The Philadelphia Eagles seem designed to match up with the Cowboys, making them the ideal nemesis to face twice toward the end of the season with a division crown on the line.
The Eagles might be the toughest opponent of the year so far, but there are a few reasons Cowboys fans should expect to be thankful Thursday.
1. Bad Mark Sanchez Shows Up
“Good Mark Sanchez” showing up Thursday is bad news for Cowboys fans, but it’s far more likely that the Cowboys will face regular Mark Sanchez.
Since taking over as Philadelphia’s starting quarterback, Sanchez is pushing the ball downfield at the most efficient rate of his career. His 8.1 yards per attempt would rank fourth — just ahead of Peyton Manning — if he qualified. That number is up from about 6.5 per attempt during his time in New York.
Expect the Eagles to gain significant yardage, but also expect Sanchez to give the Cowboys offense a few additional possessions. In three of his four starts with the Eagles, Sanchez has thrown two interceptions. His 4.1 interception percentage would rank him 29th in the league and is in line with his career rate of 3.7 percent.
2. An Overworked Running Back
The NFL isn’t kind to overworked running backs, and the Eagles’ LeSean McCoy appears to be the latest victim.
The actual threshold of overwork is debatable, but it’s typically somewhere in the range of 320 to 370 carries. McCoy “only” carried 314 times last season, but he also caught 52 passes. Combined with the 25 touches he had in a playoff loss to New Orleans, and his 393 touches are well above the number that usually results in a dip in performance the following year.
McCoy's average of 4 yards per carry is well below the 5.1 he put up last year and his career average of 4.8 before the season started. Fellow running back Darren Sproles is averaging 6.4 yards per carry this season, so I wouldn’t blame the supporting cast.
Stats aside, McCoy just looks off. He is not listed on the injury report, but he lacks the same burst through the hole and he seems tentative at times. He seems slower and less shifty as well.
3. Veteran Security Blanket
The Cowboys obviously want to have their offense on the field as much as possible, but that’s especially important this week because the Eagles offense looks much more mediocre when they don’t lead the league in plays from scrimmage.
Led by defensive end Fletcher Cox, the Eagles defense is pretty good against the run, ranking ninth in the league giving up 3.9 yards per rush, so the Cowboys will likely be forced to throw for several critical third downs.
Against one of the most relentless pass rushes in the NFL this season, Tony Romo will look to his longtime hot route in Jason Witten. The veteran tight end is tied for eighth in the NFL in third-down catches that go for first downs this season with 15.
Thursday's game is going to be nerve wracking, Cowboys fans, but have faith. The offense is good enough to shorten the game and, in turn, make the Eagles offense look more pedestrian. If the defense remains disciplined, they should expect a few gifts from Mark Sanchez.
If each team plays their "typical" game, the Cowboys should come out on top by a field goal.