5 Impact Players: Eagles v Cowboys Part II
It's hard to beat a team twice in the same the season, let alone twice in three weeks. That is the task in front of the Philadelphia Eagles, as they welcome the Dallas Cowboys to Lincoln Financial Field for Sunday night football. With both teams sitting at 9-4 on the season, the NFC East hangs in the balance. Given the current landscape of the NFC, there is a real possibility that the loser of this game could miss the post-season.
Here are 5 players that could have a major impact, as to whether or not the Eagles avoid that fate:
1. Fletcher Cox: Fletcher Cox has been a force all season long, especially over the last five games of the season. According to pro football focus, He’s graded out as the best 3-4 defensive end overall, in that time span. Whether its been shutting down the run, or getting after the passer, Fletcher Cox has been a tough block all season long.
On Thanksgiving, Cox was very disruptive in the Cowboys back field, posting four tackles (two for a loss), and one sack. His push upfront stymied the Cowboys running game, and provided solid lanes for the linebackers to find the ball.
Cox is going to need to continue his high level of play, as he and his teammates will be called upon to get after Tony Romo, and stop DeMarco Murray. If Cox can’t get it going, it might be a long night for this Eagles defense.
2. Evan Mathis: The Cowboys are not equipped with one of the more star-studded defenses in the league. One of the more notable names on the roster though, is Henry Melton, and Evan Mathis will most likely draw the assignment of blocking him. Melton, a free agent acquisition this offseason, is one of the Cowboys most productive members of the defense. He ranks 8th amongst defensive tackles in pass rush productivity, according to PFFF.com (subscription required). Mathis and his entire offensive line-mates are looking for redemption, after getting pushed around by the Seahawks defense last Sunday. Keeping Melton in check will be key for this offense to get into rhythm, and control tempo.
3. Bradley Fletcher: It seems like every week someone is picking on Bradley Fletcher, from opposing quarterbacks, to members of the media. To Fletchers credit, his numbers really are not as bad as some may think, when you evaluate his entire body of work. Unfortunately for Fletcher though, most people only care about coverage statistics, and his are quite concerning. According to pro-football focus.com, Fletcher ranks 61st amongst 113 active NFL cornerbacks. He ranks 91st though in coverage, and is also in the top 10 of the most penalized cornerbacks in the league. Fletcher has the tall task of trying to shut down Dez Bryant, a test he already has proven he can pass. In their last meeting, Bryant was held to just 4 receptions, for 73 yards, and was kept out of the end zone. Bryant was visibly upset, and emotional at the out come of the game, and will certainly be looking to bring his big play capabilities to the national stage Sunday night.
Fletcher will be called upon again to try and nullify the Cowboys most dynamic weapon, who can take over a game if given the opportunity. If you’re an Eagles fan, you’re hoping their pass rush comes to play, so they don’t have to rely too heavily on Fletcher in coverage.
4. Zach Ertz: The second year tight end was a non-factor, during the Eagles 33-10 win over the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Hopefully, that is something that will change tonight. Given how successful the running game was for the Eagles the last time these two teams met, you have to imagine the Cowboys defense will stuff the box to take McCoy away. If that happens to be the case, and I believe it will, that should open up some opportunities down field for Ertz and company. At 6-foot-5, and 240 pounds, Ertz is a match-up nightmare for most secondaries, but for some reason he really hasn’t been a primary target in this offense like anticipated. He’s made a few mistakes, and has missed some opportunities in his sophomore season, but there is no question his ceiling is very high. If Sanchez looks his direction, Ertz should have some chances to make an impact on tonight’s game against this Cowboys defense. It would be great to see him rise to the occasion, and become a game changer, like many thought would be the case this season.
5. Mark Sanchez: It’s an obvious statement, but it's the reality of the situation. A clean game from Sanchez will go a long way for the Eagles in determining the outcome of tonight’s game, and consequently their playoff chances. A “clean game” however, doesn’t just necessarily mean turnover free. Sanchez needs to be decisive, poised, and confident while leading this offense tonight. That was certainly not the case last Sunday against the Seahawks, where Sanchez looked timid and hesitant.
Sanchez was brilliant the last time these two teams met on Thanksgiving, completing 20 of 29 passes for 217 yards, and one touchdown. It was also only his second game this season, without throwing an interception. Looking back at last week’s offensive production (139 total yards of offense) in their loss to the Seahawks, there is no question a bounce back game is needed, as is the case for Sanchez as well. Which Sanchez runs out of the tunnel Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field, could ultimately determine if the Eagles are on the inside track to win their second straight NFC East title, or on the outside of the NFC playoff picture.