Sunday, October 30, 2011
Halftime thoughts: Eagles-Cowboys
By Dan Graziano
PHILADELPHIA -- Given the career record of Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid in games immediately following bye weeks, you almost wonder why the Dallas Cowboys would bother to show up here tonight.
So far, they haven't.
The Eagles, who are 12-0 in games right after the bye week since Reid became their coach, have roared to a 24-0 halftime lead over the Cowboys here at Lincoln Financial Field. They went 79 yards on eight plays for a touchdown on the first drive of the game and haven't looked back, dominating Dallas on both sides of the ball in one of their most impressive efforts of the season.
The game isn't over, and I do remember sitting in this same seat four weeks ago and watching the Eagles blow a 20-3 halftime lead to the 49ers. But they've been considerably better than the Cowboys in every phase of the game. They have not turned the ball over. They've converted all but one of their third downs and all but one of their red-zone opportunities. They've possessed the ball for nearly 21 of the game's 30 minutes and stayed away from the kinds of mistakes that were costing them chances to put teams like San Francisco away during their four-game losing streak.
Dallas' defense has been a wreck. They entered the game as the top-ranked run defense in the league, allowing 69.7 yards per game on the ground. But the Eagles ran for 140 in the first half -- 95 by running back LeSean McCoy and 45 by quarterback Michael Vick. The Cowboys have looked lost and confused in pass defense, too, as Vick has repeatedly been able to find open receivers in the middle of the field. The first-quarter wrist injury to inside linebacker Sean Lee has surely hurt, but it's not as though the Eagles weren't already doing whatever they wanted to do on offense before he went out.
The Eagles would, I think, be wise to grind this out with McCoy the rest of the way. Their offensive line is doing a great job of run-blocking, as it has all year. The lead is massive, McCoy likes a heavy workload and passing is really the only way the Eagles can commit the kind of rapid-fire turnovers that would grant the Cowboys opportunities. So I guess the Cowboys need to lock in on McCoy and the run game the rest of the way. Can't hurt, since they're already getting crushed in coverage.
At the beginning of the game, it appeared as though the Cowboys' plan was to blitz Vick with defensive backs -- a strategy that's worked for many teams this year. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh came on two blitzes on the first drive, but Vick is getting rid of the ball more quickly than he did earlier in the year, and that's helped him handle the blitz better.
When Dallas has had the ball on offense, it has been able to do very little with it. Martellus Bennett had an awful drop on a very nice Tony Romo throw that resulted in an Nnamdi Asomugha interception. Wideouts Miles Austin and Dez Bryant each played the whole first half without catching a ball as Romo completed just four passes -- two to Laurent Robinson and two to Jason Witte. DeMarco Murray's 74 yards on six carries are the lone Dallas bright spot.
Coming into the game, I felt the Eagles needed to win more than the Cowboys did. Philly is 2-4 and Dallas is 3-3, and the toughest part of the Cowboys' schedule is behind them. The Eagles have so far played with the same kind of urgency and determination they showed two weeks ago in their victory over the Redskins. The Cowboys are playing like a team that got punched in the face right away and hasn't yet recovered.