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Cowboys vs Eagles: ‘Shaquille Leonard basically has to play this week’

It will be interesting to see how the Eagles look on Sunday.

Indianapolis Colts v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

It’s almost time for the Dallas Cowboys versus the Philadelphia Eagles. So we turn to Brandon Gowton over at Bleeding Green Nation for some information on the Eagles who are underdogs in this game. The Cowboys are currently 3.5-point favorites in the game according to DraftKings Sportsbook.

Blogging The Boys: With the 49ers now clobbering both the Cowboys and the Eagles, how do you feel about the top-tier NFC teams? Are the 49ers clear favorites, or do you have another view on the mix of teams?

Bleeding Green Nation: The 49ers are indisputably the best team in the conference; they’ve left no doubt. It’s not hard to argue they’re the best team in the league with the way they’re playing right now. It’s going to be pretty difficult for either the Cowboys (as Dallas fans know all too well) or the Eagles to get by them in the playoffs.

There’s always time for things to change; there’s plenty of football to be played between now and the playoffs. We’ll see if SF can continue to stay healthy and firing on all cylinders or if they slip like they did during their three-game losing streak. I do think it’s possible that Christian McCaffrey could start to feel the effects of carrying such a heavy workload at some point.

But, until then, the 49ers have earned the benefit of the doubt in a big way.

After them, it’s the Eagles and Cowboys battling for second place. I still prefer Philly’s outlook since they have a more attainable path to the No. 1 seed … even if they lose in Dallas. And I think getting a first-round bye could be really important to an Eagles team that looks straight up exhausted right now.

BTB: You guys won the Shaq Leonard battle. Do you think he plays this week and what does the Philly defense need from him the rest of the season?

BGN: He basically has to play this week. The Eagles’ only other options at off-ball linebacker are Zach Cunningham, Nicholas Morrow, and Ben VanSumeren.

Cunningham had a relatively good (though inconsistent) showing in the first Eagles-Cowboys game. He’s been their top linebacker this season and the team missed having him last week. Morrow got badly exposed by the 49ers; he’s not an ideal starter but the Eagles have mostly been able to get by with him. BVS is an undrafted rookie free agent who’s really only on the roster to play special teams.

And so, yes, we’ll likely see Leonard taking defensive snaps.

Realistically, the Eagles need him not to be a total disaster the way that Morrow was last weekend. He needs to be a credible option next to Cunningham. No one is reasonably expecting him to be great as much as they’re hoping he can be less bad.

BTB: The Eagles have been living dangerously by having to come back in games, and playing a lot of tight games. Does that feel like a warning sign for the post-season, or just an indicator of how good they are that they can keep stacking wins?

BGN: I’m typically not a big believer in a team “just knowing how to win” because there’s a lot of luck that factors into close games. If there is an exception to the rule, this Eagles team might be it given how well Hurts usually plays from behind. He’s incredibly composed and he has an intense will to win. One would be remiss to think the Eagles are dead and buried just because they’re down 10 points at halftime, as the Cowboys, Chiefs, and Bills can all attest to.

That said, the Eagles often haven’t passed the eye test this year. And it would be nice to see that change before the postseason starts. One would like to believe they’re capable of playing their A-game.

Ultimately, though, it’s about doing what it takes to finish the regular season with the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff picture. If they can secure home field advantage, I’m going to like their chances entering the postseason. It’s far from a lock that they’ll get to the Super Bowl, especially with the 49ers looming. But I’ll still believe they have a chance to make it even if they fail to score style points and make everyone big believers in them before then.

BTB: Dallas Goedert says he’s playing this week. Do you think he plays, and how would he change the offense?

BGN: Yeah, he’s been fully participating in practice, so he’s ready to go.

His return is definitely a big deal. The Eagles lack great tight end depth behind him. The second tight end is Jack Stoll, who is primarily utilized as a run blocker. The third tight end is Grant Calcaterra, who is theoretically more of a pass-catching threat but he’s struggled to stay healthy and has five career receptions. Albert Okwuegbunam was basically a healthy scratch prior to Goedert getting hurt.

Getting Goedert back should help to solve an Eagles intermediate passing game that’s been lacking. I’d expect Jalen Hurts to look more comfortable since it’s clear he doesn’t really trust Goedert’s backups. Goedert is also a factor as a strong blocker in the run game. 12 personnel is a much more viable package with him than without him.

With Goedert missing, teams had some success locking in on A.J. Brown to help take him away. That resulted in DeVonta Smith stepping up. But with Goedert, Brown, and DeVonta now all available, they have two strong alternative options instead of just one if a team is trying to take away Brown.

BTB: DraftKings Sportsbook has Dallas as 3.5-point home favorites. Is that a fair line? How do you think the game plays out?

BGN: Definitely fair.

This is a really tough spot for the Eagles.

They’re playing a third straight game where their opponent is coming in with a rest advantage. And not only that, but one of those games went to overtime. The defense has been on the field for 233 snaps over three games since Philly’s Week 10 bye. That’s similar to their snap count total (252) from their first four games this year combined. This defense is clearly tired and that much was apparent when they allowed six straight touchdown drives to the 49ers.

Even if the Eagles WERE well-rested, there are concerns with how their struggling pass defense matches up against the Cowboys’ red-hot passing attack. Philly’s defensive line doesn’t have the juice right now to pressure Dak Prescott effectively.

Perhaps the Eagles’ offense will be able to pick up the slack and win in a shootout. But they haven’t exactly been seamlessly clicking. Jalen Hurts needs to play a lot better than he did against the 49ers. The Eagles need to rediscover how to run the ball effectively. Until they do that, we can’t merely assume it’s going to happen.

Add in the fact that the Eagles haven’t won at AT&T Stadium since 2017 and they haven’t swept the Cowboys since 2011 … and it just feels like a season series split is the safe bet.

Especially when the Cowboys have more to lose in this one. If the Eagles don’t win this game, they can still very feasibly be the No. 1 seed. Or at least the No. 2 seed. If Dallas loses, the division is essentially (but not officially) wrapped up.

The Cowboys need it more and they win, 33 to 26.

Thanks for the knowledge, Bleeding Green Nation.

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