Alright, guys. Drama in the Cowboys camp this week, as they finally cut Jay Ratlif who had not been making anyone, including himself, particularly happy for a while. When a guy starts seeming like a malcontent, it’s easy to be glad they’re gone---looking at you, Josh Hamilton---but the problem is, regardless of how unworkable Jay as a Cowboy was going to be going forward, that doesn’t mean they have anybody as good as Jay to step in. Obviously, they haven’t had him all season, but it’s not good news for the Cowboys’ defense in general.
The point of this digression towards something that wasn’t likely to affect this Cowboys season either way is that it draws attention to how much the Cowboys have been missing on the defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, this last week brought whatever the opposite of relief is for that. Jason Hatcher was a “limited participant” in Wednesday’s practice, but as covered in this Tim MacMahon article, Hatcher’s actually the last D-lineman still moving.
Spencer’s out, Ratliff’s gone, and DeMarcus Ware is pretty likely to miss his first ever game as a Cowboy. Meanwhile, George Selvie, who’s done a pretty admirable job this season, is questionable, too.
This is not good news looking at a matchup with the number one rushing offense in the league. By, I may add, over 20 yards a game. Not good news. And, speaking of running games, your ‘Boys will probably be missing the oft-injured DeMarco Murray, as well as Lance Dunbar in their own. Hey there, Joseph Randle, 171st pick in 2013 NFL draft! It’s your time to shine!
There is a little good news, though, which is that the Eagles help the Cowboys continue a run in which they have played against some of the absolute worst pass defenses in the league. The only team giving up more yards through the air than the Eagles this season is the Denver Broncos and we know how Tony Romo helped them with that. The Cowboys are not going to be particularly balanced against the Eagles, but this’ll be less of an issue than against many teams.
For the Eagles, it’s not clear who’s going to be the QB and it’s not clear which would be better news for the Cowboys. Vick, never exactly known for his strong passing game, has had three games this season with a 52% completion percentage or lower and has gotten worse as the season has gone on, but he is a veteran. Nick Foles, who took over halfway through the Giants game two weeks ago, has been terrific, 38/56 for 493 yards, 6 TDs and 0 INTs and is sporting a QB rating of 127.9. But he has like 8 NFL starts.
Interestingly, in this, his 9th start, Foles will face the Cowboys for the 3rd time. Got two Ls so far, which is good news I guess. I’m betting on Foles as the starter at this point, both because of Vick’s injury and because the future guy looks better than the current guy when the current guy is aging and struggling. But young guys are prone to mistakes and as a variety of backups have shown over the years—Matt Cassell, Matt Flynn, Billy Volek—a hot start isn’t proof against that.
So basically here we are. It’s hard to know what to say about these two teams which so far seem to be about the same brand of mediocre. In fact, one of the interesting features of the season theses teams have had is that in their 6 games they’ve played 5 of the same 6 teams and won and lost to exactly the same guys. Which means this one should be close. The Cowboys have additionally beaten the Rams and the Eagles the Bucs, but that doesn’t exactly tell you anything, does it?
This is the most important game the Cowboys have played so far, and it could be the most important game they’re going to play this season though it’s a bit early. Still, the stakes are as high as they can be for Game 7. If they win this one, they’re a game ahead in the division and they have a tiebreak against every one of their divisional opponents which means they completely control their own destiny the rest of the season. Alternately, if they lose, they’re a game back, the Eagles have all those tiebreaks, and they’ll be looking up for at least a little while. There’s a lot of season to go, but these are the games that come back to haunt you.
How will it look? If the Cowboys’ pass offense can stay potent without balance, and if their run defense can stay solid with missing personnel, they’ve got a good shot at this one. If Nick Foles (or Michael Vick) is great, though, the Cowboys are going to have some trouble with that vaunted Blur offense. They’re stretched a bit thin, you may have noticed.