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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Bring on the Cowboys!

Posted by Eric Fisher On November 23

Sunday’s 43-24 victory over Tennessee wasn’t an artistic success, but the Eagles got the job done.

The Eagles established a running game, pressured Titans rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger and generally controlled play against the overmatched Titans. But the Eagles know they face bigger challenges the next three games, starting with a Thanksgiving Day NFC East showdown (4:30 p.m.) at Dallas.

“It’s a game we must win,” running back LeSean McCoy said.

Thanksgiving in Dallas will be followed by home games against the Seahawks and Cowboys. Not only will these games have important ramifications in the playoff race, but they present important opportunities for the Eagles (8-3) to prove they can beat a winning team, which they haven’t done since Week 2 against the Colts. But head coach Chip Kelly said his team wasn’t looking past the Titans (2-9).

“No, not at all,” Kelly said. “They were focused on Tennessee, and that was reflected in their play today.

“I think our attention was solely on Tennessee. You only get to play one game a week.”

Technically, the Eagles are playing two games this week. But let’s not quibble with Kelly, whose point is clear.

Quarterback Mark Sanchez received a taste of the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry when he heard fans yelling about the Cowboys during the third quarter of Sunday’s game. The Eagles, however, still had work to do to put away the Titans, who climbed back into the game after being dominated during the first quarter.

The Eagles got off to a tremendous start. After the Titans deferred after winning the coin toss, rookie Josh Huff returned the opening kickoff 107 yards for a touchdown, setting a franchise record for the longest kickoff return for a touchdown.

“With special teams putting points up before we get on the field,” McCoy said, “you know it’s going to be a good day.”

The Eagles defense forced a three-an-out, giving the Birds possession at their own 49-yard line. Four runs by McCoy (21 carries for 130 yards) and a 14-yard pass to Brent Celek brought the Eagles to the 4. Darren Sproles ran 4 yards around the left side to give the Eagles a 14-0 lead with 10:44 remaining in the first quarter.

The defense forced the Titans to go three-and-out on their first three possessions. The Titans finished the first quarter with 12 total yards and no first downs. The Eagles held a 17-0 lead.

Turnovers, a season-long problem, helped the Titans climb back into the game. Sanchez threw an interception that gave the Titans the ball at the Eagles 30 near the end of the first quarter. The Titans turned that turnover into a 40-yard touchdown pass from Mettenberger to Justin Hunter on the first play of the second quarter.

After the Eagles stalled inside the 10-yard line and settled for the second of Cody Parkey’s five field goals, Mettenberger connected with Delanie Walker for 68-yard pass over linebacker Emmanuel Acho (who later left the game with an injury) on the first play of the ensuing drive. Shonn Greene’s spinning 2-yard run up the middle with 8:22 remaining in the second quarter cut the Eagles’ lead to 20-14.

Sanchez (30 of 43 for 307 yards) threw another interception in the third quarter, overthrowing his receiver after stepping up in the pocket. Fortunately, the Titans fumbled the ball back to the Eagles on the next play and the defense, led by two sacks apiece from Connor Barwin and Trent Cole, didn’t allow the Titans to score again until the Eagles extended their lead to 40-17.

Sanchez chalked up his first interception to miscommunication between him and receiver Riley Cooper, but offered no explanation for the second one, saying “There’s no excuse for it. (Zach) Ertz and Jordan (Matthews) are both open, and I just airmailed it.”

The Eagles have been dodging bullets all season with turnovers, particularly interceptions. Sanchez knows that can’t continue, especially against the NFL’s better teams.

“We’ve got to take care of the football – no matter what,” Sanchez said.

Against the Titans, the Eagles could afford to turn the ball over. They can’t afford to turn the ball over the next three weeks against the Cowboys and Seahawks.

One other element that could help them against the better teams is establishing a running game. McCoy gained 130 yards, but it’s not clear how much of the improvement was due to better blocking and running and how much was due to the Titans defense being ranked 31st against the run.

McCoy thinks it’s the former reason rather than the latter. He also thinks the running game becomes more important during the latter part of the season.

“Even though everyone talks about it being a passing league,” McCoy said, “I think late in the year you’re going to have to rely on the running game.”

The Cowboys (7-3), who visit the Giants on Sunday night in an attempt to stay tied with the Eagles atop the NFC East, feature a terrific running game. The Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray has been the NFL’s top running back this season.

Now that the Titans are out of the way, the Eagles can prepare for the Cowboys. If they can defeat the Cowboys twice, it will almost seal a second straight NFC East crown.

As was the case with Sunday’s game against the Titans, however the Eagles aren’t looking ahead. All that matters to them right now is Thanksgiving.

“You can’t win three in a row without the first one,” Sanchez said.

 

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