Philly week. Dallas week. There aren’t many rivalries in the NFL where both fan bases have a name for the week leading up to it, but after eight weeks of subplot, the much-anticipated first meeting between the Cowboys and Eagles is every bit the heavyweight bout it should be. No matter the names you put in the marquee, be it Dak Prescott vs. Jalen Hurts, CeeDee Lamb vs. A.J. Brown, Mike McCarthy vs. Nick Sirianni, or Micah Parsons vs. Fletcher Cox, the winning team in Philadelphia on Sunday will make a statement about this year’s hopes for a deep playoff run out of any NFC East squad.
In some ways, this heated rivalry is cause to throw away the normal starting points for comparing two teams with a deep history, but Prescott’s remarkable consistency against the NFC East holds true against the reigning conference champions. It took a 347-yard, three-touchdown performance in week 16 last year for Prescott to come out on top in his only game against the Eagles in 2022 at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys found themselves in a shootout against Gardner Minshew, turning him over twice but conceding two Devonta Smith receiving touchdowns and one on the ground to the Eagles’ backup QB. Dallas earned a split with Philadelphia, their road loss being the only early season game lost by Cooper Rush in his spot starts for Prescott.
Rush and the Cowboys couldn’t end the Eagles’ undefeated run on Sunday Night Football, but this game painted a different picture for the Dallas defense, as they kept the team in the game and held Philadelphia to 268 yards with four sacks. Three Rush interceptions would lead to ten points for the Eagles, making the difference in a game that went a long way in Philly winning the NFC East.
Fast forward to the circumstances surrounding this Sunday’s matchup, and the Cowboys have a confident Prescott that looked completely in command of an offense that exploded for 43 points against the Rams last week. Coming off their bye with some pressure to show a more dynamic offense, McCarthy answered the call with a balanced passing attack funneled through Lamb. Three of Lamb’s top-five career games in yards per catch have come against the Eagles, and his playmaking downfield has opened up everything else in this current Cowboys offense. The Eagles have added safety Kevin Byard to try and make throwing over the middle difficult, but will still leave cornerbacks James Bradberry, Darius Slay, and whoever subs for the injured Bradley Roby in man coverage. If the Cowboys pass protection can hold up, with Tyron Smith looking to return at left tackle, the opportunities for Lamb, Gallup, Cooks, and Tolbert to make game-changing plays will be there.
The Cowboys should feel confident they can put up points against the Eagles, but also replicate or improve on the 26 points allowed in this road meeting a year ago. Dan Quinn’s defense turned in a vintage performance against the Rams, given the lead early and running with it as the pass rush forced errant throws from Matt Stafford - one of which returned for a touchdown by DaRon Bland.
To date, the Eagles have only lost 12 regular season games since 2021. Three of them are to the Cowboys with Quinn leading the defense. This defense went into the bye by winning a game they desperately needed at the Chargers, with Parsons and Stephon Gilmore making the clutch plays late, but they also found answers at linebacker with Markquese Bell and Damone Clark playing well. Both ascending players followed this up against the Rams, giving Dallas a new wrinkle to throw at Philly’s offense.
The Cowboys are ready for the fight against a team they’ve won four of their last five against, Sirianni’s only win against Dallas being last season’s against Rush. Dallas’ QB, that all but guarantees they’ll be competitive in this game, is so confident in the fact, he’s willing to cover himself in honey and fight bears (not literally).
Just don’t call this a measuring stick game around The Star.
The same term was thrown around when the Cowboys tried to exorcise playoff demons at the 49ers in week five, falling woefully short in a 42-10 loss that will serve as an asterisk for the remainder of the season. If the Cowboys can take the first step towards earning a season sweep of the Eagles, something they’ve done twice under Prescott and may need to again if trying to overtake first place in the division, it would go a long way towards reasserting themselves as real contenders in the NFC.
Defensively, the Cowboys will see a different challenge versus the Eagles compared to the Rams. Philadelphia’s offense is still capable of the big passing plays downfield, with Brown putting up 100 yards in six straight games and scoring twice against the Commanders last Sunday, but will also move the ball methodically as they lead the NFL in rushing first downs while sitting third in time of possession per game (one spot ahead of the Cowboys). Being assignment sound in base looks against the run long enough to create pass rush situations for Micah Parsons and company will be key, and may require another fast start from the Cowboys offense to force Hurts to throw from behind. Five of Hurts’ eight interceptions this season have surprisingly come on first and ten snaps, making not surrendering easy yards on the ground key for the Cowboys defense.
When the Cowboys win this season, they look great and typically do so by a wide margin. When the Eagles win, which they’ve done in all but one game, it’s been by an average of just over eight points - with close wins against common opponents to Dallas in New England and the L.A. Rams, plus an upset loss at the Jets. Using this rivalry game as a test of how the Cowboys may handle a close game deep into the fourth quarter feels like burying the lede on the type of game fans are so often treated to when the Cowboys and Eagles meet.
This Sunday has more to do with the Mike McCarthy offense continuing to play to Prescott’s strengths, finishing drives with touchdowns in the red zone, and the defense feeding off of this by playing sideline-to-sideline and creating turnovers. History suggests the Cowboys have gotten the best of the Eagles when they do these things, but with neither chapter of last year’s saga featuring both teams playing with their starting quarterbacks, the first pages of the 2023 edition feel as important as ever in a meeting between the two clear best teams in the NFC East.