With the walking-wounded Cowboys heading east to Philadelphia to take on the rival Eagles, we check in with old friend Jimmy Kempski to get his insights on the Philadelphia side of things.
Each week, CowboysHQ checks in with a beat writer who covers the opponent from to back in order to give our readers the pinnacle of game coverage. This week, with Dallas traveling east to Philadelphia, we check in with Philly Voice's Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski on Twitter) for our Q&A session. Here's what Kempski sees as the keys to Sunday's game.
1) Over the offseason, you were one of the few that didn't seem to warm to the idea that Sam Bradford was getting ready to set the world on fire, approaching with more caution then the typical, "If he can stay healthy, he should..." What have you seen of him as he progressed through camp and how did that play out in the opener against Atlanta?
Bradford was outstanding in camp, purely from a throwing perspective. The accuracy was there, the anticipation throws were there. His arm strength was there. There were no issues in that regard. However, the biggest concern for me was that he barely moved. He almost never rolled, he never had to escape a pass rush, never had to make any sudden movements. In the opener against Atlanta, that was the most I've seen him run around, by far, since May, and I didn't think he looked labored or awkward in any way. However, the timing that I thought he might have down with his receivers was not there. They were not always in sync last week.
2) You wrote an interesting article over the offseason, detailing how based on per-play statistics, the Philadelphia defense might have been the stronger of the two units. Now the defensive front seems to be the most intimidating aspect of this team. Break down for our readers the skillsets of the DL and LBs, and where there might be an opportunity to exploit.
The front 3 are awesome. Fletcher Cox is an emerging star at DE, Bennie Logan looks like he has made a huge jump in his third year, and Cedric Thornton is a very good run stuffing specialist on early downs. None of those guys have flashy stats playing in a 2-gap 3-4 scheme (that may change for Cox this season), but they're all very disruptive. At OLB, Connor Barwin is good (although not stellar) at everything. He can rush the passer (14.5 sacks a year ago), set the edge, and drop into coverage. Brandon Graham has also made himself into a more complete 3-4 OLB, although that didn't show Week 1. His best attribute is rushing the passer.
I suspect the Cowboys will try to get Lance Dunbar on Graham in the passing game if they can. At ILB, Mychal Kendricks is an extremely athletic player who, like Barwin, does everything. Kendricks does a great job as a blitzer from his ILB spot. Kiko Alonso's specialty is in coverage, while DeMeco Ryans' best look is in the run game. The Cowboys should look to attack with the pass anytime Ryans is on the field.
3) In the Monday night game, Atlanta didn't race out to a lead, Philly was close until the end of the first half and then closed the gap in the second half to actually take the lead. So why on earth weren't there more running plays? Darren Sproles did his thing as usual, but 11 carries for 13 yards from Murray and Matthews was surprising. What went wrong?
Chip Kelly thought the interior of the Falcons line did a really good job. I'm torn on whether I buy that, or whether the Eagles' interior OL just didn't move anybody. In the second half, the Eagles cruised right down the field with their short-intermediate passing game for three consecutive scores, so the results are difficult to argue with there, but certainly, nobody expected Murray and Matthews to combine for 11 measly carries.
4) A few years ago, you skewered the Cowboys offensive line as old and decrepit, and this offseason you did the same (with slightly less vitriol) about the Eagles OL. What's your assessment of their performance Monday night and what do you see spinning it forward?
Ha, and by the way, I was right! The Eagles' OL this year wasn't quite as old as the Flozell Adams line that was 31, 31, 31, 31, and 35. The Eagles' average is a little below 30. The Eagles are in good shape at LT-C-RT, as long as Jason Peters doesn't experience some kind of sudden decline, which I don't see just yet, but is around the corner. For me the two guard spots and their overall depth are the worrisome areas. Allen Barbre really struggled against Atlanta, as did Andrew Gardner in the first half, although Gardner was much better as the game dragged along. Tyrone Crawford has to be licking his chops.
5) What happened to Byron Maxwell and can Cowboys fans expect similar results when targeting him?
Nah, he'll be better. Julio Jones is a top 3 NFL receiver, which isn't an excuse. Maxwell was bad no matter how you spin it. That came as a huge surprise to me. Maxwell looked really good both in training camp and the preseason. I was really surprised by how poorly he played, and I suspect he'll be much better going forward. To say he had a bad day is pretty simplistic analysis, but I think that's just what happened.
Bonus: How do you see the game playing out on Sunday?
No Bryant, no Gregory, no Hardy, no Scandrick, no McClain, and maybe no Leary. If the Eagles can't take care of business with all those guys out, they're in big trouble.