Quarterback Nick Foles didn't have a spectacular game but he did everything he needed to do to put the Eagles in a position to win. He completed 65.3% (17-for-26) of his passes for 263 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. Foles has been good about turnovers but fumbled for the first time this season on Sunday and gave the Cowboys the ball inside Eagles territory. Luckily for Foles, the defense stepped up and held them to a field goal.
For the second time this season, Foles did not have great offensive line play against the Cowboys. He was sacked five times and was pressured even more than that. At least three times he threw the ball away and could've been called for intentional grounding. Outside of playing the Cowboys, the offensive line has been stellar this season.
Once again on Sunday, the Eagles used heavy doses of LeSean McCoy and it paid dividends. McCoy rushed 27 times for 131 yards but he also caught a touchdown pass as well. He went on to win the NFL rushing title and break the Eagles single-season record for most rushing yards with 1,607 yards.
McCoy wasn't the only running back who got into the action on Sunday. Bryce Brown wasn't used much in the first half but came on late in the fourth quarter with fresh legs and was effective. His first carry of the game went for five yards and an Eagles first down. Brown's second carry went for six yards and the game-winning touchdown. Chris Polk also had a big play of his own with his 34-yard reception on the Eagles first drive to get them into Cowboys territory.
The receivers were held in check on Sunday as the team's leading receiver, DeSean Jackson, was held to three catches and 28 yards. Prior to the Cowboys, Jackson had just four receptions for 29 yards against the Chicago Bears - partially because the team stuck to the run because it was so effective. Riley Cooper had just three receptions on Sunday against Dallas for 39 yards.
The receivers' down day might be a direct correlation to the tight ends' big day. Brent Celek caught three passes for a team-high 71 yards, including a huge 35-yard reception, and one touchdown. Rookie tight end Zach Ertz got into the action as well catching three passes for 43 yards. He now has three consecutive games with at least 27 yards receiving.
The Saints defense is nothing to scoff at as last year's porous defense is no more and they have stepped up in a major way. They get pressure on the quarterback led by defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette. Jordan led the team with 12.5 sacks this season and has terrorized the Eagles offensive line in the past. Last November on Monday Night Football, Jordan sacked Michael Vick three times en route to a 28-13 victory. Galette is right behind Jordan this season with 12 sacks on his own.
Linebacker Curtis Lofton is the jack-of-all-trades for the Saints defense. He leads the team with 125 total tackles, he's registered two sacks, seven tackles for loss, five passes defended, and one forced fumble.
The secondary has taken the largest step forward from last year as they finished the regular season ranked second against the pass allowing an average of 194.1 yards per game. Cornerback Keenan Lewis is a major reason why as he leads the team with four interceptions and leads all cornerbacks with 47 tackles. Starting opposite of Lewis is Jabari Greer who leads the Saints with 12 passes defended. Malcom Jenkins, who has two interceptions of his own, and Kenny Vaccaro, who leads the secondary with 69 tackles, have both strengthened the safety play of the Saints defense making it a strength of the defense.
One reason the Saints cannot be counted of any game is their quarterback: Drew Brees. Brees completed 68.6% of his passes this season for 5,162 yards and 39 touchdowns. It marked the third consecutive season in which he topped 5,150 yards and that makes four out of the last six seasons in which he has thrown for more than 5,000 yards.
He is coming off his best game of the season last week at home against the Buccaneers. Brees was 24-for-31 (77.4%) for 381 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. His 157.4 quarterback rating was his highest since he had a perfect 158.3 rating on November 30th, 2009 in a 38-17 victory over the New England Patriots. The 6'0" Brees has helped lead the Saints to the second best passing offense in the NFL averaging 307.4 yards per game.
The rushing attack is not a strength of the Saints offense. They rank 25th in the NFL averaging 92.1 yards per game on the ground. Pierre Thomas was the team's leading rusher with 549 yards on 147 attempts. No runningback had more than two rushing touchdowns and Brees led the team in rushing touchdowns with three. Where the runningbacks make an impact on the game is in the passing offense as Thomas and Darren Sproles each recorded over 500 yards receiving this year.
The Saints are a possession team that methodically and efficiently moves the ball down the field. Brees' top two targets this season were tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Marques Colston with Thomas and Sproles being quality targets used often out of the backfield.
Graham emerged as the top tight end in football this season and, perhaps, the best weapon any quarterback has in the league. The gargantuan 6'7" tight end led the team with 86 receptions for a team-high 1,215 receiving yards while leading the NFL with 16 touchdown passes. Simply put: all Brees has to do is put it in the air in Graham's vicinity and he will go up and get it.
Colston, like Graham, is a possession receiver that Brees relies on heavily. He had 75 receptions for 943 yards and five touchdowns this season. He really turned it on the last four games of the season posting games of 125, 92, 63, and 67 yards while hauling in three touchdowns over that span.
The main home run threat the Saints have is wide receiver Kenny Stills. The 6'0" 194 lbs. wideout is lightning quick and can burn defensive backs with his speed. He has 32 catches for 641 yards and five touchdowns this season. Stills has not recorded more than four receptions in a game and is coming off a one-reception game against the Buccaneers that went 76 yards for a touchdown.
The Eagles defense has their work cut out for them this week. Philadelphia struggled to get pressure on Kyle Orton last week as the Cowboys offensive line really stepped up when they were called upon. The Eagles cannot afford to give Brees the kind of time they gave Orton on Sunday.
Trent Cole will have to dictate what kind of game it is going to be for the Eagles. Cole, 31, led the Eagles with eight sacks this season in addition to leading the team with three forced fumbles. If the Eagles are going to get pressure on Brees, Cole has to be in the backfield.
Another guy that is going to play a major role in the Eagles success on Sunday in Connor Barwin. Barwin will have to pressure Brees on the side opposite of Cole. He is second on the team with five sacks this season but perhaps more impressively is Barwin is tied for third in passes defended with 11 - none bigger than the fourth down pass that was batted down on Sunday. With Brees standing at just 6'0" and Barwin owning a 40+ inch vertical leap, he can seriously disrupt the Saints passing attack if he can get into the passing lanes.
Which leads us to the secondary. The Eagles boast the league's worst passing defense allowing an average of 289.8 yards per game. However, just once since Week 4 have the Eagles allowed more than 22 points in a game. They employ a bend-but-don't-break mindset.
The Eagles have found ways to force pivotal turnovers at crucial points in the game recently and that must continue on Sunday. Last week linebacker Mychal Kendricks forced a fumble on the Cowboys opening drive then intercepted Kyle Orton just before halftime which lead to an Eagles touchdown. The highlight of all the turnovers was nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin's interception that sealed the win for the Eagles. It was his second pick in as many weeks.
Graham, 27, is one of the most dominant offensive weapons in the NFL. Standing at 6'7", 265 lbs. Graham has the ability to jump out of the building (he was a former basketball player) and catches seemingly everything thrown his way. He led the NFL with 16 touchdown receptions this year and closed out the season with 86 receptions for 1,215 yards. He is Drew Brees' favorite target, especially in the red zone.
Kendricks, 23, had a monster game for the Eagles on Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys with the division on the line. He led the team with 12 tackles, forced a fumble on the Cowboys first drive, and intercepted Kyle Orton just before halftime to set up an Eagles touchdown. He is most effective when blitzing but has been tasked with covering tight ends recently. He only stands 6'0", 240 lbs. so larger tight ends have more success.