Five on the ‘Boys
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - It doesn't matter if the Dallas Cowboys are on the schedule or the Little Sisters of the Poor are on tap, coaches tend to Lou Holtz things and talk about their upcoming opponents like they are Vince Lombardi's Packers.
That said, Week 2 matchups are rarely as important as the upcoming one for the Eagles because the 2015 version of the Cowboys figures to be the team's only competition for the NFC East crown.
There is little question that it's going to be a down season up the Jersey Turnpike for the New York Giants and things figure to be even worse inside the Beltway for the mess that is the Washington Redskins.
(Listen to Todd Archer from ESPN Dallas)
That means under any circumstances Sunday's game was going to be important but mix in a season-opening loss in Atlanta, coupled with the Dallas win over the Giants and this becomes as must win as it can get for Philadelphia, at least this early in the season.
Especially because the Cowboys are going to be without a number of key contributors, most notably star receiver Dez Bryant, who suffered a broken foot against Big Blue.
Chip Kelly tried to play up the Cowboys minus Dez but make no mistake this got a lot easier for the Eagles when the big-play wideout went down. Julio Jones' dominance on Monday proved that Philadelphia's rebuilt defensive backfield is not ready for prime time against the league's elite receivers.
"Obviously (Dez is) as talented of a receiver as there is in the league," Kelly admitted earlier this week. "Anytime you lose a player like that it's difficult. But saying that, it's not like they don't have other weapons. They have Jason Witten and Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams and one of the better -- the way he's playing now, one of the best quarterbacks in the league running the show (Tony Romo).
"So if you're going to lose a player because of Dez, what a dynamic football player he is, but it's not like there's a huge discrepancy and they don't have other people in there. We expect them to operate -- the key to that offense is the quarterback and he's playing at a really high level right now."
Romo is certainly underrated among the Philly fan base and dealing with him is always difficult but it does become significantly easier without Bryant on the field despite Kelly's attempts to play up the remaining threats.
Romo and Bryant have developed quite the chemistry together, compiling the most TDs by a quarterback-wide receiver duo since 2010 with 49.
"You're worried about Dez but you're worried about Witten but you're worried about Beasley. You have to be worried about Terrence Williams also," the coach claimed. "I don't know how much it changes the math in terms of how they're going to deploy their guys and you won't know until you see what their game plan is. What are they going to do? Are they going to play with two tight ends, and is it going to be (Cowboys TE Gavin) Escobar and two receivers most of the game?
"...That's the one thing with their depth that can make it difficult for you. It's not just Dez is out, the other receiver comes in the game. They don't have to do that. They can move Beasley outside or they can play with Terrance Williams still and just play with two tight ends and that becomes a different game for us in that aspect."
So Lombardi's Packers are on the docket then?
"(Dez is) really good," Kelly said. "(I'd rater) put a little bit more on the coaches and a little bit less on covering Dez, I think we'd opt for that. We can figure out what they send in the game because we get a chance to match it. We just know he won't be playing."
And that's a good thing.
HOW GOOD IS ROMO?
You rarely hear the name Romo when people talk about elite QBs in this league but maybe you should hear it a little more often. No, he's not in the Rodgers/Brady tier but Romo is in the group right underneath much like Monday night's antagonist Matt Ryan and far ahead of an unproven commodity like the Eagles' Sam Bradford.
"I think the one thing about Tony, aside from having the skill to make all the throws, is he's just so intelligent," Kelly said. "Very rarely are they in a bad play. A lot of times he's using the whole play clock, he's changing protections, he's changing runs, doing a lot of different things there because he has so much experience there and he's been around so long. He's just so smart at playing the position, very rarely does he get caught in a bad play."
Romo’s 76-48 record as a starter backs up Kelly's assessment and the Eagles defense will have its hands full with the veteran.
THAT OFFENSIVE LINE:
It's not as good as the Larry Allen/Erik Williams group in the Jimmy Johnson days but the current Cowboys offensive line, which features three first-round picks in left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin is one of the best in football. The running game is the group's strength, which makes the decision to let DeMarco Murray walk to Philadelphia a bit strange in hindsight.
The new running-back-by-committee approach with Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar clearly hasn't earned the trust of offensive play-caller Scott Linehan and last week the Cowboys were much like the Eagles, giving up on the running game and becoming one dimensional.
Considering the run-first philosophy is what spawned Dallas' success last season you can bet the Cowboys will try to establish things early, meaning Kiko Alonso needs to find his legs in run support because it's pretty clear DeMeco Ryans is not yet 100 percent in his attempt to return from the Achilles injury.
"Obviously they have three outstanding players (on the line)," Kelly said. "Three first-round draft picks and then they filled in nicely with them but I think they play well together. They seem like they are always on the same page. There's not a lot of busts that go with that group. There's a real consistency in terms of how they play."
LEE IS BACK
Linebacker Sean Lee, one of the Cowboys' best defenders, is back after missing all of 2014 with a torn ACL. Having manned the middle linebacker spot since his rookie season, Lee has moved to the Will spot in order to better utilize his speed and playmaking
ability in the Cowboys 4-3 defense.
In his first game action since 2013 at Chicago, Lee tallied nine tackles, including one for loss against the Giants last weekend. If Kelly continued with the dink-and-dunk philosophy he employed in Atlanta, it will be Lee's job to stop things in the flats and the Penn State product has the skill set to make things much tougher than the Falcons LBs.
Lee has 11 interceptions since entering the league in 2010, tied for first among NFL linebackers over that span.
"Dallas has a very good defensive line and they do a good job of mixing and matching both man and zone on the back end of it," Kelly said when discussing the Cowboys defense. "And then obviously I think it's a little bit different look now with Sean Lee back at linebacker who played really, really well against us two years ago, can really run and play sideline to sideline who wasn't there last year so they've got a little bit different defense than Atlanta, but really talented at all three levels."
The Bryant injury is getting most of the ink this week but at least the All-Pro figures to be back at some point this season. The same can't be said of cornerback Orlando Scandrick, who was lost for the season with a torn ACL in training camp.
By far the team's best cover corner, Scandrick's absence has to be exploited by the Eagles but no one has been able to step up behind Jordan Matthews in Philadelphia's receiving cops just yet.
"It's a shame (Scandrick is) not going to be there," Matthews told 973espn.com. "He's one of the best corners in this league and you always want to test yourself."
973espn.com prediction: Eagles - 27, Cowboys 21
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JFMcMullen.