NFL Preview - Philadelphia (8-3) at Dallas (8-3) (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) - Sports talk radio in the Philadelphia and Dallas markets has been abuzz leading up to the anticipated Thanksgiving showdown between the NFC East-rival Eagles and Cowboys.
Both teams are 8-3 and tied atop the division, so the gloves will be off Thursday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.
In what should be a classic shootout between potent offenses, the Cowboys have the advantage because they're playing at home even though they have lost two straight in the house that owner Jerry Jones built. The Cowboys haven't won at AT&T Stadium since Oct. 19 versus the New York Giants, the team they just defeated on the road Sunday night.
The victory didn't come easy and Tony Romo's 13-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant with 1:01 remaining in the game gave Dallas a 31-28 victory. The Cowboys struggled at times against a Giants team on the downturn, and Romo recorded four touchdowns and 275 yards on 18-of-26 passing with no interceptions. Bryant had two scores and 86 yards on seven receptions, and tight end Jason Witten hauled in a TD strike.
"We have a special group of guys," Romo said.
None more special than NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray. Murray has 1,354 yards and seven scores, and ran for 121 yards on 24 carries Sunday night. The Cowboys are averaging 150.1 yards per game on the ground because of Murray, who has eclipsed the 100-yard mark 10 times in 11 tries. Murray, though, has been held out of the end zone the past four games.
Look for that trend to end Thursday versus the Eagles. The Eagles could be in for a long afternoon and are allowing 109.0 rushing yards. Murray is averaging 123.1 rushing yards a game and is running like a bull. Even though the Eagles held Tennessee to 52 yards rushing in Sunday's 43-24 victory, the Cowboys are certainly not the Titans.
Even if Philadelphia manages to find a way to slow down Murray because he obviously can't be stopped, Romo has the weapons to carve up one of the worst defensive backfields in football. The Eagles are giving up 266.3 passing yards a game and 375.3 total yards. Imagine what Romo, Bryant and Witten can do with that.
The Cowboys, who are aiming for the first 9-3 start since 1981, have been a fixture on Thanksgiving since the 1960s and are 29-16-1 on the holiday. They are 6-2 in the last eight on Thanksgiving and posted a 31-24 victory over Oakland on Turkey Day last season. Murray had 63 yards and three touchdowns on 17 touches, while Bryant caught seven passes for 61 yards and a TD.
Philadelphia erased the unsightly memory of a 53-20 loss in Green Bay by taking care of business at home versus the Titans. LeSean McCoy, last season's NFL rushing champion, had something to prove Sunday and ran for 130 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. It was his third 100-yard game of the season and he silenced the critics for now.
"We just stuck to it. Coming off the terrible loss to Green Bay, everybody focused in and had a terrific week of practice and we just stuck to it," McCoy said. "I think everybody executed, they got the backs in one-on-one situations. The guys up front really, really blocked well. Even the guys outside, the wide receivers, they blocked well too so it was just all together."
McCoy (859 yards) is approaching the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season and for the fourth time in his career. If he wants to prove even further he is the same player, Thursday will be the day.
With Nick Foles (broken clavicle) still sidelined, Mark Sanchez made his second straight start and threw for 307 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions versus Tennessee. Protecting the football will be key for Sanchez against Dallas, and the Eagles had a large enough lead Sunday to overcome the mistakes.
"I think Sanchez played good and made the right calls and the different reads, got points when we needed points and drove the ball well," McCoy said of his quarterback. "Overall, we did well."
The Eagles have won three of their last four games and understand the magnitude of this holiday showdown.
"It's a short week, it's a big game, Thanksgiving is coming up and it's a division game at that," McCoy said. "So I think you add all those things up together, it's a must-win type of game. I look forward to that. We always have these battles with Dallas. They have a good team and so do we. It's a game we must win."
Dallas leads the all-time series with Philadelphia by a 62-48 count, including the playoffs. The Eagles had lost three in a row in this series until a 24-22 victory last Dec. 29 at AT&T Stadium clinched the NFC East.
The two rivals will play again quickly on Dec. 14 at Lincoln Financial Field.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Romo didn't play against the Eagles in the 2013 season finale because of his back problem, which is why he's been limited in practice this season. Romo's healthy again and threw for 317 yards with a TD and two INTs in a 17-3 win at the Linc on Oct. 20. Kyle Orton played well in the loss at home.
