Eagles-Cowboys: Scouting report and prediction | Paul Domowitch
Breaking down Sunday night's NFC East showdown between 3-3 teams.
Sole possession of first place in the NFC East will be on the line when the Eagles and Cowboys renew their rivalry at 8:20 p.m. Sunday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Here’s an in-depth breakdown of the game.
When the Eagles run
Despite having one of the league’s better offensive lines, the Eagles (3-3) are averaging just 111.2 rushing yards per game (15th) and 4.0 yards per carry (21st). They’ve really had just one game in which they’ve run the ball effectively start to finish, and that was in their Week 4 win over the Packers, when they rushed for 176 yards and had 10 rushing first downs.
Jordan Howard and rookie Miles Sanders are splitting the snaps but not the carries. Howard has become the ball-carrying back and Sanders the pass-catching back. Howard has 41 carries in the last three games, compared with Sanders’ 23. Sanders had just three carries in the loss last Sunday to the Vikings.
Howard is a between-the-tackles power back. He is averaging 4.5 yards per carry and has 17 rushing first downs and four rushing TDs.
The Cowboys (3-3) have three playmaking linebackers in Jaylon Smith, Leighton VanderEsch, and Sean Lee, but they have been inconsistent against the run. The Giants averaged 8.9 yards per carry against them in Week 1, the Saints averaged 4.3 in Week 4, and the Packers averaged 4.1 in Week 5.
When the Eagles throw
Carson Wentz’s plus-9 touchdowns-to-interceptions differential is the third best in the league, behind Russell Wilson (plus-14) and Patrick Mahomes (plus-13). But he’s 29th in completion percentage (61.2) and 27th in yards per attempt (6.8). His completion percentage is more than eight points lower than a year ago.
The absence of DeSean Jackson, who has been out since Week 2, has had a bigger impact on the passing game than anybody could have imagined. Without Jackson, the biggest deep threat has been running back Miles Sanders, who has five 30-plus-yard catches. Tight end Zach Ertz’s catch rate has dropped from 74.3 last year, when he had 116 receptions, to 61.1 this year. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is averaging a career-low 9.0 yards per reception. Wentz has the league’s fifth-highest third-down passer rating (106.9). Five of his 12 TD passes have been on third down.
The Cowboys have allowed just five TD passes in six games, but they could be without both of their starting cornerbacks — Byron Jones and Anthony Brown — who left last week’s loss to the Jets early with hamstring injuries. The Cowboys have a very good edge-rush combination in DeMarcus Lawrence and ex-Ram Robert Quinn.
When the Cowboys run
Ezekiel Elliott is sixth in the league in rushing with 491 yards. He’s averaging 4.3 yards per carry but has averaged just 3.5 (58-202) during the Cowboys’ three-game slide. Elliott averaged 4.5 yards on first down in the Cowboys’ wins over the Giants, Redskins, and Dolphins but only 3.3 in their losses to the Saints, Packers, and Jets. Rookie fourth-round pick Tony Pollard is averaging 4.9 yards on 37 rushing attempts.
The Cowboys could be without their two starting offensive tackles, Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, for the second straight game. Smith is dealing with an ankle sprain. Collins has an MCL sprain.
The Eagles have one of the league’s best run defenses. They’re second in rushing yards allowed (72.8 per game) and second in opponent rush average (3.3). They gave up 40 yards in the first quarter last week to the Vikings, including 10- and 14-yard runs on two of the Vikings’ first five carries. Elliott has averaged 4.8 yards per carry in four games against the Eagles.
When the Cowboys throw
Dak Prescott had a 128.0 passer rating in the Cowboys’ first three games, including a 74.5 completion percentage and nine TD passes. During their three-game losing streak, his passer rating has been 82.7. He has thrown just two touchdown passes and four interceptions in the three losses.
Prescott might be facing the Eagles without his top receiving weapon. Wide receiver Amari Cooper, who had 10 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns in a Week 14 overtime win over the Eagles last season, suffered a quad contusion against the Jets. Cooper has 33 catches, 21 for first downs. He’s averaging 15.6 yards per catch.
The Eagles, meanwhile, could be getting back their two top cornerbacks, Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby. Their potential return comes a week after the Eagles were sliced and diced by Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Eagles are 30th in passing yards allowed (280.2) and 28th in TD passes given up (13).
Jim Schwartz’s defense is fueled by his pass rush. But it hasn’t been very good. With the exception of their 10-sack explosion against the Jets’ Luke Falk, they have just four sacks in five games. All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has no sacks and just four QB hits.
Jake Elliott is one of just five kickers who haven’t missed a field-goal attempt. He’s 7-for-7, including a 53-yarder last week against the Vikings. Punter Cam Johnston is seventh in gross average (47.2) and fifth in net average (44.3). He has put 12 of his 22 punts inside the 20 (54.5%), the fifth-highest percentage in the league. Just nine of his punts have been returned. Only three returns have gained more than 6 yards.
Darren Sproles will miss his second straight game with a quad injury. Boston Scott will handle punt returns. He averaged 8.0 yards on two returns last Sunday.
Cowboys kicker Brett Maher has made 7 of 11 field-goal attempts. He made a 62-yarder last week against the Jets but missed a 40-yard attempt. The week before, he missed a 33-yarder. Punter Chris Jones is 30th in gross average (43.0) and net average (38.7). He’s had 8 of 19 punts returned.
Punt returner Tavon Austin is averaging just 4.3 yards per return. His longest return has been 10 yards.
Wentz has a 100.0 passer rating in five career starts against the Cowboys, including a 67.2 completion percentage, 10 TDs, and just one interception. Prescott has an 83.2 career passer rating against the Eagles, including 7 TDs and 6 interceptions.
Eagles 27, Cowboys 24
Eagles TEs Zach Ertz/Dallas Goedert vs. Cowboys S Jeff Heath and LB Leighton VanderEsch: At least until DeSean Jackson returns, two-tight-end 12-personnel has become the Eagles’ main personnel grouping. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
Eagles DT Fletcher Cox vs. Cowboys RG Zach Martin and C Travis Frederick: Martin and Frederick are one of the best center/guard tandems in the league. Cox has no sacks and four QB hits. ADVANTAGE: Cowboys
Eagles C Jason Kelce vs. Cowboys MLB Jaylon Smith: One of the best centers in the league against one of the best linebackers. ADVANTAGE: Even
Keys to the game
The first 30. The Eagles have given up 94 first-half points, the third most in the NFL. The Cowboys have been outscored by 47-9 in the opening 30 minutes of their last three games, all losses. Something’s got to give.
Finding a pass rush. Take out the 10-sack aberration against the Jets, and the Eagles have four sacks in five games. They need to find a way to get Prescott off his spot and take the pressure off their secondary.
Wideout production. Jeffery is averaging a career-low 9.0 yards per catch. Nelson Agholor has just five catches for 62 yards in the last three games. With the Cowboys’ starting corners nursing hamstring injuries, Jeffery and Agholor need to have big games.