Educated Predictions: Week 2 - Cowboys (1-0) at Eagles (0-1), at the Linc
3:25 kickoff on FOX, with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman; on 105.3 The Fan with Brad Sham and Babe Laufenberg
1. Lance Dunbar scores his first NFL touchdown
It's hard to believe that in his 4 year NFL career, Lance Dunbar has never scored a touchdown. Granted, he didn't get a ton of opportunities in the past but Dunbar has been close to scoring several times over the years. In week 17 of the 2014 season, Dunbar had an 80 yard touchdown reversed due to a holding penalty on Jason Witten. Even last week Dunbar was close to breaking away on a couple of occasions.
With the Dez-less Cowboys traveling to Philadelphia, Scott Linehan will have to get creative with how to attack Philly's defense. The Eagles have a strong front seven and I expect that Tony Romo will want to get the ball out quickly to avoid hits and sacks - something that Atlanta had success with vs Philadelphia. If you can get a guy in space and quickly get the ball in their hands, they can do some damage - as seen by the 7 missed tackles by Philly's defense last week. That's where Dunbar comes in. Dunbar caught 8 passes for 70 yards, including two key catches on the game-winning drive vs the Giants in week 1. I expect his numbers to increase this week as the Cowboys try to make up for the absence of their best offensive weapon.
Read more about how the Cowboys running backs are contributing here in CHQ Film Room.
2. Tyrone Crawford sacks Sam Bradford twice
One of the weakest links of the Eagles offense is in the middle of their offensive line. They released veteran guards Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis in the offseason and I think they're really going to miss them this year. The Eagles struggled running up the middle last week vs the Falcons and their interior OL gave up 4 QB hits.
Last year, Tyrone Crawford recorded 3 sacks - all of which came against the Eagles. He also had 2 QB hurries, 1 QB hit, 5 tackles, 1 forced fumble and 1 tackle for a loss in those 2 games. And that was when the interior of their offensive line wasn't as suspect. I expect Crawford to have another big game and to keep showing why the Cowboys paid him the big bucks last Saturday. ... Fish reports that Jack Crawford is part of the D-line gameplan at multiple spots as well ... and next thing you know, Rod Marinelli can keep filling his big bag. Mark Lane's "Numbers Chase'' Premium story is here.
3. Sean Lee and Morris Claiborne both get interceptions
The Cowboys defense was extremely impressive against the Giants in week 1. They held New York's offense to under 200 passing yards and under 100 rushing yards and if you take away the 3 Dallas turnovers, they allowed just 9 points. One thing they didn't do, however, was create turnovers. They came close on three occasions - 2 near fumbles and a near interception - but weren't able to seal the deal.
Meanwhile, the Eagles offense has given up the 4th most turnovers since 2013 with 57. Their quarterback, Sam Bradford, threw 2 interceptions last week and has 40 interceptions in 50 career games. One thing Bradford did often vs the Falcons is stare down his receivers. Sean Lee is great at baiting QB's and anticipating throws, so I wouldn't be surprised if he does this to Bradford and comes away with a pick. Claiborne (maybe "turning the corner'' with Carr) had a great game vs the Giants, holding the electrifying Odell Beckham Jr. in check. He is in the best physical shape of his career and is playing with confidence and poise. He's an extremely talented player who has disappointed thus far in his NFL career. He is long overdue for a big game and I think this is when he starts showing people why the Cowboys moved up to draft him in 2012.
4. Joseph Randle has more rushing yards than DeMarco Murray
DeMarco Murray will certainly be pumped up to play against his former team - despite telling the media that "it's just another game." Murray underwhelmed in his Eagles debut, rushing for a mere 9 yards on 8 attempts, an average of 1.1 YPC. He also had just 11 yards on 4 catches. Now, I don't expect him to have as bad a game vs the Cowboys. Murray is still a good player who had a bad game. I fully expect him to have a solid game vs Dallas but I don't think he'll have the monster game that some expect - even with the extra motivation of playing against the team who refused to pay him the big bucks.
As pumped up as Murray will be to face the Cowboys, this defense will just as pumped up to play him. Murray was known for getting in little spats with guys like Sean Lee and Tyrone Crawford in practice and now they'll have a chance to duke it out in an actual game. The last 2 times the Cowboys faced the Eagles in Philly, they held LeSean McCoy to 65 and 55 rushing yards. In my opinion, and the opinion of just about any defensive coordinator, McCoy is far more difficult to contain than Murray. McCoy has the ability to take it to the house on any given play. Murray, however, has definitely lost a lot of speed over the years and isn't going to break away for any long runs. Marinelli's defenses are always good tackling teams and the Cowboys are no different. They will limit Murray's yards after contact, keep him in check and Randle will have more yards than Murray for the 2nd consecutive week.
DeMarco is pretending this is "just another game.'' We give him a wide path to talk about it in our Premium feature, "DeMarco In His Own Words.''
5. Tony Romo throws 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions without Dez Bryant
Tony Romo is playing at an insanely high level right now. In fact, he has been since week 3 of the 2014 season - aside from the Thanksgiving game vs the Eagles when his back wasn't fully healed. Since that game, however, Romo has thrown 19 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions with a 100+ passer rating and a 60+ completion % in his last 7 games - including the playoffs. Those are ridiculous numbers (we've got more on "Romo Road'' here) and #9 is showing no signs of slowing down.
Now, some might say he could take a step back now that he'll be without his top receiver in Dez Bryant. (By the way: If you have been trying to learn about what the Cowboys themselves are saying about Dez' surgery - as opposed to what the networks are screaming -- just read Fish here.) Oh, and his great O-line is taking a hit as Bernadeau replaces Leary (groin) today. However, Romo orchestrated two scoring drives of beauty in the come-from-behind win vs the Giants last week - and he did it without Dez Bryant on the field. Don't get me wrong, losing Dez hurts, but I fully expect Garrett, Linehan and Romo to have a solid game plan in place that will allow them to move the ball using "guys in space'' and put up points without #88. As long as guys are beating their single coverage, Romo is going to find them. Elite quarterbacks are able to have success without elite offensive weapons. They make those around them better.
Romo is an elite quarterback (Chip's right!) and I believe that his performance over the next few weeks will do nothing but confirm that and win over even more of his critics. It can happen ... if my Five overcome the Eagles' five.