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Cowboys hot topic: This week’s Eagles game has become crucial

The outcome of this game will largely dictate the course of rest of the season.

NFL: DEC 09 Eagles at Cowboys
The Cowboys need Amari Cooper - but may not have him.
Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys are reeling after three straight losses, dropping them to 3-3. Now they face what has become a crucial game Sunday night against division rival the Philadelphia Eagles, who also have had recent struggles and sit at 3-3. Both the New York Giants and Washington trail the co-leaders in the NFC East. Neither has looked overly impressive, so this game is for control of the division. Even with the very tough schedule after the bye coming up after this game, that is now the best route for Dallas to salvage this mess and at least claw their way into the playoffs.

But this ain’t gonna be easy. Amari Cooper, Tyron Smith, and La’el Collins are all still very questionable for this game. It has just been reported that Tyrone Crawford is having season ending hip surgery. Dorance Armstrong, Anthony Brown, and Byron Jones all have their own injury problems and might also miss the game. And Randall Cobb missed last week and is still not certain to return.

All that just compounds the problems both the offense and defense have had in the three losses. So what would the possible outcomes of this game mean for the Cowboys?

A big loss could be a fatal blow

While there are still nine more games after the bye, a 3-4 record is going to be hard to overcome. A multi-score loss to the Eagles would have the additional impact of shaking the confidence of the team. The players, like DeMarcus Lawrence, insist their confidence is still strong.

Unfortunately, that may fall in the category of saying what you are supposed to say. After the way they lost the three games, especially the embarrassment against the New York Jets, the players have to be at least a bit rattled about themselves, their teammates, and the coaches. A big loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, who will spare no effort in gloating if it happens, would be pure acid.

You never can say never, but this scenario would be very close to the end of playoff hopes.

A close loss or tie

If the Cowboys keep the margin close, especially if the score stays pretty tight throughout, then things will be a bit less final. That is even more true if they should fail to win due to a bad bounce, one bad play, or one of the seemingly endless string of bad officiating calls that have already saddled several teams with critical losses.

With the bye week coming, Dallas would have extra time to work on getting things right and have a chance to make a run. After all, they were 3-5 before doing just that last season. But there is no Cooper deal coming to provide that massive spark. It will still be a huge hill to climb.

Winning by less than a touchdown

Obviously, the team needs to go into the bye at 4-3, and in the NFL, you take a win however you can get it. Even a gift from the zebras would not be turned down.

That would still leave them with a lot of issues to resolve, especially since the Eagles are certainly having their own struggles. But the boost from getting a win over their beloved and benevolent rivals would give them a huge lift.

The record is the record, no matter how the wins are accumulated. The Cowboys really need this.

Winning handily

As Captain Obvious would observe, this is the best of outcomes, as long as it doesn’t involve critical injuries. This would have a larger boost for the team, while the losing streak makes any chance of overconfidence remote.

Now, the team has to take care of business in their own house. That is going to require some much better play than we have seen of late.

The offense has shown it can move the ball and score in most games, but it has a huge issue that our David Howman has already discussed. The money quote:

This team has established a trend: start out slow, and then when things start getting bad they kick it into high gear and get right back into the game. It’s a testament to the talent on this roster, which is why many media outlets consistently ranked the Cowboys as one of the top three rosters in the NFC heading into the year. But when a team as talented as this one repeatedly starts games looking flat and even disinterested in playing football, it comes back to leadership.

If they can overcome this and find that offensive mojo from the Giants game that we briefly hoped was the new reality for them, they can pull off a win, and likely a strong one.

The Eagles have a suspect secondary, while their rushing defense is second best in the league in yards allowed. If that doesn’t convince the Dallas staff to focus on throwing the ball and not handing it off to Ezekiel Elliott, no matter the condition of the offensive line, then we can probably abandon all hope anyway.

The defense also has to step it up. There can be no repeats of the humiliating 92-yard touchdown pass from Sam Darnold. No matter our personal feelings about him, Carson Wentz certainly has that kind of play in him. The Eagle are pretty much middle-of-the-road in both phases of their offense, so it will take a balanced defensive effort. We haven’t seen much of that, unfortunately. They also need to find a way to take the ball away more.

Meanwhile, special teams have been simply atrocious. Brett Maher still is unreliable at times, which could be a killer in a close game. But the real problem is field position.

The lack of takeaways plays into that, but in the long run, it is the punting and kickoff game that drives field position the most. And this may be the hardest one to improve. The Cowboys just aren’t very good in this phase of the game, and no answers are apparent.

This week now looks to be a true turning point for Dallas. It may give us a hint of what the identity of this team truly is. We just have to hope we aren’t brutally disappointed.

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