The Dallas Cowboys know one thing - they really need Tyron Smith to play in this game against the Eagles. Last week’s disaster in Atlanta was a pitiful performance, and while Chaz Green was a big part of the problem, they were also without Ezekiel Elliott. Together those two absences played a large role in their problems.
If Smith plays, then the Cowboys will have a chance to show their run game can still work without Ezekiel Elliott. But this week’s opponent will make that a tough task, the Eagles perform very well against the run on defense. They are in the top tier in multiple categories of run defense, and even though some of that is because teams abandon the run in catch-up mode, they still are formidable. They rank seventh in Football Outsider’s DVOA metric. This is a defense that didn’t collapse when they lost middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, something that the Cowboys can’t emulate without Sean Lee.
Here is one curious stat, and it could mean even more depending on whether Smith plays. The one vulnerable area in the run game for the Eagles, according to PFF, is they allow 9.8 yards per carry when team’s run behind their left tackle. Last week the Cowboys barely even tried to run left. If Smith is in, you can bet they will try this week.
In the passing game, the Eagles are a little less imposing. They do get a piece back with the return of cornerback Ronald Darby. The Eagles pass defense will give up a lot of yards, but they also have been good in creating turnovers from their secondary. They have 11 interceptions on the year as a team, a good portion coming from their secondary.
Giving Dak Prescott time to work is going to be key. Vinny Curry and Derek Barnett will battle either Smith, or Smith’s replacement. Obviously this will have a huge impact on the game. If Smith doesn’t play, the Cowboys coaches have to do a much better job of given either Byron Bell or Chaz Green help, they can’t run the same gameplan as last week.
Stats Corner: Eagles Defense
—- 10th in yards allowed per game (315.9), 26th in passing yards allowed per game (249.4), 1st in rushing yards per game (66.4), tied for 10th in points per game allowed (19.9)
—- 3rd in third-down conversions allowed (30.1%), 10th in passing yards allowed per attempt (6.6), tied for 10th in sacks (25), 5th in yards per rushing attempt allowed (3.6)
A lot depends on the status of Tyron Smith. If he can go, there is a chance the Cowboys can establish their normal run game, even though against Philly that’s a tough task. The strength of Philly’s defense is the defensive line, with Smith, the Cowboys have a shot at neutralizing that. Without him, the Cowboys will have to sacrifice a running back or tight end on a lot of plays to stay in and block. This will make a successful passing game tough. Their best bet without Smith is to do what they did briefly last week and go with heavy, jumbo packages and try to maul the defense. Then let Prescott run some bootlegs or read-options, along with play-action passes.