NFL Preview - Dallas (3-5) at Philadelphia (3-5)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie didn't do his team or head coach Andy Reid any favors by saying an eight-win season would be unacceptable.
There are eight games remaining in the season and the Eagles haven't even reached half that mark in wins.
Philadelphia will try to stop a four-game losing streak Sunday, when the despised NFC East-rival Dallas Cowboys pay a visit to Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles are having problems in all phases of the game, especially on offense. They are 29th in scoring with an average of 16.6 ppg and were hammered by the New Orleans Saints, 28-13, on Monday night.
It didn't take a genius to discover what the Eagles have been lacking, as pass protection is becoming an issue recently. Quarterback Michael Vick was sacked seven times against the Saints and has been down 27 times in eight games. Vick has been sacked at least three times in four straight games.
And who's to blame for that? A little blame can go around, but the injuries across the offensive line have been vital in the team's success. Instead of giving Vick enough time to find an open receiver, the quarterback is dodging for his life just moments after taking the snap.
"It's hard to see Michael get hit so much. We have to have trust in the scheme and in the technique and get better," guard Dennis Kelly said.
Well, that's easier said than done. All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters was lost for the season while training, center Jason Kelce went down with a torn knee ligament in Week 2 and now right tackle Todd Herremans is dealing with a foot/ankle issue suffered at the Superdome. So, the offensive line will play musical chairs once again. Two unknowns, center Dallas Reynolds and Kelly, have been thrust into starting roles and the play of tackles Kind Dunlap and Demetress Bell have been below average. Julian Vandervelde was activated to the 53-man roster to replace Herremans and guard Danny Watkins is still out.
"We know we have to be better. There were times when we moved the ball, but it wasn't enough," Bell said. "It's just a tough situation right now that we have to work hard at and overcome."
Taking a page from rap group Mobb Deep, Vick said "only the strong survive" in this game. He added that the obligatory sentiment that the Eagles have to find a way to figure this mess out. Vick completed 22 of his 41 pass attempts for 272 yards, one touchdown and a costly interception in the red zone that glanced off the hand of tight end Brent Celek and was intercepted and returned 99 yards for a touchdown. Turning the ball over in the red zone has happened quite often for the Eagles, who have had trouble scoring, too.
"We need to score more points and win games, bottom line," Vick said. "We're not doing that right now."
Meanwhile, the Cowboys haven't been gang busters either when it comes to reaching the scoreboard. They are 26th in the NFL with an average of 18.8 ppg and almost knocked off unbeaten Atlanta Sunday night.
In a 19-13 road loss to the Falcons, the Dallas defense allowed 453 yards and were lucky the score wasn't more lopsided. The Cowboys had three sacks and did not force a turnover, losing for the second straight week and for the fourth time in the previous five games.
"I thought our guys played hard," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "We just didn't play well enough against this team (Atlanta)."
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has been criticized just as much as Vick, but has a better offense around him. Romo is the reason why Dallas is third in passing yards (299.1 ypg) and sixth in total yards (382.5 ypg). November is the time of year Romo thrives, going 19-3 in the month with 6,031 yards, 52 touchdown passes and 14 INTs for a 111.3 rating.
Romo will have to carry the load again in south Philly, but is bothered by a back injury that doesn't appear to be serious enough that he won't play.
"I think he's feeling better," Garrett said.
Garrett better hope so since the Cowboys' ground attack has seen better days. Starting running back DeMarco Murray is still hampered by a foot injury, leaving former starter Felix Jones in charge. Jones had 39 of Dallas 65 net yards rushing against the Falcons, while Romo threw for 321 yards and a score. He has thrown at least one touchdown pass in five straight weeks, but has 10 picks in that stretch.
Dez Bryant and Jason Witten could pose as problems for an Eagles defense under newly-appointed coordinator Todd Bowles. Witten has caught 95 passes for 1,078 yards and seven touchdowns in 17 career games against the Eagles, who have allowed 84 points in the last three games and 100 during the skid.
