When the Eagles run
LeSean McCoy's best game of the season came in the Eagles' Thanksgiving win over Dallas. He rushed for 149 yards and one touchdown, and the team totaled a season-best 256 rushing yards on a season-high 45 carries. A big second-half margin contributed to all the running plays, but the offensive line won the line of scrimmage throughout the afternoon.
The Eagles will need that again on Sunday. Right tackle Lane Johnson had perhaps his best game of the season against the Cowboys. Right guard Andrew Gardner struggled against the Seattle Seahawks last week after a fine performance in Dallas. Coach Chip Kelly said no one played well against the Seahawks, when the Eagles totaled only 57 rushing yards and 2.6 yards per carry.
Dallas might look at what Seattle did and focus on the run on Sunday, forcing Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez to beat them. The Cowboys' top run stoppers are middle linebacker Rolando McClain and defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford. Seattle's safeties played a big part in the run defense last week, but the Cowboys don't have those types of players in the defensive backfield. The Cowboys have the No. 17 rush defense in the NFL.
When the Eagles pass
After Sanchez completed 69 percent of his passes for 217 yards and a touchdown against Dallas, he could not even reach 100 yards against Seattle. The key for Sanchez on Sunday will be extending drives, because the Eagles are not generating explosive plays at the same rate as last season. The Eagles were 2 of 11 on third down against the Seahawks and 8 of 15 against Dallas. Sanchez must do better on the early downs and avoid third-and-long situations. He was adept at pushing the tempo in the Thanksgiving game, so look for more of that on Sunday.
Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin finished with eight catches for 108 yards against the Cowboys. Maclin needs a bounce-back performance after one of his worst games last week (three catches, 21 yards). Tight end Zach Ertz is coming off a positive performance. If he comes on late in the season, the passing game will improve.
The Cowboys have the NFL's 25th-ranked pass defense, allowing 251.9 yards per game. Cornerback Orlando Scandrick is having a good season and could see time in the slot on Jordan Matthews. Dallas had only one sack in the first meeting and has only 19 this year. Don't expect Sanchez to be overcome with pressure. Their top rusher is tackle Henry Melton.
The Eagles were 1 of 5 in the red zone in the first Dallas game and must improve on that mark Sunday.
When the Cowboys run
DeMarco Murray's worst game of the season came against the Eagles' rush defense, which has been effective. Murray is the NFL's leading rusher and has been held under 100 yards just twice this season. He had 73 yards with 3.7 yards per carry in the first meeting. Murray bounced back with 179 rushing yards against the Bears last week. They have the NFL's No. 3 rushing offense. The Cowboys have one of the league's top offensive lines, but the Eagles overpowered it on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys' top two linemen are left tackle Tyron Smith and right guard Zack Martin.
The Eagles' success in the first game came from their defensive line. Fletcher Cox might have been the best player on the field against Dallas and is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Mychal Kendricks is key in shooting the gaps and taking down ballcarriers. The Eagles like to keep their base defense on the field against the run. Emmanuel Acho could see more playing time, splitting with Casey Matthews on Sunday.
When the Cowboys pass
Playing on Thanksgiving with only three days' rest, the Cowboys' Tony Romo looked like a quarterback with an ailing back. The Eagles' defense played a big part in that, too.
Romo threw for 199 yards with two interceptions, and he was sacked four times. He did not have the mobility that allows him to extend plays and find open receivers. Romo has completed 69.1 percent of his passes this season with 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions. It's been 10 days since Dallas played, and Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis thinks the Birds will see a better version of the Cowboys quarterback.
The Cowboys' top threat is wide receiver Dez Bryant, who was held to four catches for 73 yards against the Eagles. Bryant moves around in the offense, so both Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams will see him on Sunday. The Cowboys' passing offense does not have the complementary threats of past seasons, and No. 2 wide receiver Terrance Williams has only five catches in his last four games. Tight end Jason Witten was held to only one reception against the Eagles. Safety Malcolm Jenkins did a nice job on him, although Jenkins struggled in coverage last week. Murray is also a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield.
The Eagles pass rush is better at home, where 31 of their 44 sacks have come. Romo said last week he must be creative with the snap count because of how tough the Eagles are at Lincoln Financial Field. The weakness of the Eagles defense is its secondary, which held up well in the first meeting. How it fares on Sunday and how much better Romo is with more rest could determine whether the Cowboys make the game more competitive.
The Cowboys have one of the worst punt-return coverage units in the NFL, allowing 10.3 yards per return. Darren Sproles has been the best punt returner in the NFL. That could be a potential mismatch. The Eagles are also the NFL's top kick-return team. Returners Josh Huff and Chris Polk dealt with injuries last week and are expected to play. Kicker Cody Parkey's right groin injury seems to affect his kickoffs more than his field goals, which remain accurate. Cowboys returner Dwayne Harris is one of the better returners in the NFL, but he does not have a touchdown.
The Cowboys are a rare team that is better on the road than at home. They are undefeated this season away from AT&T Stadium. The Eagles are 6-1 at home, with their loss coming last week. The Cowboys had a Thursday night game in Week 14, so they have three extra days of rest. The last seven teams to play the Seahawks have lost their next game, so the Eagles must overcome the demoralizing defeat in their home finale.