There isn’t much mystery as to what we’re going to see on Sunday when the Eagles, having clinched homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, take on the Cowboys, who have literally nothing to play for but pride. Eagles coach Doug Pederson has already admitted that their starters will play some in order to avoid a three-week layoff, but that “at the same time be smart with how much they play, how long they play, and go from there.”
So we’re going to get maybe a half of the Eagles regulars, if that, before they empty the bench in hopes of making it through the game unscathed, much as the Cowboys did in the very same position this time last season. Nick Foles has been underwhelming since taking over for Carson Wentz, so some might’ve envisioned that the Eagles would attempt to strengthen their offensive chemistry by letting Foles play the entire game, but that would require playing the starting receivers, their top running backs, the starting offensive line, etc.
With the Eagles already down to their backup left tackle and quarterback it’s hard to imagine them taking that risk for an entire 60 minutes in a meaningless game, especially when the alternative to Foles is Nate Sudfeld, a second-year quarterback drafted in the sixth-round who has never thrown a regular season pass. I’m sure the Eagles would love to improve their offensive cohesiveness going into the playoffs but when the downside to taking that risk is going into a playoff game with Nate Sudfeld, well, you don’t take that risk.
Sudfeld is a big, strong-armed quarterback who was a three-year starter at Indiana where he threw for 3,573 yards, 27 touchdowns, and seven interceptions as a senior. He isn’t the most accurate, however, having never completed more than 60.5% of his passes in college aside from his freshman season where he only attempted 82 passes. He isn’t much of a threat with his legs either as he averaged a grand total of 1.0 YPC in college, and he lacks mobility in the pocket to extend plays and make throws on the run.
He has gotten some limited preseason actions over his first two years, although unfortunately for him his inaccuracy has translated as he’s completed less than 60% of his passes in both the 2016 and 2017 preseason. He did manage three touchdowns and no interceptions as a rookie, but this preseason he managed no touchdowns (or interceptions to be fair) despite attempting 56 passes.
The most extensive playing time he’s gotten in a single game was in this year’s preseason finale where he went 22/33 for 228 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions. Clearly this is a player who is likely to struggle on Sunday where he will get his first taste of an actual NFL game.
It’s unlikely that the Cowboys will have watched much film on Sudfeld heading into Sunday so it’s possible that he could catch the defense off guard a time or two, but for the most part the Eagles offense should grind to a halt as soon as he enters the game, which you’d have to imagine will be no later than the beginning of the third quarter.
Basically the Cowboys defense will only have to make sure they don’t get beat over the top on a 50/50 ball by making sure that the safeties play with discipline, while playing tight at the line of scrimmage to stop what will surely be a parade of checkdowns and short passes. Do that, mix up your pre-snap looks a bit, hit the young quarterback a few times early to make him uncomfortable and he should crumble from there.
Sunday’s game may not have much intrigue, but it could be fun to watch the defense get after a sitting duck like Sudfeld, and if they can’t?
Well, then it may be time to take an even closer look at which coaches won’t be returning in 2018.