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Cowboys news: Leighton Vander Esch, Antwaun & Xavier Woods out, Ezekiel Elliott questionable

The post-Christmas Cowboys news.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Update: Zeke Questionable, 4 Cowboys Out vs. Eagles - Staff, The Mothership

The Cowboys will be without some core defensive pieces.

Running back Ezekiel Elliott (calf) is officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Eagles.

Elliott did not play against the 49ers last Sunday but has practiced on a limited basis this week and says his calf is feeling better. The Cowboys did not practice Friday, but Elliott would have been a limited participant, according to the injury report. The team is expected to practice Saturday.

Four Cowboys defensive players have been officially ruled out of Sunday’s game: linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (ankle), defensive tackle Antwaun Woods (ankle), safety Xavier Woods (ribs) and cornerback Rashard Robinson (ankle).

Tight end Blake Bell (illness) is questionable for Sunday.

Eagles injury report: 4 ruled out vs. Cowboys | Updates on Fletcher Cox, Cameron Johnston, more (UPDATE) - Mike Kaye, NJ.com

The Eagels side of the injury issue.

The Eagles ruled out four players on Friday for Sunday’s matchup against the Dallas Cowboys.

Defensive end Josh Sweat (wrist), cornerback Kevon Seymour (knee) and tight end Richard Rodgers (ankle) will miss the NFC East clash after being held out of practice all week.

UPDATE (5:22 p.m. ET): Following a late practice on Christmas Day, the Eagles ruled out linebacker Duke Riley (bicep) and listed defensive end Derek Barnett (calf) as questionable for Week 16.

Punter Cameron Johnston (concussion) and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (neck) have also been listed as questionable. Cox missed all three practices this week.

Gut Feeling: Predictions For Cowboys-Eagles - Staff, The Mothership

Some early predictions for the game.

Rob Phillips: It might be too late for the Cowboys and Eagles to make a playoff run this season – both teams need outside help on top of needing to win out – but both teams are in better shape than they were in November. When you watch Philly’s offense play, there are some tough matchups. Miles Sanders, Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins provide a ton of speed at the skill positions, and rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts is playing like a five-year vet. But if the Cowboys play fast and physical defensively, they have a chance to build on what they’ve done the last two games. I’m taking the Cowboys here on the hunch that, like the 49ers game, they can hit a big play or two in the passing game and win a close one. Plus, just when you think this is it for Dallas in the division – admit it, you’ve felt that way a time or 10 this year – they find a way to stay in the hunt. Why not stretch it all the way to Week 17?

David Helman: I think I have become what I’ve always hated — a superstitious person. There’s no other way to explain this pick. This is the closest the Cowboys have been to “on a roll” in more than a year. The defense is getting takeaways, and the offense is playing clean, if not explosive football. Going against a rookie making his third NFL start, they are the better team and they should win this game. But I just know that if I pick them to win, they’ll come out flat and give up a boatload of rushing yards to Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders. I’m well aware it doesn’t actually work this way, but maybe if I continue to doubt them, they’ll continue to keep their focus. Because Hurts has clearly given the Eagles some life, and they are capable of winning this game. If the Dallas defense isn’t on the screws, Philly is going to rush for 230 yards on Sunday. I don’t trust the Cowboys to live up to that challenge, and that’s why I don’t trust them enough to pick them. Give me Philly in a very entertaining game, 28-24.

On their last legs, the Cowboys and Eagles depend on Tony Pollard and Jalen Hurts for help - Tim Cowlishaw, DMN

The talk of Tony Pollard over Ezekiel Elliott continues.

In Elliott’s case, a calf injury led to his being scratched before Sunday’s game with San Francisco although Elliott had practiced, had warmed up before the contest and his 26-yard run the week before in Cincinnati while dealing with the injury was his longest of the season.

Enter Tony Pollard. His two-touchdown performance kept Dallas alive in this slow-speed division title chase. On a day when any kind of movement against the 49ers’ defense was a challenge, his 132 total yards represented more than 42% percent of Dallas’ rushing-receiving total. The only time in the past two seasons Elliott had anything close to that figure was 39% (126 out of the team’s 321 rushing-receiving yards) in a rainy loss at New England last year.

Elliott may return Sunday, which is fine. Might even start. But there’s little doubt that while the Cowboys could use help from both, the bigger plays are likely to come from the quicker Pollard while Elliott at his best can be a steadying, chain-moving force. But his disastrous fumble and dropped pass totals this year kept him from registering as any kind of stabilizing influence after Dak Prescott and key linemen were lost for the season.

Cowboys TEs Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz have played well, but could they be better when on the field together? - Michael Gehlken, DMN

Two tight ends are better than one.

Tight end Dalton Schultz has been a bright spot this year for the Cowboys, seizing a larger role that was thrust upon him when tight end Blake Jarwin suffered an ACL tear in the first half of the first game Sept. 13. His production stokes the imagination of how dynamic the offense could be next year from multiple tight end groupings when Jarwin returns.

Schultz, a 2018 fourth-round pick from Stanford, has caught 53 passes for 524 yards and four touchdowns. He joins Jason Witten, Jay Novacek and Doug Cosbie as the only tight ends in Cowboys history to record 50 or more catches in at least one season.

Dallas has used what is called “12 personnel” — one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers — on 20.5% of snaps. The Eagles, who feature tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, logged a 62% rate last week.

“I’ve always loved 12 personnel, just coming from the Stanford offense,” Schultz said. “That was something that we always did. We basically had two tight ends on the field at all times. So I love playing with the guys in my room. It makes it easy because we’re seeing the same things on film and talking through the same looks. It’s not like tight ends are separated from the O-line. And really, sometimes, you work with the tackles.

“There’s a lot more continuity, going into 12 personnel. I think having a guy like [Jarwin] that can really get out there and stretch the field is something that I look forward to. Obviously, that’s a long ways away, but when that time comes, I think it will be good.”

If 2021 is the season the Cowboys explore doing more with Jarwin and Schultz, this was the season that Schultz established himself at the NFL level.

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