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It’s Dallas Night: The Two Keys to the Eagles Winning the Game

Oct 30, 2011, 6:54 PM EDT

The 2-4 Eagles host the 3-3 Dallas Cowboys.

When the Eagles are on defense…

What happens when a stoppable force meets a movable object? DeMarco Murray’s breakthrough aside, the Cowboys are still facing legitimate questions with regard to their running game. Similarly, the Eagles limited Redskins running backs to just 28 yards on the ground two weeks ago, but that hasn’t convinced anybody Juan Castillo suddenly figured it out. So what’s it going to be?

Probably a little bit of column A, little bit of column B. With all due deference to Murray, who looks like a legitimate talent, the Dallas interior is a weakness. It’s the type of problem that doesn’t often correct itself overnight, or with a simple change at running back. That said, stopping the Redskins — who basically imploded — doesn’t necessarily mean the Eagles have righted the ship either, and they won’t be able to over-commit with so many talented receivers on the field.

The Eagles will probably look strong at the point of attack for stretches, but there will inevitably be a handful of plays where Murray gets loose in the secondary. When that happens, the key will be holding him to nine yards, not 90.

When the Eagles are on offense…

As was mentioned a few weeks back, the bigger concern for the Eagles arguably has been the performance on offense, particularly their ability to finish drives with six. They may be racking up yards at a historic pace, but it’s only translated into 24.2 points per game — and they haven’t actually scored more than 24 since Week 2.

There is a good chance the Birds won’t be able to lean on their most consistent option in LeSean McCoy either. The Cowboys defense is allowing the fewest yards per game in the NFL, and as we saw earlier this season against the second-ranked 49ers, that usually equates to a pass-heavy attack from Andy Reid.

The problem is that’s how the Eagles get themselves into trouble sometimes. Mike Vick has already committed more turnovers this season than he did in all of 2010, losing three fumbles and tossing eight interceptions so far, and Dallas certainly has the horses to get after him. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will try to turn the game into a chess match, moving his pieces around the board to give the quarterback different looks in an attempt to disguise their blitzes and confuse Vick.

If they aren’t going to be able pound the rock, there still needs to be an emphasis on ball security. As we saw last week, the Eagles can combat the pressure with short drops where Vick gets the ball out of his hands quickly. The offense will have opportunities to take their shots, but if they swing for the fences on every possession, they could be playing right into the Cowboys’ hands.

Prediction:

Whichever team wins this game tonight will go on to win the division.

The Giants have a rough road ahead of them, and the Redskins are crumbling. The NFC East is right there for the taking.

It’s easy to see how the Cowboys could rise to the top, a favorable schedule in front of them, a potential star breaking out at running back, and a defense that can stop the run and rush the quarterback.

But the Eagles could answer a lot of questions about their identity tonight. Can they at least contain a running back who is capable of hanging 250 on a defense? Can they turn piles and piles of yards into points instead of giveaways? Because those are things they need to do if there is any hope of this team making the playoffs.

That, and beat Dallas.