With so much talk about the struggles of the Cowboys’ offense, the defense, too, has let the team down in recent weeks. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has a dream matchup this week, however: a struggling rookie quarterback, a porous offensive line, and a group of primarily backup skill position players. If the Cowboys can’t hold down an offense ranked 30th in the NFL in points, they don’t deserve to remain in the playoff hunt.
DC Rob Ryan versus QB Nick Foles
The Cowboys were responsible for giving Foles an opportunity to play this year after they knocked Michael Vick out of the game in the teams’ first matchup. On Sunday, you might see Ryan try to put Foles on the sideline as well (legally, of course). While Ryan has dialed down the blitzes in a big way this year, you’re going to see him play with a more high-upside strategy moving forward. The Cowboys are 5-6, so there really isn’t much to lose; they need to get pressure on every quarterback they face in an effort to garner takeaways.
Plus, Foles has struggled mightily against the blitz in his rookie season, completing only 50.0 percent of his passes and compiling a passer rating of only 49.8 when defenses send five or more rushers. Look for Ryan to blitz more often than he has all season in Week 13. However, beware of Philadelphia’s screen game.
LB Dan Connor versus RB Bryce Brown
On Monday night, Brown made his first start in a football game since high school. The 223-pound running back who ran a 4.48 40-yard dash absolutely tore up the Panthers, totaling 189 yards and two touchdowns. He’s a legitimate threat to the Cowboys on Sunday, especially with DeSean Jackson out of the game. Brown is currently averaging 6.3 YPC on 51 rushes; if that mark stands, it will be the fifth-highest since 1980 for any rookie with as many touches as Brown.
NT Jay Ratliff versus LG Evan Mathis
While the rest of the Eagles’ offensive line has struggled in 2012, Mathis may quietly been the best guard in the NFL. How about this for a stat: Mathis hasn’t allowed a sack since 2006. Yes, you read that correctly. The left guard hasn’t yielded a single quarterback sack in well over 2,500 snaps. And in a down season, Eagles running backs have averaged 5.1 YPC when running behind Mathis. Compare that to 3.68, 2.81, and 3.49 YPC for Nate Livings, Ryan Cook, and Mackenzy Bernadeau, respectively. Simply put, Mathis is a dominating force in the middle—the best interior lineman Ratliff will face all season.