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Cowboys NFC East dominance to be put to the test at 5-0 Eagles

So much has changed since the last time the Cowboys played in Philadelphia with a backup QB.

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Having their way with NFC East opponents is nothing new for the Dallas Cowboys, with an eight-game winning streak dating back to last year and their last two wins over the Giants and Commanders coming without Dak Prescott. While Cooper Rush is currently doing his best to undo years of backup QB play that hardly gave Dallas a chance, he puts this divisional winning streak on the line in primetime again at the 5-0 Eagles on Sunday night.

The Cowboys and Eagles were seen as the two contenders in the East this year, with the Giants off to a surprising 4-1 start themselves. Both the Cowboys and Giants trail the league’s last remaining unbeaten in the Eagles though, 5-0 for the first time since 2004.

That 2004 Philadelphia team that went to the Super Bowl was the last to repeat as NFC East winners, but this year Philadelphia has every reason to believe they’ve surpassed Dallas to reclaim the division for the first time since 2019. Their aggressive free agent signings and trades have built a strong offense around the dual-threat Jalen Hurts, while the defense ranks top five in passing yards allowed and sacks.

The Cowboys answer to all this would normally be Dak Prescott’s 7-3 career record against the Eagles including two wins last year by an average of over three touchdowns. This week was always an optimistic return date for Prescott, who has yet to work into the full week of practice the team is looking for before returning to play. Instead, it will be another week of relying on Rush, their ground game, and a dominant defense.

Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The last time the Cowboys played at the Eagles without Prescott was 2020, when Ben DiNucci made his only career start and the Cowboys managed just three field goals. The Cowboys lost on Sunday Night Football 23-9 in a game they never had a chance in. Cooper Rush gives them much more than just a fighting chance this time around, and the steps the Cowboys have taken to get here without Prescott deserves just as much praise as the Eagles have earned with their hot start.

Early season wins for the Cowboys against the Bengals and Giants have held up as quality wins, having now beaten both of last year’s Super Bowl participants through five weeks. The Eagles may have the style points, but beating the Lions, last-place Commanders, and Jaguars hardly has the division wrapped up. The Eagles have allowed the fifth-highest yards per carry this season, but have taken quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins, Trevor Lawrence, and Carson Wentz out of the run game early with an efficient offense of their own.

Doing this against Dan Quinn’s defense is a much harder ask for Hurts and the Eagles, with Quinn showing some new looks against Matt Stafford and the Rams last week. Dialing back on some of the pressures that have worked so well this year, Quinn trusted his front four led by Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence to get home while frustrating the Rams in coverage to limit big plays. A similar approach may be needed when going up against Devonta Smith, A.J. Brown, and Dallas Goedert, though it was Hurts’ legs accounting for the only two Eagles touchdowns last week at Arizona. The Cowboys also won’t be easily taken out of a ground game that’s been their best offense all year, with Ezekiel Elliott looking like his old self behind a mauling offensive line.

Philadelphia Eagles v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

This game is truly a measuring stick for both teams, and the fanbases have responded in a way that proves how heated this rivalry is. Eagles fans are ready to forget the 51-26 beatdown the Cowboys handed them in Week 18 last year, with their 5-0 start all but ensuring they won’t be playing with the practice squad players that took most of the snaps that night. Cowboys fans are as ready as ever to again prove this team is “nobody’s underdog”, as the betting line favors the Eagles the same way it did the Rams last week.

With last year’s road game at the Eagles carrying such little meaning, the more relevant past matchup between these rivals is easily the week three Monday night game from AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys won with a similar game plan to what has worked for them under Rush, with Elliott scoring two first half touchdowns and Trevon Diggs breaking the game open with a pick-six in the third quarter.

The Cowboys defense got their first score of the season at the Rams last week, with DeMarcus Lawrence returning a fumble forced by Dorance Armstrong on the opening drive.

Regardless of where the Eagles go from here or just how much respect their perfect 5-0 start deserves, the fact the Cowboys are considered to have any shot this week is a huge testament to their coaching staff. Mike McCarthy has his team prepared every week with an offense designed by Kellen Moore to get the ball in the hands of their best playmakers, while Quinn has free range to turn his ballcap backwards and dial up this ferocious defense.

It will take another complementary game between the defense creating short fields and forcing Hurts into mistakes while the offense sustains drives on the ground, but by the end of Sunday night there could be a new favorite in the East. The QB advantage the Cowboys were supposed to be relying on in these games is yet to come for a team that still has what it needs to tie the Eagles at 5-1, and win their ninth straight division game.

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