I’ll start with the conclusion: LeSean McCoy and the Eagles’ running game are going to have to beat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night or the Eagles aren’t going to beat them.
The game on Thansgiving at Jerryworld seems like a long time ago, especially after the Seattle game. You remember the Seattle game, where the forces transpired to make it a contest between Seatlle quarterback Russell Wilson and Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez. In that battle, you would pick Wilson eight or nine times out of 10, and that’s how it played out at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Thanksgiving game was not a battle of quarterbacks because Dallas quarterback Tony Romo was an unarmed man that day -- or, rather, backed into a corner by a back and/or rib injury for which he did not take a painkilling injection and which left him immobilized and pretty much sacking himself when faced with some excellent Eagles pressure.
Romo is going to be better this time. He was already better on a normal week against the Chicago Bears. Now he will have had 10 days off since that Chicago game, and he has said he will take the painkilling injection this time. Repeat: Romo will be better.
The Eagles’ defense is suspect against good quarterbacks. The Cowboys’ defense is suspect against all quarterbacks. So what happens if it turns into a shootout of a game? What if it turns into Romo vs. Sanchez? In that case, I’m taking Romo.
All of which gets me back to the original point. That is, that the Eagles cannot allow this to turn into a battle of the quarterbacks. The Cowboys’ strength is running the ball -- but the Eagles’ run defense has been very good this season. They are unlikely to allow DeMarco Murray to completely dominate the game.
But what about LeSean McCoy?
Can he be dominant in this one?
Answer that question and you will know the outcome on Sunday night.
The Eagles’ approach to offense has been measurably different this season compared to last season. Last year, the Eagles threw the ball 51.8 percent of the time and ran it 48.2 percent of the time in the first half, before the 2-minute warning -- the time when the clock and the score really are not determining what you are doing and when the game plan is still largely in place.
This year? The Eagles are throwing the ball 60.4 percent of the time before the final 2 minutes of the first half and running it only 39.6 percent of the time. It is a marked difference, and everybody has their theories as to why -- poor run blocking early in the season because of injuries, a period where McCoy seemed to have lost some of his explosiveness, a change in defensive tactics against the Eagles, and et cetera.
I’m not here to litigate that argument. I’m just here to point out the difference in approach, and to wonder.
It seems obvious, looking at last week’s game, that the Eagles tried to keep it from turning into Sanchez vs. Wilson. They ran the ball 65 percent of the time in the first half against Seattle. The problem is that they couldn’t convert on third down and ran only 20 plays in the half.