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Cowboys @ Eagles: What we know, don’t know, and will find out

Ready for another weekend of NFC East football?

Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

In what may be one of the least anticipated Sunday Night Football matchups of all time, the Cowboys and Eagles will square off this weekend. Dallas is coming off one of the most embarrassing losses in franchise history, a 25-3 beatdown courtesy of the Washington Football Team.

For all intents and purposes, the Cowboys’ season is over. Dallas would have to go 6-3 in their final eight games just to finish with a .500 record. That’s not going to happen, and it’s becoming more likely the Cowboys will finish with a top five pick than finish with five wins.

But, if they’re going to win any games left on their schedule, it’s a good chance those victories will be coming against the NFC East. The Eagles have been nearly as disappointing as the Cowboys this season, while also dealing with some major injuries.

Before the two rivals meet once again, here’s what we know, don’t know, and will find out in Philadelphia this Sunday.

We know the Cowboys are going to have trouble protecting Ben DiNucci

It’s hard to blame the Cowboys for their offensive line woes this season. If any team lost their three best offensive linemen, two for the entire season, they would look a lot like the Dallas offensive line does right now. The good news for the Cowboys is they likely will get All-Pro, Zack Martin, back this week. The bad news, they’re facing another dominant defensive front.

Last week against Washington, the Cowboys allowed six sacks. This week against Philadelphia, there’s a decent chance the results could be the same. According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles have the third-best pass rush in all of football. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, two players who have caused the Cowboys tons of trouble over the years, headline their defensive line.

Graham has gotten off to the best start of his career in 2020. The 32-year-old pass rusher has six sacks in seven games, and is on pace to shatter his personal record of 12 sacks in a season.

The Eagles also have gotten some great production out of edge rushers Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat. Both have three sacks on the season. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will likely dial up some unique blitzes this weekend against a rookie quarterback.

Even with Martin back in the fold, it’s going to be hard for the Cowboys to slow down this impressive pass rush. Dallas has allowed 96 QB pressures, 66 QB hurries, and 15 sacks on the season, according to PFF. The majority of that coming with Martin in the lineup. If they don’t move Martin to tackle, they’ll have Terence Steele, who’s allowed 21 pressures and four sacks on his own, going up against Graham on the outside.

As if things couldn’t get worse, Ben DiNucci might struggle to pick up blitzes in his first real game action. Without a preseason, it’s going to be hard for DiNucci to first diagnose where the pressure is coming from, and second find a way to avoid it.

Having Martin back will keep the line from being an utter disaster like it was last Sunday, but the Eagles will get more than enough pressure to force a turnover or two.

We don’t know if some new bodies will help the Dallas defense be competitive

If there’s at least one thing that’s certain about the Dallas defense this week, it’s that we will see some new bodies out there. In the past week Dallas has parted ways with Everson Griffen, Dontari Poe, and Daryl Worley. The departure of the three veterans will open up spots for some young players to see the field.

We may get a chance to see fourth-round pick Reggie Robinson get some action, and hopefully we’ll get to see Randy Gregory and Justin Hamilton play some more snaps. The young players won’t be the only new faces on the field. Dallas is going to get back their best corner, Chidobe Awuzie, this weekend, and could get back veteran linebacker, Sean Lee.

Getting Awuzie back has flown under-the-radar, but it will be a very important addition. Awuzie will step in and be by far the Cowboys best player in the secondary, and his return will help Trevon Diggs develop. Before his injury, Awuzie was playing pretty well, especially considering how the rest of the Dallas secondary has played since.

The new names are great, and it was a very smart move for the Cowboys to get rid of their stop-gap veterans, but will it change the level of play on the field? The Eagles are not a team with a ton of weapons on offense, so one again, it’s going to be a big game for Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. In recent years when the Cowboys and Eagles meet, Philly loves to run a lot of check-down passes, forcing the Cowboys to wrap up and make a tackle. This is something the Cowboys linebackers have struggled with this season.

Ultimately, on the defensive side of the ball, this game comes down to pressure. Carson Wentz is a turnover machine if you can get in his face and make him uncomfortable. Philadelphia does not have the weapons on the outside like some other teams the Cowboys have faced this season. If you get pressure on Wentz, he’ll gift you the football. It’s just a matter of if Dallas can generate that pressure.

We’re about to find out if the Cowboys will be in the driver’s seat in the NFC East

As bad as the first seven weeks of 2020 have gone, if the Cowboys win on Sunday, they’ll be back in first place in the NFC East. It has not looked pretty, in fact it has looked pretty darn ugly, but so has the entire NFC East. Regardless of what happened last Sunday, this division is going to be won by the Cowboys or Eagles.

Whichever team wins Sunday will likely will this division. Sure, the Cowboys have some tough games ahead, but so do the Eagles. In an upcoming five-game stretch, Philly has to play Cleveland, Seattle, Green Bay, New Orleans, and Arizona. All five of those teams would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.

It’s crazy this division is so bad that the Cowboys can be in first place with a win Sunday, but it’s the reality of the situation. There’s a real chance the winner of this division could finish 6-10. If Dallas wins this week, they’ve got a pretty good chance of getting to six wins. Team tank won’t want to hear this, but a win in Philly could put the Cowboys in the driver’s seat to win the NFC Least East.

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