Cowboys GameDay Huddle-Up In Philly

PHILADELPHIA - Is Dallas prepared to go retro with a pass-first offense in tonight's NFC East showdown? I believe so, and explain inside as we break it down and give you all the latest live from Philly in CowboysHQ GameDay Huddle-Up:



We get you ready for the 7:35 p.m. kickoff with me joining Brad Sham and Babe Laufenberg on the pregame, which starts at 4:30 p.m., on 105.3 The Fan ...

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And we do so here, too, as we're live from Philly in CowboysHQ GameDay Huddle-Up sponsored by McKinneyDentist.com ...

THE BIG LEAD

It starts with Tony Romo. I believe the Dallas Cowboys -- locked in a 9-4-record tie atop the NFC East and knowing tonight's game at Philadelphia is the season's tipping point -- see the Eagles as having a singular defensive weakness worth attacking.

And will do so by attacking the Philly secondary.

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This will require some chest hair on the part of coach Jason Garrett and staff, because it will mean risking the perception that Dallas "went away from the run,'' and if the Cowboys lose without riding DeMarco Murray, the second-guessers will ooze from the woodwork.

But Philly's front seven has loaded up against the run recently, and successfully, and -- with DeMarco Murray needing to averaging 131.2 yards per game in the final three to reach 2,000 -- will be focused on doing the same tonight.

The vulnerability is in the Eagles' secondary. That's reason enough for tonight's gameplan to be pass-first, pass-to-set-up-the-run-oriented, throw on first down, retro (to Dallas' earlier years with Romo) ... Romo-friendly.

ROMO'S LOAD

So is he up to this?

We all know that Tony Romo is having a great season, but just how great is it? Jordan Ross with a stat-heavy look ...

Disclaimer: The following rankings do not include backup QB’s. Rankings only includes quarterbacks who began the season as the starting QB and have remained the starting QB since (with the exception of missing 1 or 2 games due to injury).

Below are Romo’s stats from the 2014 season along with where they rank among the rest of the NFL’s starting QB’s.

QB Rating: 108.8 (2nd ranked)
Completion %: 69.1 (2nd ranked)
Touchdowns: 25 (7th ranked)
Interceptions: 8 (5th ranked)
Attempts Per Touchdown: 14 (2nd ranked)
Passing Yards: 2,923 (15th ranked)
Yards Per Pass Attempt: 8.35 (3rd ranked)
1st Down %: 41.4 (2nd ranked)
1st Down % on 3rd Down: 55.1 (1st ranked)
4th Quarter QB Rating: 102.3 (4th ranked)
4th Quarter Completion %: 69.9 (1st ranked)
Completion % Late in Close Games: 75.7 (2nd ranked)
Completion % Under Pressure: 56.1 (5th ranked)
Play Action Completion %: 75.0 (3rd ranked)
Play Action QB Rating: 106.0 (7th ranked)
QB Rating in Away Games: 125.0 (1st ranked)
Game Winning Drives: 4 (1st ranked)
4th Quarter Comebacks: 3 (2nd ranked)

Out of the 18 categories above, Romo falls in the top ten in 17 of them, the top five in 15 of them, the top three in 12 of them and is the 1st ranked QB in 4 of them. The only listed category that Romo isn’t at least in the top 7 is in passing yards.

One stat that really sticks out is Romo’s ridiculous 125.0 road game QB rating. Colt McCoy is 2nd with a 107.7 road game QB rating and the next closest full-time starter is Russell Wilson with a 105.3 road game QB rating.

Another stat that should turn some heads is Romo’s 1st down % on 3rd down (55.1). Converting on 3rd down is one of the most important parts of the game. If you don’t move the chains and keep the defense off the field, you’re not going to win many games.

