Playing for the number one spot in the NFC East, the Dallas Cowboys hosting the Philadelphia Eagles in Thanksgiving offers one of the best billings not just on this day but also in the league this whole season between two very good offensive teams that go about their business in very different ways.
The Dallas Cowboys completely rely on Tony Romo connecting with Dez Bryant, and DeMarco Murray being able to run behind a massive offensive line. The duo account for 57.2% of the Cowboys’ yards from scrimmage so far this season, the highest among any pair of offensive teammates, followed by Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers at 56.4%. Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery are close behind at 56.3%. The fourth placed duo is below 50%.
Points are going to come in this game, and also a lot of yards. The difference is how and from who. The Eagles are third in the NFL in points per game but those big performances usually come at home. Their road schedule this season has been brutal, and they’ve been held to 21 points or less three times, including in their 53-20 loss to the Packers. The Dallas Cowboys aren’t ranked as highly in scoring, but might have a better way of getting it done.
How? DeMarco Murray of course, leading the NFL in rushing with 1354 yards so far through 11 games, going over 100 in 10 of them. This allows the Cowboys to control the clock, and are 4th in the NFL in time of possession. Having such an efficient running game that’s about a low of power and blasting behind a great blocking offensive line helps the Cowboys get out of jams, ranked 2nd in the NFL when it comes to third down conversions. The Eagles are 30th in the NFL in time of possession. LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles are great running backs, but the key word for the Eagles is pace.
Still, despite having a great offensive line that often buys a lot of time for Romo, as he got in the dramatic win over the Giants, their strength is more in run blocking. The Eagles are very aggressive on the pass rush and as a defensive unit as a whole. They’ve generated pressure on 32.5% of opposing quarterbacks dropbacks, more than anyone else in the NFL. Their defense and special teams have 10 touchdowns this season, more than anyone else in the league.
There’s also the Mark Sanchez factor, which is always quite shaky. Sanchez still has a place in the league, but the question is whether that place is with a team that wants to go deep into the playoffs. He has thrown six interceptions in four games including two against a very bad Tennessee defense. The Cowboys are especially good at putting quarterbacks on their backs or under pressure, but they’re not as bad as some give them (or don’t give, depending on your outlook) credit for.
It’s going to be the first game out of two in 18 days between the two division rivals, defining the winner of the NFC East. Both teams should make the playoffs either way, but it’s a close one in the NFC. The Cowboys need the first win a bit more because of their situation in the division. The Eagles becoming the fourth team to win in Dallas this season will almost surely seal their division head to head after winning against each of the three teams.