Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles Preview: Offense

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Can DeMarco Murray expose Skip Bayless for the cantankerous @#$%! that he is?

If you didn’t see the video (click here to watch it), Skip Bayless argued  asserted that DeMarco Murray was not the real deal; he stopped short of calling last week’s record-breaking performance a “fluke”, but you could tell he thought it was. I have never been a fan of Bayless. Like many ‘sports journalists’ (I use the term ‘journalist’ here in the sense that Hunter S. Thompson would have meant) Bayless is all about espousing controversial opinions. I am not opposed to being polemical to sell papers or attract viewers, but I am opposed to the reckless articulation of unsubstantiated opinions. Put another way, Bayless often talks %$#@ without any reasons, never mind evidence, to back up his assertions, and I have no respect or tolerance for that.

Can he prove that he should be the starter?

I don’t think that anyone expects Murray to repeat his historical performance of last week. I am pretty sure that Murray is not the 2nd coming of Emmitt; I am not even fully convinced that he should be the full-time starter. What a lot of people don’t understand about Garrett’s offense is that carrying the football is only one aspect of being the RB. For a starting RB, the ability to pick up blitzers, double-team DE’s, and know when to leave the backfield to go on a receiving route is almost as important as what he does when he has the ball in his hands. I don’t think we have seen enough of Murray yet to know whether he is capable of fulfilling all of the roles expected of a full-time starting RB.

I will be watching to see how Murray is used this week. Will he carry the ball and run receiving routes on most of the snaps he plays, or will Garrett trust him to stay in to pick-up blitzers and help with the Eagles impressive pass-rushers?  As I commented last week, I will be watching to see whether he starts running lower to the ground (click here to read about the problems with Murray’s running style in more detail).

I will also be watching to see how many carries Tashard Choice gets, and what he can do with them.  Similarly, will Phillip Tanner continue to make it look like Choice is expendable?

Can the Cowboys’ running game exploit the Eagles “wide-9” penchant for aggressively rushing the passer?

I admit that I do not fully understand the intricacies of the ‘wide-9′ defense, but what I have gathered is that it is a variation of the traditional 4-3. The biggest difference is that the DE’s line up much wider than normal, which allows them to get outside when rushing the passer, and it forces running backs into the middle where the LB’s are expected to make plays. The problem in Philly is that they lack the LB’s to make this defense work properly. One of the consequences of utilizing the ‘wide-9′ approach without capable LB’s is that it has a tendency to leave big gaps in the middle of the field, so the defense is vulnerable to running between the tackles. As a result, the Eagles are giving up 123.4 yards a game on the ground despite holding the Redskins to only 42 yards rushing.

The fans in Philly are hoping that holding the Skins to 42 yards rushing is a sign of things to come. I believe that is wishful thinking. The reality is that an injury to Kory Lichtensteiger forced the Skins to make changes to their OL. Moreover, the Eagles got off to 20 point lead in the second quarter, so the Skins essentially abandoned the run (less than 15 rushing attempts) and became one dimensional.

As has been well documented, the Eagles LB unit is the weak link on the defense. When they made the decision to overhaul the defense this off-season, they went out and spent big money on the D-Line and the secondary; consequently, they got stuck with Jamar Chaney and Moise Fokou, who are both seventh-round picks, Casey Matthews (4th round rookie), and Brian Rolle (rookie sixth-rounder).

I will be watching this week to see where the Cowboys try to run the ball. As we saw last week, it looked like Garrett was making more of an effort to get Murray out on the edges with tosses, sweeps, and stretches. As I have argued repeatedly, the size, or lack thereof, and agility of the OL makes it better suited to getting the ball carrier out in space, as opposed to just pounding the rock between the Tackles. That being said, Garrett will likely attack the Eagles where they are the weakest, so I think we will see an attempt to run up the middle more this week that we did against the Rams.

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