The stats that will likely surprise the most people are his 4th quarter numbers. Romo leads the league in game winning drives with 4 and has the highest 4th quarter completion % at 69.9. He also has the 2nd most 4th quarter comebacks. I say this stat might surprise people simply because of the silly and inaccurate reputation that Romo has as a choker. In reality, Romo has always had superb fourth-quarter numbers. In fact, he leads the league with the most game winning drives since 2011 with 17.

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Tony Romo is also on pace to have 15 games with a completion % over 60.0 this season, which would tie the NFL record and make him just the 6th quarterback in NFL history to accomplish that feat – the others were Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning (twice), Daunte Culpepper, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. It would also tie the NFL record for most CONSECUTIVE games in a single season with a completion % over 60.0, which has only been done once before.

With DeMarco Murray closing in on 2,000 rushing yards this season, it’s easy to overlook what Romo is doing. Romo’s currently playing the best football of his career – even with the broken back, the rib problems, the surgery recovery, the questions about whether he can throw deep and now Eagles suggestions that he fell to the ground too prematurely on Thanksgiving. ... all part of a continuing trend of Eagles players running their mouths here.

He's been at his best. How good? Romo can become the first QB in NFL history with six-plus games with a 135.0+ QB rating in a season. He has five now, tying him with Peyton and Young for the NFL record.

We think Romo will be asked to be that good again tonight.

Throwing Up The X (Chromosome)

Dez Bryant helps us break the story as he tells us he's the proud father of a newborn baby girl, Isabella Rose Bryant.

"She's very gorgeous and I'm very blessed,' Dez says.

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In Dez's one-on-one visit, he tells us his third child (and first girl, born on Dec. 5) is fully healthy.

"She has me controlled already,'' the Cowboys star receiver says. "I hear her whine and I gotta be there.''

You can hear the audio of my visit with Dez here on 105.3 The Fan.

COWBOYS vs EAGLES MILESTONES

Jordan Ross with the research ...

*Tony Romo needs 455 passing yards to pass Troy Aikman for the most in franchise history and the 31st most in NFL history. ... Romo is tied with Peyton Manning (2013) and Steve Young (1993) for the NFL record of most games with a 135.0+ passer rating in a single season (5). Romo needs just one more such game to become the only QB to do so 6 times in a season. ... Romo needs 2 touchdowns to pass Donovan McNabb for 25th most in NFL history, needs 3 to pass George Blanda for 24th in NFL and needs 4 to tie Jim Kelly for 23rd most in NFL history. ... Romo can extend his streak of consecutive games with 60+ completion % to 15. The longest streak of his career is 17. He can also match his career high in games with a 60+ completion % in a single season at 13. ... Romo can extend his NFL record of consecutive road games with a touchdown pass to 40. Brett Favre is 2nd with 32. The longest active streaks behind Romo are Peyton Manning (30) and Matt Ryan (29). ... Romo needs one more 3+ touchdown game without an interception to set a new career high at 5 such games in a single season.

*DeMarco Murray needs 168 yards to set a new franchise record for rushing yards in a single season, passing Emmitt Smith's 1,773 yards in 1995. ... Murray needs just one more 100-yard rushing game to set a new franchise record at 12 in a single season. ... Murray needs 2 rushing touchdowns to pass Dan Reeves for 10th most in franchise history. ... Murray needs 1 rushing touchdown to set a new career high at 10.

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*Dez Bryant needs 76 receiving yards to pass Frank Clarke for 6th most in franchise history. ... Bryant needs 1 touchdown to tie Tony Hill for the 4th most receiving touchdowns in franchise history.

*Henry Melton needs 2 sacks to tie his single-season career high (7) -- but as CowboysHQ.com has noted for two weeks, also needs a "fire lit under his butt'' to stay in the coaches' favor ... Barry Church needs one more pass breakup to set a new career high at 7 ... Orlando Scandrick needs one more interception to set a new career high at 3. ... A win in Philadelphia would give the Cowboys their 8th consecutive regular season road game win (7th this season).

