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Cowboys point/counterpoint: Evaluating the Eagles

Whoever wins on Sunday is going to be in the driver’s seat for the NFC East, and potentially the NFC at large.

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys
Just how on par are these two?
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

With the Dallas Cowboys facing the Philadelphia Eagles in easily the most intriguing game of this weekend, we are obviously focused on how that may go. It’s a truism that NFL games often come down to the matchup. This one looks like it could be one of the best this season, as our beloved rivals are sporting the best record in the NFC, and the Cowboys look to be hitting their stride after the bye week and just trail by one game in the loss column. The stakes are even higher than normal, as this may not only be a game that will determine the mid-season leader for the NFC East crown, it will put the winner in great position to get to the number one seed in the conference.

We are waiting to see if the big win over the Los Angeles Rams is a true reflection of where Dallas is after their week off, but it is just as important to find out how good the Eagles are. Our David Howman and Tom Ryle ponder that.

David: I wouldn’t dare go so far as to say the Eagles are frauds, but they’re definitely not as good as their 7-1 record indicates. The Eagles have regressed on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they’ve been shockingly average at best. The offense is still solid, but Jalen Hurts has been erratic all year, throwing the second-most interceptions so far this season. Which is weird, because you’d think with how much attention Dak Prescott got for the same thing a year ago that we’d be hearing more about Hurts this year. Instead, the Eagles are at the top of most sites’ power rankings despite the glaring weaknesses.

Tom: Hurts is an interesting case, because not only is he the passer, he is so important to their running attack, with 78 attempts already this season. That is a huge number, making it clear he is squarely in the running quarterback category. This is a high-risk approach. It subjects him to a lot of impacts, including the infamous Tush Push play the Eagles take so much pride in. Brock Purdy of the 49ers suffered a concussion on a similar play, It is a bit remarkable, at least to me, that he has not been hurt on one of those already.

The increase in interceptions is also significant. It bears out your contention they have regressed on offense, as those reflect on the pass protection as well as Hurts’ own decision making. Add in the five fumbles they have lost, and Philly has a turnover problem. The Cowboys are positioned to exploit that. They are plus six this year, led by budding star DaRon Bland’s four interceptions and three pick sixes. The Eagles sit at minus three. Winning the turnover battle is one of biggest determinants of the final outcome, and the results so far indicate this is not just a matter of luck for the Cowboys.

David: The turnovers are a problem for Philly but so is Hurts’ ability (or lack thereof) to deal with pressure. Only three quarterbacks are holding the ball longer than Hurts, and as a result he’s been sacked 19 times, ninth-most among quarterbacks. Hurts has a 4.0% turnover worthy play rate when under pressure this season, but perhaps more concerning is that six of his eight interceptions have come with a clean pocket. Not only is he making really risky throws under pressure, and oftentimes inviting that pressure, but Hurts can’t seem to avoid mistakes even when he’s kept clean.

There’s two things this Dallas defense excels at right now, and that’s creating pressure and picking off bad passes. Five of their nine interceptions on the year have seen the quarterback under pressure, and with the exception of the Cowboys’ two losses this year they’ve pressured the quarterback on just over 52% of all dropbacks. The Eagles definitely have better weapons than any of those other teams the Cowboys have faced - A.J. Brown, in particular, is having a monster year - but their recipe for success happens to look a lot like the recipe for disaster for this Eagles offense.

Tom: That is true, and a reason for optimism, although they have also elevated Julio Jones from their practice squad to see what he has left in the tank.

If you look at the other side of things, it also is favorable. Philadelphia is in the bottom half of the league in points allowed, while Dallas is scoring at the second best clip, behind only the Miami Dolphins. Their secondary has been vulnerable, which is why they traded for Kevin Byard to shore things up. We will have to see how much of an impact he makes, but with CeeDee Lamb catching fire and Brandin Cooks and Jake Ferguson also coming on, I like the Cowboys’ chances against them.

The running game is a different matter. The Cowboys are doing better stopping the run this year, but still yielding 108.9 yards on the ground. The Eagles have the seventh-most productive rushing attack. Meanwhile, Dallas is better on the ground than many think, with an average of 117.1 yards per game rushing. The problem is it has been feast or famine with them, and is often dependent on the game situation, with McCarthy dialing the run up more when he has a big lead. Philadelphia is the best in the NFL defending the rush. Again, that is partly due to situations, with so many close games where the opponent is having to pass to try and win. Still, this is one place the Cowboys may be at a disadvantage.

David: If the Cowboys offense plays like they did against the Rams - meaning lots of early-down passes, downfield shots, and motion - then they should be able to move the ball at ease. This Eagles defense is not nearly as good as they have been in recent years, especially in the secondary. To your point, they’re still great against the run, but McCarthy has also mostly relied on the run game when playing with a big lead, when rushing efficiency isn’t necessarily the main objective.

Of course, the biggest concern here is which Cowboys team we’ll see. The offense has varied in a big way from week to week, and there’s no guarantee they’ll stick to the same script from a week ago. And the defense has historically struggled against mobile quarterbacks across Dan Quinn’s tenure, and this year in particular they’ve been streaky when it comes to dominating consistently.

If the Cowboys play like they have for most of their wins this year - efficient offense, suffocating defense, and generally just sticking it to the opponent in every fashion - then I think they can win this game comfortably. The Eagles have looked vulnerable more than a few times, and Dallas absolutely has the talent to exploit those weaknesses. But they also had the talent to beat the Cardinals and 49ers and, well, that didn’t happen. My main concern for this game isn’t about how good the Eagles actually are, but rather if the Cowboys can simply play up to their potential.

Tom: You hit the nail on the head, although let’s give a shout out for the special teams who have been more than doing their part.

If the Rams game was an indicator of the true identity of the team, they should win this handily. But if it was a momentary, post-bye blip, things could go very badly. For now, we will have to hold our breath and see how it all shakes out on Sunday.

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