The Eagles and Cowboys renew their storied NFC East rivalry tonight in Dallas. It’s as close to a must-win for both teams as there is this early in the season.
There has been a good amount of trash talk back and forth this week, starting with Doug Pederson’s half-guarantee of an Eagles win. Then, Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence fired back with some harsh words and told the coach to “shut his ass up.” Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson quickly chimed in to turn all that noise down. Bottom line, these two franchises do not like each other.
Eagles vs. Cowboys: Top 5 Storylines to Watch
Pound the Rock: Get Jordan Howard Going Early
This goes without saying but let’s say it again, maybe someone will listen. Jordan Howard is the Eagles’ feature back and needs to get a steady diet of handoffs in this game. Howard, who was limited to 49 yards on 13 carries last week, has the ability to control the tempo with his bruising between-the-tackles style of running. The Cowboys’ rush defense is in the middle of the pack, allowing 93.8 yards per game to opposing teams. Their linebackers — Sean Lee, Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith — are the team’s strength. It shouldn’t matter. Howard can smash through any barrier. He’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry this year. Feed him.
Win the Toss: Take the Ball, Get Offense Rolling
If the Eagles win the opening coin toss, they absolutely need to accept the ball and try to get their offense untracked. Head coach Doug Pederson has been deferring all year and putting his defense on the field first. The obvious benefit is that you get the ball to start the second half. However, the Eagles’ offense hasn’t been able to get into any kind of rhythm so the strategy is actually hurting them. Pederson acknowledged as much earlier this week and indicated he may turn the tide and take the ball. It’s the best way to wake up his sleeping passing attack.
Check it Down: Carson Wentz Needs to be Patient
The biggest knock on Carson Wentz has been his unwillingness to take what the defense gives him, or check it down to a running back when nothing else is there. Wentz is one of the most intelligent quarterbacks in the NFL, but sometimes he tries to do too much. With no DeSean Jackson out there to stretch the field — and really no other speedy receiver on the roster — it is imperative they establish a short-passing game early in this one. Wentz needs to work in the middle of the field, specifically by getting Zach Ertz the ball and maybe even using Nelson Agholor more in the slot. Keep the defense honest.
Secondary Concerns: Let Jalen Mills Be Jalen Mills
Jalen Mills isn’t Jalen Ramsey. Everyone knows that. But Mills has been a productive starter in his three seasons in midnight green. In fact, the 25-year-old is arguably the best cornerback on the team. His presence alone should provide a huge boost of confidence for a struggling unit. Yes, Mills has a tendency to get burned on double moves but he’s been a lock-down corner inside the red zone (just ask Julio Jones about that). Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper is expected to play despite being officially listed as questionable. Mills needs to stick to him like glue.
Stuff the Run: Don’t let Zeke Elliott Eat
For all the talk about Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ aerial attack under new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, it starts and ends with Ezekiel Elliott. After a slow start to the season, Elliott has started climbing up the NFL’s rushing leaders. The Cowboys running back has 491 yards on the ground while averaging 4.3 yards per carry, good enough for sixth-best in the league. This should be an incredibly challenging test for the Eagles’ rush defense which ranks No. 2 in the NFL after allowing 72.8 yards per game.
Remember, the Eagles just released starting linebacker Zach Brown and plan to give those extra snaps to undrafted rookie T.J. Edwards. He was a stud in the preseason, especially against the run. They could also choose to make another preseason breakout star, Alex Singleton, active against the Cowboys. The linebackers are very much a work in progress but they need to step it up Sunday night.
The Prediction: Eagles 35, Cowboys 31
The recent history of this series has featured high-scoring affairs and late-game heroics. Last year, the Cowboys rallied late to beat the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field and then survived a Philly comeback in the second game in Dallas. The Eagles have had a hectic and drama-filled week dealing with “anonymous sources” calling out everyone from GM Howie Roseman to quarterback Carson Wentz. They need this win, bad. Wentz turns in a vintage performance in primetime and throws for 400 yards and four touchdowns in a statement win. The Cowboys won’t be able to keep up in a track meet with too many key starters banged up.
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