"I've been here eight years and I've had times where the team had situations like this," Eagles DE Trent Cole said. "We've got to get to the drawing board and get this thing right. We all have to be held accountable, look at ourselves individually and take it to another level personally."
Romo has played the Eagles 10 times in his career, amassing 11 touchdown passes to go along with 11 interceptions. In six career games against Dallas, Vick owns 11 TDs to just three INTs and a 111.1 rating. The Cowboys were swept in last season's series with Philadelphia, getting outscored, 54-14. Philadelphia has won three of the previous four matchups between the NFC East inhabitants.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
For how badly the Eagles' offense has been, they could catch a break against a nicked up Dallas defense. With star middle linebacker Sean Lee out for the season with a toe ailment, the Cowboys also lost linebacker Orie Lemon to a hamstring injury. That's why the Cowboys added Gary Guyton to the roster in hopes of him picking up the scheme right away. Dan Connor is battling a neck issue, so there's plenty of opportunities to seize the moment.
Bruce Carter, Ernie Sims and Alex Albright are other options at linebacker.
"He has taken that next step. His hard work is paying off," Lee said of Carter. "Obviously he's a talented guy. All that work he put in preparing now is showing on the field. I think it's matter of time before he's one of the best linebackers in football. He has the ability to be that. Now it's just a matter of playing like that every week."
Those are some kinds words of inspiration for Carter, who has 55 tackles. The Cowboys could be in trouble, however, if there's confusion defensively. Statistics don't lie and Dallas is fifth in both pass yards (205.5) and total yards allowed (312.5). The Eagles are 14th in passing (243.2), 10th in total yards (373.9) and 10th in rushing (130.6).
Eagles receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, and Celek can break out at any moment. The Cowboys are hoping this isn't the week that occurs.
If Cowboys talented nose guard Jay Ratliff is unable to play or is at half strength with a balky ankle, the Eagles could take advantage with running back LeSean McCoy. Fresh off 119 yards on 19 carries against the Saints, McCoy, who recorded 20 total touchdowns a year ago, has just two rushing touchdowns and three receiving this season for a struggling offense.
"It's disappointing, with the type of talent and players we have in this locker room, especially on offense, not to get the job done," McCoy said. "Oh- for-five (in the red zone) is terrible. Like I said, we just have to get better at it. Keep talking about it and not correcting it is not helping us out at all."
McCoy was able to get going in New Orleans for his third 100-yard performance of the season and 12th of his career, and can take a bite out of the Cowboys on Sunday. Dallas is allowing 107.0 rushing yards per game. McCoy has two 100- yard efforts in the last three meetings with the Cowboys.
The Eagles may not have a choice but to run the ball on Sunday. It won't get any easier for the o-line against one of the premier pass rushers in the game in DeMarcus Ware. In 14 career games against Philly, Ware has 15 1/2 sacks -- the most against any team. Ware has nine sacks in the past three matchups with the Eagles, and will surely add to that in a few days.
Another stat to look for is red zone chances. The Cowboys have reached the end zone 44 percent of the time they get inside the 20-yard line, while the Eagles are last in the NFC at 37 percent. A loss for the Cowboys would give them their longest slide since a five-game drought from Oct. 10 - Nov. 7, 2010.
The Eagles are riding their longest losing streak since dropping four straight from Sept. 18 - Oct. 9 last season. They have never lost five in a row in the Reid era and last dropped five straight games to kick off the 1998 campaign under coach Ray Rhodes. The Eagles were 3-13 that season and named Reid coach that offseason. Reid is 17-9 against the Cowboys in the regular season and 9-4 since 1999 at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles have gone 14-5 in division play since 2009. Another reason why the Eagles have the advantage is their six-game winning streak against the NFC East. It will be just the second division game for Philadelphia, which will bounce back in a big way courtesy of the spry legs of McCoy and a much better effort from the offensive line.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 24, Cowboys 20
11/08 14:08:44 ET