game for both the Eagles and Cowboys.
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1. Take Darren McFadden out of the game
McFadden has racked up 275 total yards and 57 touches over the past two games. He has been the Cowboys' entire offense, for better -- Week 7 -- or for worse -- Week 8. The Eagles need to commit extra defenders to stop McFadden first, because unlike Dallas' Week 8 opponent, the Eagles haven't been a dominant unit against the run. In the Eagles' most recent game against the Panthers, the run defense allowed 204 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 33 carries.
2. Attack the interior of the Cowboys' defense
In 2014, Cowboys defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford emerged as a force on the defense after being moved inside to defensive tackle on a full-time basis. In 2015, he hasn't been as dominant rushing the passer, and he has been a major liability against the run in the middle of the Cowboys defense. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain, who had knee surgery this past offseason, has also not been the same force in the middle that he was in 2014. The Cowboys are vulnerable up the middle, and this means that the Eagles should scheme to attack them with power running plays. The best power runner the Eagles have is Murray, who could be looking at a breakout game if head coach Chip Kelly calls the right kinds of run plays for him.
3. Use double coverage on Dez Bryant
The Eagles need to pull a page out of the Bill Belichick playbook and make their defensive game plan set up to focus on two players. After taking away McFadden, they should look to take away Bryant with bracket coverage or a safety who constantly rotates over to Bryant's side of the field after the snap. In Bryant's last four games against the Eagles, since Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis took over, Bryant has racked up 396 yards receiving and four touchdowns on 26 receptions. The Eagles can't let Bryant take over again.
1. Find ways to get Bryant involved in space
The trait that separates Bryant from other wide receivers is his explosiveness after the catch. We saw that last week on his one big reception against Richard Sherman. The Eagles don't have a cornerback like Sherman, and the Cowboys need to attack whoever is defending Bryant early and often. If the Eagles decide to use a safety to help cover Bryant over the top, then it is up to Cowboys offensive play-caller Scott Linehan to find ways to get him the football in space. The Cowboys need a big game from Bryant if they want to move the football and break the 100-yard passing mark -- something they were unable to do in Week 8.
2. Blitz the A gap
The Eagles have struggled to find any consistency along their interior offensive line. The Eagles are already down to their second-string right guard, and neither offensive guard was starting for the team in 2014. They have replacement-level talent at the guard position, thanks in part to Chip Kelly's decision to not invest draft capital or any of his free agent budget to the offensive line. Now, the Cowboys must make them pay. Using linebackers Sean Lee and Rolando McClain, the Cowboys should use single and double a-gap blitzes to put pressure on Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford. Not allowing Bradford to get into a rhythm could lead to a couple timely turnovers that will help the Cowboys win this football game.
3. Use Sean Lee to take Zach Ertz out of the game
Over the Eagles' past few games, Ertz has become a much bigger part of their focus on offense. After totaling just 104 receiving yards on 10 catches through his first four games, Ertz has caught 14 passes for 166 yards over his past three games. Ertz has seen 22 targets over his past three games, more than any other Eagles skill-position player. Fortunately for the Cowboys, they have an answer for Ertz. Outside linebacker Sean Lee is one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL, and he should be used to shadow Ertz.