The table is set. The stakes are huge. The only thing that remains is for the good guys to show up on Sunday and get the job done. While the 2019 season has been a tumultuous one for the Dallas Cowboys, they still have an opportunity for something special if they can emerge victorious against the Philadelphia Eagles. There have been some bumps in the road this year, but divisional games have been a breath of fresh air for the Cowboys this season. They are 4-0 against the NFC East. Not only are they winning those games, but they are smoking their opponents. No game has been close and their average margin of victory has been 18.5 points.
But that was then, this is now. All that means nothing if they can’t go 5-0 in the division. With a trip to the playoffs at stake, strolling into Lincoln Financial Field will be no easy task. Here are five things to keep an eye on when these two teams battle it out on Sunday.
1. What kind of Dak will we see?
With the news that the Cowboys quarterback is dealing with a shoulder injury, this will add another level of nervousness to an already anxiety-filled game. Rumblings around the facility have been optimistic as most of his teammates feel pretty good about Dak Prescott’s prognosis for Sunday.
But the concern isn’t really about whether he’s suiting up as we know Dak’s toughness. What is a little more unknown is how will he be able to perform with a sore shoulder. Prior to last week’s game against the Los Angeles Rams, Prescott had gone through a rough stretch. And now, he’s coming off a game where he only threw 23 passes. Sure, he was incredibly efficient, but was aided by a dominating running game. The Eagles have the third-best rushing defense in the league. Rest assured, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is going to test Dak’s throwing ability.
If Prescott’s shoulder is hindering him, it could be a problem for the Cowboys offense as Dak needs to come through with a good performance against the Eagles.
2. Attack the secondary
The Eagles are strong against the run, but strangely - that hasn’t been a problem for the Cowboys offense. Here is a list of each game this season and the rushing total of their opponents lead back. One of these things is not like the other.
It wouldn’t be going on a limb to suggest the Eagles will once again see a good dose of Ezekiel Elliott.
But even though the run game will have it’s place, the Cowboys absolutely must exploit the Eagles weak secondary. They have been vulnerable all year and it’s reared it ugly head quite a bit over the last three weeks.
There are big plays to be made against the Eagles defense; the Cowboys just have to find them.
#Eagles defense entered this weekend's games with a fourth-worst-in-the-NFL 13 pass plays of 40-plus yards allowed. That Terry McLaurin 75-yard TD makes it 14.— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) December 15, 2019
3. The Money Down
You might look at the Eagles offense and not feel all that threatened by what they have to offer. Their receiving corps is completely obliterated and their quarterback Carson Wentz has been very erratic this season.
Despite all that, the Eagles offense can be very streaky. They have six games this season where they have put up 30+ points, which is only one fewer than the Cowboys have this year. One of the reasons their offense is able to get it done is their efficiency on third down. The Eagles are second in the league at converting on third down with an impressive 47 percent. The good news is that the one team who is better than them on the money down is the Cowboys themselves, converting 48.7 percent of their third-down attempts.
Winning on third down is going to be huge in this game. Having success on early downs is imperative and it should be interesting to see which defenses pull out the negative plays, or which offense gets crimped by untimely penalties.
The Eagles offense doesn’t have big play-making ability, so they’re going to compensate by grinding away with long, drawn out drives. And if the Cowboys aren’t careful, the next thing you know - time is running out and they’re in another nerve-wracking close game. Winning the third-down battle can alleviate that.
4. Who’s covering who?
The Eagles offense has been without their top receivers - Alshon Jeffrey and DeSean Jackson. That means that JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Greg Ward Jr. are the teams top wide receiver options for the game unless Nelson Agholor miraculously suits up. That’s not ideal.
Fortunately for the Eagles, they have players at other positions that can catch passes. Zach Ertz is one of the top tight ends in the league and rookie running back Miles Sanders is very dangerous in the passing game. The Cowboys will have to make sure they have proper resources in place to stop those guys, but how Kris Richard chooses to be defend these guys will be intriguing. The Cowboys have good corners in Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, and Jourdan Lewis, but would they be wasted putting them on the Eagles make-shift receiving corps?
At the same time, you don’t want linebackers in coverage on these guys or to put Jeff Heath in precarious situations. Even though the Philly offense appears to have some deficiencies in the passing game, the Cowboys are still going to need to game plan well so these no-name receivers don’t come up big for the Eagles.
5. Take care of the ball
The last time these teams met, Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert fumbled on their first possession of the game. On their second possession, Carson Wentz fumbled it away. Philadelphia dug themselves a hole right out of the gate and they were never able to recover. All in all, the Eagles turned the ball over four times and never gave themselves a chance.
Sloppy football can derail any team in a heartbeat so the Cowboys must put together a clean game. If Dak starts dribbling the ball or if passes start getting away from him, it could end up being a long day for the road team.
What will you be watching on Sunday?