There are few rivalries in the NFL quite like that between the Cowboys and the Eagles. After all, how many other rivalries can spend a full news cycle talking about a head coach’s apparel?
Eagles coach Nick Sirianni wearing a “Beat Dallas” shirt: “I’m sure they’re going to have a picture of this shirt on (their bulletin board). And that’s fine. … I can’t tell you how many times since I’ve been here having an interaction with a fan, it’s like, ‘Hey, beat Dallas.’” pic.twitter.com/Z7p9u7vjG6— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) September 23, 2021
Okay, maybe the Browns and Steelers already did this one, but Freddie Kitchens is no longer a head coach so it’s a moot point. Nick Sirianni’s T-shirt aside, there is plenty of bad blood between these two teams, and the circumstances heading into this game will make the Monday Night Football matchup all the more entertaining.
Both teams enter the game at 1-1, and with the Washington Football Team playing on the road against the Bills on Sunday, it’s very possible that the winner of this contest will emerge with sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
For the Eagles, they’re still very much working out the kinks after hitting the factory reset in the offseason. Owner Jeffrey Lurie, just three seasons removed from winning his first Super Bowl ever, spared longtime general manager Howie Roseman but fired head coach Doug Pederson and jettisoned Carson Wentz to the Colts. The Eagles replaced Pederson with Nick Sirianni, the non-playcalling offensive coordinator for Colts head coach Frank Reich, who himself had been the non-playcalling offensive coordinator for the Eagles when they won their Super Bowl. Sirianni is now paired with Jalen Hurts, who will be making just his seventh start on Monday night.
Many expected this Eagles team to be one of the very worst in the NFL, but they started out their year with a (somewhat surprising) win over the Falcons. Hurts played well in that game, hitting on over 77% of his passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns and adding seven carries for 62 yards. However, Hurts’ passes in that game traveled an average of 3.7 yards past the line of scrimmage, the lowest in the NFL that first week.
Hurts and Sirianni changed things up last week against the 49ers, taking many more shots down the field; Hurts’ passes traveled an average of 14.6 yards past the line of scrimmage, the highest of any quarterback in Week 2. The result, however, was not the same. Hurts only completed 52% of his passes for 190 yards. He did score a touchdown on the ground - the Eagles’ only touchdown against San Francisco - on top of his 82 yards from 10 carries, but Philadelphia lost by a score of 17-11.
The current consensus on Hurts is that he’s been extremely efficient on shorter passes but has struggled with pushing it deep. Sirianni has also been unafraid to make Hurts a part of their running game. One other noticeable trend for Hurts so far is his unwillingness to test defenses in the middle of the field:
I expect to see even more Quarters coverage from the Cowboys against the Eagles. They need to defend the RPO and dare the Eagles offense to attack MoF pic.twitter.com/S06unPDiKT— Dalton "Fall Damage" Miller (@DaltonBMiller) September 23, 2021
It will be interesting to see how Dan Quinn and this Cowboys defense attacks Hurts’ tendencies. Quinn’s first two games as the new defensive coordinator haven’t been easy. First, it was Tom Brady and a deadly assortment of pass catchers, and then he had to game plan for the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year without his two best edge rushers.
Hurts doesn’t quite compare to Brady and Justin Herbert, but his dual-threat potential offers some issues. The Cowboys will be playing without DeMarcus Lawrence, Carlos Watkins, and Keanu Neal, which could impact their ability to contain Hurts as a runner. As a passer, Hurts has been known to take his time reading defenses. Only three other quarterbacks are holding the ball longer than Hurts so far this year. Yet Hurts can afford to do so, as the Eagles’ offensive line ranks second in pass block win rate and 14th in adjusted sack rate. That will put the onus on the Dallas secondary to prevent Hurts from getting in a rhythm.
On the other side is, of course, Dak Prescott. This will be the first time these two quarterbacks have met, since Prescott was injured for both games last year. In both of the Cowboys’ games so far, Dak has looked as good as ever. The Eagles’ defense, run by first-time coordinator Jonathan Gannon, currently ranks eighth in defensive DVOA. However, they’ve played against two quarterbacks - Matt Ryan and Jimmy Garoppolo - who rank in the bottom half of the league in EPA so far. Prescott, currently sixth in EPA, represents the first true test of this defense.
More than that, this offense is run by Kellen Moore, who Philadelphia wanted for their head coaching vacancy this past offseason. While they ultimately settled
for on Sirianni, they’ll now have to defend against Moore’s offense that has just shown in back-to-back weeks how potent they can be despite having completely different styles of offense in both games. The Eagles will be without their top edge rusher in Brandon Graham, so it’ll be interesting to see who they lean on against this multiple offensive attack from Moore and Prescott.
As intense as this rivalry can be, the impact this game will have on the divisional race is bigger. Mike McCarthy, now in his second season with the team, was hired to get the Cowboys over the hump and make a Super Bowl run. The first step is winning the NFC East, and winning division games goes a long way towards accomplishing that goal. With this being their first home game of the year, Dallas has an opportunity to give their fans something to be excited about while also notching their first divisional win of the year. While this isn’t quite in the realm of “must-win,” a victory on Monday night would certainly go a long way.