Cowboys Crunchtime Podcast

Sitting at 9-4, Dallas is in prime position to win their way into the playoffs. How will they go about changing the result from Thanksgiving? What's the deal with the Jason Garrett extension talk? Also, what's the latest on Romo, for this game, this season and his future? The Cowboys Crunchtime Podcast, with ringleader KD Drummond, covers it all.

Check Out Sports Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Cowboys Crunchtime on BlogTalkRadio


Scouting The Eagles Offense

CowboysHQ.com columnist Joey Ickes gives you the must-read of the week as he breaks down what makes the Philly offense tick ...

Week 15

Opponent: Philadelphia Eagles
Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Offensive Coordinator: Pat Shurmur
Quarterback: Mark Sanchez
Primary Running Threats:
Primary Receiving Threats:

Break Down

When Chip Kelly came to the NFL in 2013, bringing with him the fast-paced and high-powered offense he became famous for at the University of Oregon, there were questions about whether that system would translate to the NFL. After almost two full seasons at the helm, and a sustained level of success despite four different starting QBs in 29 regular-season games, Kelly’s offense is viewed as one of the most dangerous and explosive in the league.

Testing The Edges In The Run Game

This is a fairly unique blocking scheme that the Eagles use a ton to get McCoy and Sproles out into space where they thrive. In this case they are running to their right, which is the closed (or strong) side of the formation. You can see the TE, Brent Celek, blocking the Packers OLB who is over his nose, and RT Lane Johnson blocking down on the 3-technique DT, allowing RG Andrew Gardiner and OC Jason Kelce to pull outside and lead the way for McCoy, who reads the flow of the defense, and either beats them to the corner, or allows them to over pursue and cuts back behind them.

Getting The QB On The Move

This is another scheme that the Eagles run over and over, and one that Jordan Matthews was able to get a touchdown in the Cowboys Thanksgiving day match-up with Philly. On this play, Sanchez fakes the same sweep we just looked at above, and boots to his left. The route combination is extremely common and basic for boot passes. The “X” Receiver (Cooper, bottom of screen) runs a 15 yard comeback route, the “W” (Matthews, in the slot) runs the “Over” or deep crossing route, and the “Z” (Maclin, far side), runs a deep post. This play-action combination puts the slot-coverage player in a major bind, as he has significant fill responsibilities against the run, but in man coverage also has the responsibility to run with Matthews all the way across the field.

The goal here is to get Matthews open on the move for an explosive catch and run. As Sanchez rolls, he has the option to throw early, just after his WR crosses the near hash, or to wait until he is crossing the numbers, and they have had a great deal of success with it, beating Dallas 3x on this scheme in the first quarter alone.

Working the Boundaries

On this play, Darren Sproles is in the backfield, and Sanchez sends him on a “Bullet” motion out wide to the left. The route combination to the play side is the 3-man “Snag”, or “Spot” concept (Corner, Slant-Curl, Flat). This is a route combination you will see on the field at AT&T stadium the next couple of weeks as the Texas High School Football state playoffs wrap up, as well as in every NFL playbook, where it is emphasized in the red zone. This play is difficult to defend, because if the defense is in a zone coverage, the threat of the RB to the outside will pull any flat are defender wide, leaving Cooper open (if Cover 3) or Matthews one-on-one running an outside breaking route against a safety playing with inside leverage, and if they are playing man, it is very difficult for a LB or Safety to keep from being out leveraged by Sproles at full speed.

Beating Man Coverage

One of the most prominent “man-beaters” in the NFL is the shallow cross, or drag route, where a WR runs across the formation at a depth of about three yards, giving him the opportunity to run away from the DB similar to a deep ball, but giving the QB a much easier higher percentage throw. Many teams will attempt to protect their CBs by leaving a player, usually a safety or LB, in the short middle of the field in a robber type role to make plays on the ball, or help make quick tackles on these types of routes.

