Phil Sheridan, ESPN Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA – The Eagles might be the most radically changed team in the NFL, let alone the NFC East.
But their division opponents spent the offseason trying to get better, too. With training camps about to open, it’s worth taking a look at the state of each of the Eagles’ NFC East rivals. Finally: the Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas had a strange offseason, but one that could leave the team (and many fans) feeling as if the Cowboys are poised to compete for the Super Bowl. That doesn’t mean they’re right, merely that there is enough reason to be optimistic if you’re inclined to see things that way.
The Cowboys’ most important player last season was running back DeMarco Murray. He’s with the Eagles now, which would suggest that the Cowboys were diminished. That suggestion was reinforced when the Cowboys didn’t sign or draft a running back with similar potential. Instead, they decided to sign former Oakland back Darren McFadden and let him and Joseph Randle replace Murray.
The idea is that the Cowboys’ offensive line is good enough to make the running game go. That might be true. And it could also be true that Murray will experience a decline after handling the ball nearly 500 times last season, including the playoffs. Backs typically don’t fare well after a season with that kind of workload, so maybe Murray would have been less productive if he had remained in Dallas.
Ultimately, the Cowboys are counting on that line to give Tony Romo time to get the ball to Dez Bryant. Judging by the Cowboys’ 38-27 victory over the Eagles in December, a game in which Bryant caught three touchdown passes, maybe that isn’t such a bad plan.
Meanwhile, Dallas signed former Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy. That move seemed less important when Hardy was suspended for the first 10 games of the season. But that suspension has since been reduced to four games on appeal, so Dallas will have the pass-rushing Hardy for 12 games. Hardy will miss the Week 2 game against the Eagles.
The Cowboys also focused on defense in the draft, adding Byron Jones and Randy Gregory in the first two rounds. If nothing else, that should make the Cowboys defense more of a challenge for Chip Kelly in 2015.
The Eagles scored 60 points in two games against the Cowboys last season, but still lost one of them. And that loss gave Dallas control of the NFC East.
That’s because of the Dallas offense, not the defense. When Romo’s back was bothering him after a short practice week, the Eagles dominated the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Two weeks later, with Romo rested and ready, the Cowboys rolled in Philadelphia.
Murray or no Murray, the Eagles have to expect Romo and Bryant to keep Dallas in contention in 2015. Once again, it feels very much as if the Cowboys will be the Eagles’ primary concern among NFC East opponents. Their ability to match up with Dallas will likely determine the Eagles’ chances of winning the division title and going to the playoffs.