It's tough to decipher if the Cowboys will try to get Murray going early because they could test Philly's defensive backfield right away. Eagles corners Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher played better Sunday than they did at Green Bay, but they're facing Romo, who can extend plays and make throws.
"We just have to go through the mental dress rehearsal throughout the week and then hopefully on Thursday we can come out with a win. We understand how important this game is," Williams said. "It's huge, it's a big deal. Any division game is a big deal. We want to win our division and repeat what we did last year. They are a great opponent. They have a great team and are playing at a high level right now."
Bryant, Witten and Terrance Williams can cause major damage if Romo has enough time to find them. The Eagles have 38.0 sacks on the season and linebacker Connor Barwin has been a monster this season with 12 1/2. Only Kansas City's Justin Houston has more with 13.0. Barwin and Trent Cole each had two sacks Sunday for Philadelphia, which recorded five on Titans QB Zach Mettenberger.
The Eagles can take a page out of Washington's playbook from Oct. 27, when the Redskins sacked Romo five times in a 20-17 overtime win and knocked him out of the game with a back injury. Romo returned, but couldn't pull off the win.
Cole was asked about playing Dallas on short rest.
"We don't care. We're not worried about rest we know what we have to do in these next few days," Cole said. "We're going to get ourselves right and hopefully get after Dallas."
Philadelphia is facing a major test against Dallas' tough offensive line, and the Eagles will have to get pressure on Romo early and often.
Romo and the Cowboys are coming off a late Sunday night game and battled with the rival Giants. Romo's looking ahead for this week and talked about pulling off a win at New York.
"They're always hard fought," Romo said of the games against the Giants. "Now we got another challenge coming up here real quick. Philly's playing great football so we're going to have to play better than we did tonight to win that game."
He is hoping to be back to 100 percent in about a week, but said he felt better than he did in the win over Jacksonville in London. Romo, who has amassed a 26-5 record in November, said his movements in leading up to the Giants game improved from previous weeks. He is 6-1 on Thanksgiving and unbeaten in his last three starts against Philly.
Meanwhile, Murray admitted the Cowboys were a bit rusty coming off the bye. It didn't show with another 100-yard performance. Thursday will feature two of the league's dynamic running backs in Murray and McCoy.
"We have a quick turnaround against the Eagles, another tough opponent, another tough division rival," Murray said. "We're excited and we'll be ready."
Bryant reiterated Murray's thoughts.
"We gotta big one. We gotta big one Thursday."
The Eagles aren't sure if they'll have linebacker Emmanuel Acho Thursday because of a groin injury suffered versus Tennessee. Casey Matthews played inside after that and will get the call again if Acho's unavailable. The Eagles could be in trouble in coverage, especially if first-round draft pick Marcus Smith sees his first action.
Perhaps Philadelphia's strongest link in the secondary is safety Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins leads the Eagles with three picks, but hasn't had one since Sept. 28 at San Francisco.
"I know this is big," Jenkins said. "It's a division game and it's Dallas. We're battling for the NFC East, and it all starts on Thursday."
Jenkins can mix it up on special teams, where the Eagles have 10 return touchdowns this season by nine different players. Josh Huff was the latest on Sunday with a 107-yard kickoff return for a score to start the game.
The Eagles destroyed Arizona, 48-20, on Thanksgiving in 2008 and hammered the Cowboys, 27-0, back in 1989. They are 5-0 on Thanksgiving. The holiday results will not continue for an Eagles team that has three tough games on the horizon against Dallas twice and Seattle.
The entire football world saw what happened to the Eagles a few weeks ago when they played a tough road game at Lambeau Field. Dallas has the largest stadium in the league and you can be sure the place will be jumping like Bryant for Romo passes in the end zone.
"They play extremely hard on the defensive side of the ball. I think that's the one thing that really jumps out for you, and then obviously offensively they're running the ball at a very, very high rate and putting up a lot of really good yards in terms of what DeMarco Murray is doing, and then you've got a great quarterback in Tony Romo, you've got a great tight end in Witten, got some outstanding receivers, so it's going to be a heck of a game on Thursday," Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said.
Murray may not crack 100 yards, but he'll do enough to keep Philadelphia on its heels the entire game. In what should be a back-and-forth affair, it will be the Cowboys with the last laugh and sole ownership of first place in the NFC East.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Cowboys 41, Eagles 33