The Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles renew acquaintances on Christmas Eve. Because of the injury news that Jalen Hurts is out for the game, the Cowboys most recently are 4.5-point favorites according to DraftKings Sportsbook. That line has move around frequently, so check the link for the latest spread.
We talked to Brandon Gowton over at Bleeding Green Nation for his take on some questions about the game.
Blogging The Boys: So is Jalen Hurts going to play, and if not, do you expect him to play any of the rest of the regular season? [This questions was asked earlier in the week and we now know that Hurts won’t play, but I’ll run the question and the answer in their entirety].
Bleeding Green Nation: This is the answer I wrote prior to Nick Sirianni ruling Hurts out on Thursday morning:
“I don’t think so. I’d say there’s a single digit chance that Hurts play.”
Resting Hurts always seemed like a no-brainer. Saturday is by no means a must-win game for the Eagles. They need just one more victory from the final three weeks to officially clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff picture.
Two big reasons why the Eagles didn’t rule Hurts out earlier when they probably could have.
1) Sirianni often cites competitive advantage when reluctant to give out information. The gamesmanship element of making the Cowboys prepare for two different quarterbacks was in play here.
2) The Eagles wanted to be respectful to their starting quarterback, who is probably having a hard time not suiting up on Saturday. Sirianni called Hurts is “the toughest player he’s ever been around” on Thursday morning. They didn’t want to make it seem like he had no chance at playing from the jump, which might also raise questions about the true severity.
I expect Hurts to play again in the regular season if he needs to play.
If the Eagles beat the Cowboys on Saturday, there’s really no point in getting him on the field again for the playoffs. At most, maybe they give him a drive or two in Week 18 in order to avoid a five-week layoff from game action.
If the Eagles lose to the Cowboys on Saturday, I think we could see Hurts start against the New Orleans Saints in Week 17. Especially if it’s a rough game for Gardner Minshew and the offense on Christmas Eve. If the Eagles beat the Saints, Hurts would then be able to rest against the New York Giants in Week 18.
BTB: Assuming Hurts doesn’t play [he won’t], what is the Eagles offense going to look like with Gardner Minshew? How much of their regular offense can he run capably?
BGN: No one can expect it to look identical given the element that Hurts provides as a runner.
But while there is certainly a big drop-off, it’s not like Minshew is a total non-factor in that regard.
Of course, they will likely be relying more on his arm. And there’s reason to believe the Eagles can have success passing the ball. Many would agree that Minshew is one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league. He’s completed 63.2% of his career attempts for 7.0 yards per attempt, 41 TD, 12 INT, and a 93.9 passer rating.
Playing with starters against the New York Jets last year, Minshew went 20/25 (80%) for 242 yards (9.7 yards per attempt), 2 TD, 0 INT, and a 133.7 passer rating. The Eagles’ offense looked incredibly efficient in that game. Admittedly, playing a poor Jets defense at the time worked in his favor.
At the risk of making too much of one performance, Minshew had a really great connection with Dallas Goedert in that game. It was the second-highest receiving total of Goedert’s career and his only multi-touchdown outing. With Goedert returning to the lineup after missing time with a shoulder injury, I expect the Eagles will be looking to get him involved.
That said, I’m sure the Birds are also well aware of the big CB2 weakness that the Cowboys are currently dealing with. They should really be looking to attack whoever Trevon Diggs isn’t covering — whether that’s A.J. Brown or DeVonta Smith — over and over until Dallas proves they can stop that option.
BTB: What do you consider the most vulnerable issue, besides Hurts’ health, that the Eagles face going into the playoffs? The one thing you worry could stop a Super Bowl run.
