Sunday Six Pack: Eagles vs. Cowboys

After a disappointing opening to the season in Atlanta, the Philadelphia Eagles will open the 2015 home slate today against the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys are 4-1 in their last five trips to South Philly. The Eagles, on the other hand, have lost four of their last five regular season games. If the Eagles are truly the class of the NFC East — as many thought they were after the preseason — both those trends need to stop.

Here are six things to watch for in a game where the Eagles will hope to start a new chapter in this storied rivalry.

  1. Running Free – Not so much free, really. DeMarco Murray cost a pretty penny this offseason. He also led the NFL in rushing in 2014, largely in part to the play of the Cowboys offensive line.  In 2014, he averaged over 115 rushing yards per game. Against the Falcons last week, he rushed eight times for nine yards. Despite playing it cool with the media this week, make no mistake, Murray wants to hurt the franchise that made him expendable this past offseason. If Chip Kelly makes the running game a priority tomorrow, look for Murray to revert to the productive promise of last season.
  2. Gambling on the Slots – Dez Bryant is out of the game, mercifully. After allowing Julio Jones to dominate the game last week, Byron Maxwell is likely thankful that he is missing another elite NFL wideout this week. The only problem is that this means more opportunities for Cole Beasley. The diminutive slot receiver is exactly the kind of backup pass catcher that could give the Eagles secondary fits all day. The slot cornerback is a real question mark for this team. If Bryant’s targets go to Beasley, and he runs free, it is going to further highlight a glaring hole on this roster since trading Brandon Boykin to the Steelers last month.
  3. What’s the Rush? – Rather, where’s the rush? Against a patchwork offensive line in Atlanta last week, the Eagles managed very little pressure on Matt Ryan. They came away with just one sack and three hits on the quarterback. Dallas has, perhaps, the best offensive line — if not, the most overhyped – in the NFL. The Eagles are in desperate need of an impact edge rusher (paging, Marcus Smith) and may be in trouble if Tony Romo has same time in the pocket that Ryan did.
  4. Parkey It Deep – Cody Parkey has made just 6 of his last 9 field goal attempts in regular season games. This doesn’t include his forgettable preseason this year. Remember when he was going to the David Akers of this era? He is looking more like the Alex Henery. He needs to get right and fast. The Eagles are going to be in a lot of close games this season. It’s the nature of having a porous defense. If Parkey can’t fix whatever is afflicting him — physically or otherwise — those games will end up not going Kelly’s way.
  5. Snap(ier) judgments – The Eagles, on defense, have been entirely too slow to make in-game adjustments. This isn’t a problem this season. This has been a problem since Billy Davis took over as defensive coordinator. He makes decent adjustments. The second half defensive effort and performance last week was evidence of that. He just waits too long to make them. DeMeco Ryans had no business playing in the second quarter on passing downs last week. Maxwell needed obvious help in covering Jones: a change that likely cost the Eagles the game. These are just examples. Davis needs to be more flexible and earlier in the games. He needs to put his players in better positions to succeed.
  6. Who is the deep threat on this team? - If Miles Austin had managed just a single catch last week, you know the one we’re talking about, it wouldn’t be a concern. If Nelson Agholor had made an impact the way he did in some of the preseason games, it would be more of an afterthought. If Josh Huff were, well, anywhere to be found? The point is this: Sam Bradford took what the defense gave him last week. But elite offenses should be able to dictate what is afforded them. This Eagles team is without a playmaker that can bust a game open on any given play. If your best threat of a big play is Darren Sproles on a wheel route, you need better talent at wide receiver.
Michael Q. Coggin is a contributing writer for Eagledelphia. Follow him on Twitter @MQCoggin.