The Dallas Cowboys suffered a significant setback in their hopes of winning the NFC East in 2023 when they let a chance to steal a win at the Eagles in week nine slip away. Though still near the midpoint of the season, the loss came with some feeling of finality in learning who this Cowboys team really is. With CeeDee Lamb and Jake Ferguson running through the Philadelphia defense with ease for most of the game, Dallas let four potential chances at the end zone from the six-yard line to win the game turn into one play from the 11, two more from the 22, and a final desperation throw from the 27 thanks to penalties and sacks. The Cowboys continued to add to the narrative that they only look like contenders against lesser teams this season, but also held up the longer-running one that they typically play well against division rivals. This latter point will be critical in them bouncing back at home on Sunday.
The Cowboys welcome a Giants team that is a shell of the one they already opened the season against with a 40-0 beatdown. NBC’s Cris Collinsworth said it best during the call of that game on a September Sunday night, that the Cowboys are “totally destroying” the Giants. Mike McCarthy’s team set the tone that they’d be a force to reckon with in the East early on, with the defense overwhelming the Giants offensive line and creating pressures that led to two Daniel Jones interceptions - one of which returned for a touchdown by Daron Bland. Jones tore his ACL in a week nine loss to the Raiders, and with spot starter backup Tyrod Taylor also hurt, the Giants line up against this Cowboys defense with UDFA rookie Tommy DeVito. The Cowboys recent calling card for being dominant in NFC East play is centered around Dak Prescott outplaying opposing quarterbacks, and his career 12-3 record against the Giants is expected to improve to a lucky 13 wins as his team is more than a two-score favorite against a passer with 27 career passing attempts in DeVito.
Sure, a Cowboys win from AT&T Stadium where they’re 3-0 with an average margin of victory of 26 points will come with an asterisk as the 28-23 loss at the Eagles and 42-10 debacle at the 49ers are still fresh enough to remember, but the bigger picture of how consistent Prescott - and more recently McCarthy - have been in winning these crucial games can’t be forgotten. This Sunday’s game versus the Giants is just the start of a stretch where the Cowboys will be favorites, as they play the Panthers and Commanders in the weeks to follow.
For a rivalry that puts together two of the biggest market teams the NFL has for games that typically come down to a handful of plays, it feels almost wrong that the Cowboys going for a season sweep of the Giants is practically reduced to a footnote in the bigger picture of this 2023 season. Anything can happen in this week-to-week league, and the Cowboys have played themselves into the position of hoping for this to ring true between now and their home meeting with the Eagles, but at its core this is a matchup between one team already regrouping for 2024 and another that needs to play their cards right to keep a 2023 window open.
In case it hasn’t been said enough times already, the Eagles upcoming schedule of the Chiefs on the road and home versus the Bills and 49ers gives hope that the 20th primetime Sunday night meeting between the Cowboys and Eagles will still carry high stakes in Week 14. Among things the Cowboys can improve on against the Giants to hold up their end of this before the now 8-1 Eagles play at Arrowhead is finding a more consistent running game, an answer in pass protection against Kavon Thibodeaux, and holding up against the run themselves in a game that should see plenty of Saquon Barkley out of the N.Y. backfield.
The Cowboys rushed for 122 yards in the season opener against the Giants, and improved on this number through week three against the Cardinals, but have yet to find much consistency with Tony Pollard as the lead back. Be it the defense, special teams, or offense itself that potentially builds a lead against the Giants, the Cowboys could use this game as a chance to work on their ground attack in an effort to shorten the game against a defense that gave up 98 yards and two touchdowns to Josh Jacobs last week. Against the Eagles, the Cowboys most reliable short yardage plays were having Prescott drop back - something he did a season high 44 times. McCarthy’s offense needs to find more of a balance that allows physical blockers like Tyler Smith, Zack Martin, and Tyler Biadasz to impose their will on defenses, and doing so against a Giants team in freefall on the season would be a decent start.
On defense, the Cowboys were sound against the Eagles, but lacked the turnovers that came in bunches against the Giants. Dan Quinn has deployed an incredible amount of different looks for this veteran-led defense this season, and it will be interesting to see how many “base” looks they play against an inexperienced QB like DeVito while also mixing in exotic looks that build on the strong games that Micah Parsons, Markquese Bell, and Osa Odighizuwa have stacked in recent weeks.
The Cowboys front office and coaching staff putting a typical glass half full spin on the close lose to the Eagles may be the least surprising development of this up-and-down season, but there’s no denying this team still has a lot to play for. The long path back towards achieving their ultimate goal starts with not playing down to the Giants and winning in convincing fashion, avoiding injuries and costly penalties in a way that shows week nine is fully behind them and four divisional games counting this week are still up for grabs.