The Dallas Cowboys head to the city of brotherly love to face the Philadelphia Eagles for what most likely will be the deciding game for the NFC East title. Fans appear to be uneasy about the game because it’s so tough to figure out which Cowboys team will show up. Not only that, but the Eagles themselves are quite the mystery as their level of play has also been all over the place this season.
On paper, the Cowboys look like the better team. They are the healthier squad as long as nothing is significantly wrong with the throwing shoulder of Dak Prescott. The Cowboys sure seem like they have the most talent, but the feeling among many fans can be summed up by this...
The Cowboys are the better team, and the only way they lose this game is if Jason Garrett gets out-coached by Doug Pederson.
Most fans would concede that the Eagles have the coaching advantage. After all, Pederson is the only Eagles head coach to ever bring a Super Bowl victory to Philadelphia. Garrett on the other hand, has been the coach in Dallas for what seems like an eternity, but his team hasn’t even sniffed a Super Bowl appearance throughout his tenure. It seems pretty obvious that the Eagles have the better coach.
Maybe they do. But if the Cowboys win on Sunday, it will make their fourth division title in six years. In that span, the Eagles have one and the Redskins have one, but two-thirds of the NFC titles would go to Dallas. Sure, the Eagles have a championship, but is that due to Pederson? The high-powered offense of the 2017 Eagles team seemed to leave town when their offensive coordinator Frank Reich took the head coaching job in Indianapolis. The Eagles have certainly encountered some tumultuous moments over the last couple years.
Pederson and Garrett have squared off seven times thus far, with Garrett coming out on top in five of those contests. The Cowboys have won the last four meetings between these teams. Regardless of what you think overall of these two head coaches, there is one thing that is very apparent when these teams meet up - Jason Garrett out-coaches Doug Pederson. Let’s take a look a their heads up battles and examine what each coach has done to give his team an edge.
Note: While these teams have played each other seven times, we’re only going to look at five of these games. Both teams have won a meaningless Week 17 finale that neither squad would be proud about, since the team on the losing end finished 13-3 and were resting most of their starters.
2016 - Cowboys win 29-23 in overtime
In Week 8 of the 2016, the early division lead was up for grabs when these two teams met on Sunday night. It was the first time these coaches squared off, and it’s a game that should’ve went to Philadelphia.
The Cowboys offense struggled most of the game, but Garrett took some risks to help spark his team. With the Cowboys trailing by 10 late in the fourth quarter, the coaching staff dialed up a fake punt to give the offense a new set of downs.
Despite the Cowboys fighting to get back into the game, the Eagles were still in control late as they had a great opportunity to put a strangle hold on the game in the fourth quarter. With an opportunity to make it a two-score game and burn off some clock, the Eagles instead decided to put on their fancy-pants and try a trick play to go for the jugular.
The Cowboys defense prevailed, keeping it a one-score game. The offense drove down the field and tied up the game to send it to overtime. In the bonus period, Garrett kept his foot on the gas and opted to go for it on fourth-down play rather than kicking the go-ahead field goal. He trusted his offensive line to clear enough space for Dak Prescott on a quarterback sneak so they could finish the game with a touchdown. And that’s exactly what happened.
2017 - Eagles dominate 37-9
The Eagles put a whooping on the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium a couple years ago. We can point out that Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, and Sean Lee were all missing from that game, but the way the Eagles played - I’m not sure it would’ve mattered. The Eagles won a stretch of nine-straight games and the Cowboys just happened to be in their path that week. It was a rough game for Prescott as he turned the ball over four times in that game, but let’s focus in on the coaching.
Clearly, the Eagles brought more fight to the game. Despite many reserves on the field, the Cowboys just weren’t prepared to stay with the Eagles on that day. Credit Pederson for some well-calculated aggressiveness that took the air out of any chance Dallas had to get back in the game. With a couple of two-point conversion attempts combined with a going for it on 4th-and-5 despite being up 14 points, the Eagles were intent on sending a message that they were the new best team in the NFC East.
2018 - Cowboys win 27-20
In a big Week 10 game, the Cowboys went on the road to face an Eagles team who were a game ahead of them in the standings. It was a game were both teams fought hard, but there were a few plays that stood out, and credit Garrett for pulling out all the stops.
In their own territory, once again the coaching staff rolled the dice with a fake punt. This time it was Jeff Heath who took the direct snap and pushed straight ahead for the first down.
Pederson is never a stranger to taking chances as he passed up a field goal opportunity at the 20-yard line to go for it on fourth-and-short. The problem was, the Eagles struggled to get anything going on the ground and Jaylon Smith and Jourdan Lewis tackled Eagles running back Josh Adams for a three-yard loss. Then late in the fourth quarter, the Eagles ran a questionable screen reminiscent of the play in 2016 where Lee blew it up for a loss. Only this time it was Leighton Vander Esch who made the play. The Eagles came up short on fourth down on the very next play when Jeff Heath stopped Zach Ertz short of the first-down marker. Game over.
2018 - Cowboys win 29-23 in overtime
It was like deja vu all over again when Garrett again was aggressive on fourth down in overtime. The Cowboys converted, and went on to win the game with another walk-off touchdown pass; this time to Amari Cooper.
While Garrett was the aggressor, what was odd was that the game never had to go to overtime. After scoring a touchdown to make it 23-22 in Dallas’ favor, Pederson could’ve chosen to go for two and win the game. Normally, this is the type of decision that Pederson would make, but he played it safe and kicked the extra point. Unfortunately, his offense never saw the ball again as the Cowboys marched down the field in overtime and won the game with a touchdown.
To the aggressor, goes the spoils and on that day it was Garrett who went for the kill shot.
2019 - Cowboys win 37-10
Earlier in the year, the Cowboys smoked the Eagles pretty good. Similar to the 2017 matchup, one team was just far superior than the other. While turnovers put the Eagles in an early hole, credit Garrett for being aggressive in the game as the Cowboys went for it on fourth down at midfield to keep their drive alive. A stop by the Eagles there could’ve swung the momentum back in their favor, but the Cowboys were playing on their own terms.
Most everyone had written off the Cowboys in this game as they were coming off a three-game losing streak, including a loss to the New York Jets the week prior. When people expected the Cowboys to get rolled, it was the Cowboys who did the rolling. They brought a lot of fight on this day and Garrett deserves a lot of credit for his team’s performance.
Pederson said earlier in the week that the Cowboys have their number, and he’s right. So far, it’s been pretty lopsided in the Cowboys favor when these teams have met while he’s been the Eagles’ coach. Things may change this Sunday, but if you’re going to award a winner in the coaching department for when these teams have squared off, so far - it goes to Garrett and it’s not even close.