BGN: It’s hard to argue with the results that Jonathan Gannon has overseen this season. The Eagles defensive coordinator’s unit ranks highly in a number of key categories:
Opponent yards per play: 1stSacks per game: 1stTakeaways per game: 2ndPFF grade: 3rdEPA per play: 5thOpponent offensive points per game: 6thDVOA: 7th
That said, it’s not exactly like the Eagles have faced a murderer’s row of quarterbacks this season. To recap:
Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz, Trevor Lawrence, Kyler Murray, Cooper Rush, Kenny Pickett, Davis Mills, Taylor Heinicke, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Tannehill, Daniel Jones, Justin Fields
How will Gannon fare against a top quarterback? The Eagles might not have to worry about that so much when it comes to the NFC. Dak Prescott figures to put them to the test more than other teams have, assuming he doesn’t keep throwing picks at his current rate. But one of Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, or Joe Burrow could very well be waiting in the Super Bowl. Huge test for Gannon if he makes it there.
BTB: Who are your top three MVPs for the Eagles season, not including Hurts?
BGN: Good question.
1 - A.J. Brown. He’s a beast. He can be nearly impossible to defend with some of the catches he makes. The Eagles adding him to the offense undoubtedly played a big role in Hurts making a huge leap this season.
2 - Jason Kelce. It’s difficult to single out an offensive lineman since the unit is so great. But it all starts with their future Hall of Famer in the pivot. Lane Johnson is a very close consideration here.
3 - Feeling the need to go with a defensive player here as to not snub that group. Similar to what I said about Kelce, it’s hard to pick a single pass rusher since that unit has been great. But I’ll go with Haason Reddick, who leads the team in sacks with 12. Four of those have been forced fumbles, giving him 15 for his career. There’s obviously a lot of value in being able to knock the ball out of the quarterback’s hands as opposed to merely taking him down to the ground.
Again, hard to pick only three when the team has eight Pro Bowlers and nine alternates.
BTB: The line keeps fluctuating around 4 or 5 points. They are assuming Minshew is going to play. Can the Eagles win with Minshew? Can they cover? What’s your gut feel on the game?
BGN: They can absolutely win with Minshew.
I’m feeling confident. So much so that I’m making the Eagles my Lock Of The Week for the Friday edition of The SB Nation NFL Show. I’m 10-5 (against the spread) in those picks, by the way. BTB’s own RJ Ochoa, also known as my co-host on The NFC East Mixtape, is going against me and locking up the Cowboys. He’s only correctly hit on six of his 15 tries, for what it’s worth.
At the very least, I feel like it’s going to be a close game. The drop-off from Hurts to Minshew is absolutely real and meaningful. But Minshew isn’t a slouch and the Eagles still have a lot of talent elsewhere on the roster. Arguably the biggest mismatch of the game works in Philly’s favor when it comes to DeVonta or A.J. being able to take advantage of the Cowboys’ CB2.
I do think Dallas will be able to put up points as well. They’re going to want to wash the bad taste of nearly losing to the Houston Texans (lol) and actually losing to Doug Pederson’s Jacksonville Jaguars out of their mouths. Dak Prescott might be due for some good interception luck after having some misfortune in that category. Tony Pollard is one of the NFL’s better running backs at forcing missed tackles and that’s an area where the Eagles can be exploited. Ezekiel Elliott also had one of his best games this season against the Birds.
Ultimately, I do think the vibes are working in Philly’s favor. It’s not hard for me to envision Minshew pulling off the upset just days after mourning the untimely death of his former coach, Mike Leach. Speaking ahead of the Eagles’ game against the Bears last week, Minshew got emotional while talking about the importance of having someone believe in you. And about how he probably wouldn’t even be in the NFL if it wasn’t for Leach. Maybe I’m making too much of that as a motivating factor … but I just get a feeling he has a big game in store. Especially because this is a really big spot for him to raise his profile ahead of being a free agent this offseason. Minshew can really boost his value and visibility by helping the Eagles clinch the No. 1 seed in this spot. He might be able to land a starting job — or at least a chance to battle in a QB competition somewhere — by looking good in Dallas.
Eagles win, 28 to 27. They go for a two-point conversion at the end of the game to take the lead.