With both team's playoff hopes still hanging by a thread, the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles square off in a rather big matchup on Sunday. Now, if the Washington Football team takes care of business against the Carolina Panthers, this game means nothing. But if not, things will get very interesting.
If Carolina does lose, a Dallas victory would mean they would just need a Week 17 loss from Washington and a win over the Giants to make the playoffs. Philadelphia needs to beat Dallas this week, beat Washington next week, and have the Giants lose one of their remaining two games.
After taking all that in, it’s pretty easy to see why it's highly unlikely either of these two teams are still alive after this weekend. Regardless, we won’t know the outcome of Washington-Carolina till the fourth quarter of this game, so it should be an intriguing matchup.
Before the Cowboys play their final regular-season home game in 2020, here’s what we know, don’t know, and will find out Sunday afternoon.
We know Jalen Hurts will pose more problems for this defense than Carson Wentz
When Dallas traveled to Philadelphia in Week Eight, Eagles’ quarterback Carson Wentz was downright awful. Wentz completed just 15 of his 27 passes for 123 yards. The former second overall pick turned the ball over four times, two interceptions and two fumbles. Wentz had a Pro Football Focus overall offensive grade of 45.2, his third-lowest of the season. If the Cowboys had any other quarterback then rookie Ben DiNucci starting that day, they probably win that game.
Since then, Wentz’s poor performance has forced him to be benched in favor of rookie second-round pick, Jalen Hurts. In two and a half weeks of game action, Hurts has really impressed. Despite a low completion percentage, Hurts has thrown five touchdown passes to go with 505 yards in his first two NFL starts.
Last Sunday against Arizona, Hurts’ quarterback rating was 102.3. He threw three touchdown passes and ran in another. Hurts is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw at least three touchdown passes and rush for a touchdown in his first road start. Hurts also became the only QB in NFL history to amass 500-plus yards and 150-plus rushing yards in his first two career starts
It’s very clear making the switch at quarterback has jump-started the Eagles offense. Philadelphia beat a very impressive New Orleans Saints team in Hurts’ first start, then played down to the end on the road in Arizona.
If you look back at the quarterbacks Dallas has beaten this season, all but one have something in common. The Cowboys have had their victories over Matt Ryan, Daniel Jones, Kirk Cousins, Brandon Allen, and Nick Mullens. Out of that group, all but Jones are not very mobile and don’t move around much.
Now if we look at the mobile quarterbacks they have faced, it’s been a different story. Russell Wilson hung 38 on them in week three, Kyler Murray also put up 38 in week six, and Lamar Jackson put up 34 in week thirteen. Of the three quarterbacks, Jackson did the most damage on the ground, rushing for 94 yards in the victory.
With Hurts at quarterback, this will be a completely different game than we saw back in October. Doug Pederson will likely open up the playbook and let Hurts use his legs to make some plays against the Dallas defense. They haven’t been able to neutralize a really mobile quarterback all season long, and I don’t think they will on Sunday afternoon.
We don’t know if the beat-up Eagles secondary can slow down the Cowboys receivers
Last Sunday, the Eagles secondary was a mess. Philadelphia was without talented corner Darius Slay, safety Rodney McLeod, and cornerback Avonte Maddox. Cardinals wideout DeAndre Hopkins torched their battered secondary, catching nine passes for 169 yards and a touchdown.
This week, they’ll get their best cornerback in Slay, but still will be without the other two. These injuries will force Philadelphia to have some backups going up against the Cowboys talented receiving corps.
The Eagles will be forced to matchup guys like Michael Jacquet, an undrafted rookie, against Michael Gallup or CeeDee Lamb. This will be a huge advantage for Dallas and will give them a chance to move the ball downfield through the air. Even when they were healthy, the Eagles have not been a good cover team this season. PFF ranks them as the eighth-worst coverage team in football, and the former All-Pro corner Slay has a PFF coverage grade of just 57.3 on the season.
It’s not often a team has the ability to lock up all three of the Cowboys wideouts, but Philly may have trouble locking down just one. If Andy Dalton can have enough time in the pocket, Dallas has a chance to create some huge chunk plays down the field. Their receivers will likely be able to get open, it’s just a matter of if their quarterback will have enough time to get them the football.
We’re about to find out what the Elliott/Pollard duo will look like
After Tony Pollard’s big day last Sunday, you have to imagine Dallas will want to keep him in the lineup a good amount this week. It appears that Ezekiel Elliott will be returning from his calf injury, so we’ll get to see how Dallas decides to distribute the snaps between the two.
The breakout performance of Tony Pollard has prompted some observers to urge the Cowboys’ coaching staff to replace the team’s All-Pro running back with the second-year pro. While I understand the love-hate relationship that some fans have with big money running backs, the Cowboys should resist the temptation to pit the runners as adversaries and focus on creating opportunities for the duo to function as complementary pieces within an offense that revolves around the backfield playmakers. Whether it involves a 60-40 split in playing time and touches or some formations that feature Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott on the field together, the Cowboys should put an emphasis on maximizing the talents of their dynamic duo.
Brooks makes a great point that if done right, Dallas could have a deadly dynamic duo at the running back spot. Both Elliott and Pollard possess unique skill sets that can make them a weapon in different ways. They have not used the two to their best ability so far this season. We’ll see on Sunday if Dallas can do just that for the first time.