The scheme we see from Philly above is Kelly’s way of opening things up for his crosser. By sending Riley in motion towards the formation, creating a stacked alignment at the snap with Matthews, he is able to ensure his WR gets a clean release against tight man coverage. Running the two curl routes, particularly with the TE sitting right in the middle of the field, he is able to occupy that robber player, allowing Cooper to run free, and get separation from his man without the threat of the interception or the big hit.

Pushing The Ball Downfield

This scheme is a variation of the most basic route combination in football, Four Verticals. In a traditional Four Verts, the slot receivers or TEs, run seam routes, and the outside WRs run go (or fade) routes. This tests the defense horizontally, and is very effective against single-high coverages. However, here, Kelly has his pass catchers running a “switch release.” This particular release acts as a bit of a pick to open guys up against man coverage, as well as testing the integrity of underneath coverage in zones.

The bullet motion by the RB, forces the defense to widen quickly to that side, and in this case opened up a wide area to the far side to throw the “Wheel” route to the TE Zach Ertz for an explosive gain. Other times when the Eagles have run this concept, the bullet motion has freed up a down-field player on the motion side.

Conclusion

The Eagles offense is not an overly complex one from a scheme perspective, and it’s not all that overwhelming from a multiplicity of scheme standpoint. They have their bread-and-butter plays, that the run over and over, even running the same play on back-to-back snaps to open the Seattle game, and they run them at a high speed. For the most part they depend on their tempo, and misdirection to keep defenses off balance just enough to allow the Eagles to out execute their opponents. The Cowboys must play assignment-sound defense if they want to avoid giving up the big plays they surrendered on Thanksgiving and give themselves a chance to win.

CARR'S TURN?

Since coming into the NFL in 2008, Brandon Carr has never finished a season without an interception. He's also never finished a season with fewer than three interceptions while with the Cowboys. With three games left, he's yet to record a single INT.

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Tonight would be a good time to change all that for the affable veteran who has played poorly this season.

And history says it's doable.

In his last two games in Philadelphia, Carr has two interceptions and has allowed seven catches on 16 targets (43.7 comp%) for zero TDs and a 23.1 QB rating. Dallas needs this ... just one more time.

MARK LANE'S COWBOYS 100

It's the - ahem! -- most "borrowed-from'' Cowboys feature anywhere: Original research and stats from our Mark Lane, part of his weekly "Cowboys 100'' series, is here.

ONE CLICK, ALL COWBOYS!

Keep it here on CowboysHQ as we will keep you posted in a variety of ways from inside your team ... Here on the HOME page, and here on CowboysHQ Discussion Boards ... Thanks for joining us!

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ONSIDE KICKS

The Cowboys will go without Josh Brent (calf) tonight; as we reported Saturday morning, he was not on the team's charter flight to Philly ... Demarcus Lawerence tells us he's 100-percent healthy for tonight ... Three Keys How To Beat The Eagles is here. ... I mean no disrespect to what the mainstream media (newspapers) wrote this week. But: What Jerry and Stephen think today regarding Jason Garrett's job security means NOTHING compared to what they are thinking on the afternoon of Dec. 28 as we are departing Washington D.C. Nothing. ... Cowboys teams that start 9-4 make the playoffs. Always. In franchise history, they are 7-of-7. The Eagles, meanwhile, are 7-of-8 with teams that start 9-4. In an NFC East where in the last three seasons nine wins would've been enough, somebody might be picking the wrong year to break nine-win tradition.

DOWN TO A KICK

If this season, if this game, comes down to a kick? Dan Bailey needs six FGs without any misses in these final three games to become the ONLY kicker in NFL history with three straight seasons with a field-goal-made percentage of 90-plus.

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THE FINAL WORD

The Cowboys have won four of the last five games at Philly and are the NFL's only undefeated road team at 6-0.

“Sometimes there’s that warrior mentality where you go on the road and you kind of embrace all the challenges that come with it.'' -- Jason Garrett.


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