The game of the year has arrived! The Dallas Cowboys will face the Philadelphia Eagles in a divisional rematch that has huge playoff-seeding implications. Can the Cowboys come away with the win this time around? Will this be another edge-of-our-seat game? Here are five things to keep an eye out for when the Cowboys play the Eagles under the lights on Sunday night.
1. HIT THEM WHERE IT HURTS
The Eagles are a good football team, but their strength is on offense. Defensively, they are ranked outside the top 20 in both points allowed and yards given up. And even their defense can be broken down further into a good run defense and suspect pass defense. So, if you want to attack Philadelphia’s weakness, attack their secondary. The Eagle defense has given up 3,123 yards through the air this season, the fourth-most in the NFL. They have allowed a 300+ yard passer in four of their last five games, one of which was in their Week 9 matchup against the Cowboys.
This is great news for the top-scoring Cowboys offense that ranks third in the league in passing yards thanks to a quarterback who has been shredding defenses as of late. There should be no secret that they need to challenge the Eagles secondary to make stops. This should mean a heavy dose of CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, and Jake Ferguson.
2. MAKE JALEN DELIVER IN THE POCKET
Just as the Cowboys should be throwing the ball, they should also force their opponents to do the same. We mentioned that the Eagles' offense was good, but they are much better at running the ball than they are at throwing it. So, make him throw it. Jalen Hurts likes to get the ball out quickly on slants and is very sharp when he can hit his early reads. And because of his elite mobility, he is very good at extending the play to find an open receiver downfield.
This Cowboys pass rush can get to you in a hurry and we’ll see Hurts flushed out a lot, but they need to try to keep it contained within the pocket. This isn’t just because of the danger he poses as a runner, but also to force him to act hastily and dial up some tight window throws. Hurts has looked like a very average quarterback at times and the Cowboys' defense needs to force him to make tougher plays rather than allowing too many of the easy ones.
3. HELP DAK OUT A BIT
Both teams have great quarterbacks, but that doesn’t mean they should have to play hero ball. A little help here and there would do wonders in winning this football game. The Cowboys haven’t had much success on the ground this season, and when the running game has gone missing, it’s hurt them. Twice this season the Cowboys didn’t reach 80 yards rushing in a game. They lost both games. Before their bye, the Eagles' run defense was best in the league in rushing yards allowed at just 66 yards per game, but they have suddenly become vulnerable allowing three-straight games of 140+ yards on the ground.
The Cowboys should come out passing, but that’s not to say it has to stay that way. This would be a good time to right some wrongs in the running game and provide a little balance to keep the Eagles' defense on their heels. Look for Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle, and even Lamb to provide a little boost to the rushing attack.
And it goes without saying that the pass protection needs to be better this time around if Prescott is expected to be able to operate. That means a better game from right tackle Terence Steele, who got worked over real well the last time these teams faced each other.
4. PLAY SMART FOOTBALL
Seven teams have committed over 80 penalties this year, but the Cowboys are the only one who has a winning record. That’s because teams that commit excessive penalties typically do not win. The Cowboys have been the exception, but it sure hasn’t made things easy for them this season. And they aren’t showing any sign of improvement as their 127 penalty yards last week against Seattle was their highest mark of the year. In fact, it’s getting worse.
The number of games they’ve had at least seven penalties in a game this season:
- First five games = 1
- Last seven games = 5
The Cowboys will continue to make things difficult if they can’t get this under control. Stop lining up in the neutral zone. Stop getting your own guys to false start with too much pre-snap ruckus. And don’t let the play clock expire to where you have to burn a timeout or take an inexcusable delay of game penalty. Basically, stop with the stupid stuff.
5. DON’T LEAVE THIS ONE TO CHANCE
The last time these two met, it was a game of “close calls” as several instances in the game could’ve very easily ended up going the other way. Whether it was Luke Schoonmaker being ruled down before the goal line, Dak Prescott stepping out of bounds before completing the two-point conversion, or Lamb’s final catch falling three yards short of the end zone, something always got in the way of them getting the points they needed to win the game.
Since late October, the Eagles went on a run of four straight wins by five points or less. This team knows how to seal the deal in close games. Last week, they were smoked by the San Francisco 49ers so there would be no dramatic comeback finish in that one. The Cowboys need to follow this same formula and not allow an unlucky bounce, erroneous call, or some late-game Eagles sorcery snatch victory from their hands.
What will you be looking for on Sunday night?