The most pivotal matchup of the season for the Cowboys is also the most interesting, as their nemesis is also their antithesis in some ways.
The Philadelphia Eagles come to town on Thanksgiving for a game that gives the winner the inside track at a division crown, but it also pits two progressive coaching ideals against each other.
1. An Innovative Offensive Coach
As previously mentioned, the Cowboys’ defense is basically playing at the same level as last year’s unit. While they have played a little better recently, their success is still predicated on limiting the time they spend on the field.
Cowboys defense, meet your inverse, the Eagles offense.
The Eagles are third in the NFL in points per game at 31.1, but it’s based on the same thing as the Cowboys’ 19th ranked scoring defense: Volume. Head coach Chip Kelly knows that more plays lead to more yards, which leads to more points, as the Eagles lead the NFL with 800 plays from scrimmage this year.
Kelly places more emphasis on conditioning than any other coach in the NFL, and it's the main reason his players can keep up with his frenetic pace.
2. "Good Mark Sanchez" Shows Up
No other player in Thursday’s game has the potential to swing the outcome as much as Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez.
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“The Sanchize” has filled in admirably since Nick Foles went down with an injury a few weeks ago and the offense hasn’t missed a beat. He has made a few questionable decisions that resulted in interceptions, but he has also pushed the ball downfield better than Foles did.
It helps that Sanchez has the chemistry he does with rookie wide receiver — and second cousin to Jerry Rice — Jordan Matthews. Since Sanchez took over at quarterback, Matthews has caught 18 passes for 322 yards and three touchdowns and Sanchez has a quarterback rating of 153.3 when targeting Matthews, according to Pro Football Focus.
If Sanchez takes care of the ball like he did against Carolina, the Eagles will likely win and put themselves in the driver’s seat to win the division.
3. A Relentless Defensive Front
Any team that gets after the quarterback should make Cowboys fans nervous, because a Romo injury drops them from Super Bowl contender to a team picking in the top 20 of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Philadelphia’s 38 sacks ranks second in the NFL behind Buffalo, and they’re five ahead of the third ranked team. Base EDGE players Connor Barwin and Trent Cole are near the top of Pro Football Focus’ Pass Rushing Productivity (quarterback pressures per passing snap) as is reserve Brandon Graham.
The Eagles’ defensive line will be in Tony Romo’s face throughout the game Thursday. If the Cowboys abandon the run for any reason, they’ll risk losing their quarterback as well as the game.
In one of the two most important games for the Cowboys this season will be a close one. The Eagles’ roster is talented, but their scheme and philosophy are what sets them apart and make them a tough challenge for Dallas in particular.
But Thursday’s game mostly comes down to one player. If Mark Sanchez does what Chip Kelly wants him to do, the Eagles will give the Philly faithful much to be thankful for.