It’s really important for the Eagles to take a lead and keep it in this game, to not give the downtrodden Cowboys any hope of breaking out of their funk. Looking at the records and the talent levels, this isn’t a mismatch. With the Eagles' injury situation, they don’t really overmatch anyone in overall talent.
But given Dallas’s quarterback situation – the starter is either recently concussed Andy Dalton or seventh-round rookie Ben DiNucci – and given how horrible Dallas has been on defense even when its offense was working well, this should be a big day for the Eagles' offense, maybe the best matchup of the season in that regard. If Carson Wentz throws bad interceptions Sunday night, I dunno what to tell you; Dallas has managed one pick all season. And the Cowboys can’t stop the run, so even without Miles Sanders, and despite whatever O-line configuration manages to take the field for the Eagles, there are no excuses for not controlling the ball and the game.
There are always ways a 2-4-1 team can lose. I guess in this case they would involve the Cowboys' excellent receiving corps. If the Eagles' pass rush doesn’t obliterate the patched-together Dallas offensive line, maybe Dalton or DiNucci can just throw it up there, and Amari Cooper, CeedDee Lamb or Michael Gallup can catch it and go. Or the QB can fake a handoff to Zeke Elliott, pitch the ball to a receiver, and watch the yard markers fly by, the way so many teams have done this season. But really, the Eagles' pass rush should dominate, and the Cowboys should have trouble getting the ball back.
Prediction: Eagles 32, Cowboys 21.
In many ways, the Eagles are fortunate to play the Cowboys this Sunday. They’re coming off a long week with only one game standing between them and the bye. This could have been a trap game for the Eagles if it were against a less significant opponent. It also certainly helps that the Cowboys are in a free fall right now, jettisoning starters after two blowout losses. Have we mentioned that they might be down to Ben DiNucci, their third-string quarterback?
The Cowboys are ranked in the bottom third in the NFL in pass defense and are third-worst against the run, according to Football Outsiders. Their offense has generated just 13 points in the two games since Dak Prescott went on injured reserve. Their once-vaunted offensive line is the worst in the league, according to ESPN’s pass-rush win rate metric.
The more I think about the game, the more I reluctantly talk myself into the Eagles winning by a wide margin. There’s plenty of reasons to be hesitant. We’ve yet to see the Eagles beat up on a bad opponent. Carson Wentz looked uncomfortable and uncertain for most of the Giants game, and the team was an Evan Engram drop away from being a one-win team going into this weekend.
Division games, particularly rivalries like this, typically end up closer than they might appear to be on paper. But it’s too easy to see the Eagles getting out to an early lead and protecting it by constantly pressuring an inexperienced quarterback and running against a lackluster Cowboys' front seven.
Prediction: Eagles 34, Cowboys 17
Ben DeNucci leading the Cowboys to victory over the Eagles wouldn’t quite be as unexpected as what Joe Webb and the Vikings did in Philly 10 years ago, but it would rank up there with some of the team’s worst losses. This year’s squad is not as strong as the 2010 one, of course, and haven’t exactly earned the benefit of the doubt. But Dallas is a hot mess. The Cowboys are down to their third quarterback, are as beat up on the line, and without a cogent scheme.
And that’s just the offense. Their defense has allowed an eye-popping 34.7 points a game and lost several pieces this week after Jerry’s Used Parts unloaded linemen Everson Griffen and Dontari Poe and cornerback Daryl Worley. The latter two weren’t exactly contributing much, but Griffen was consistently getting to the quarterback.
The Cowboys certainly have talent at key spots, particularly on offense with receivers Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup. But can DeNucci, a seventh-round rookie, get them the ball enough? We haven’t seen enough of the James Madison product, so there’s always the chance he can play. But Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, if anything, has made life hard on inexperienced quarterbacks over the last five years.
The Eagles' pass rush should generate enough pressure against a line that’s been without mainstays. All-Pro guard Zach Martin could be back, but he has often brought the best out of defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Ezekiel Elliott is still the Cowboys' bell cow running back, and he’s had his moments against the Eagles. But he has struggled to get going early in games this season. If he does, and if the back seven can’t tackle vs. short route concepts, the Birds could be in for a fight.
But I think the Eagles will have enough on offense, even with key pieces like running back Miles Sanders, tight end Zach Ertz and possibly right tackle Lane Johnson sidelined. Carson Wentz, despite some lulls, has played better the last month. The return of rookie receiver Jalen Reagor could give him another long ball weapon. And one thing the Eagles have done a much better job of recently is scheming receivers open down the field. I see a home run or two Sunday night.
I’m going to hold my nose and pick the Eagles, but I don’t think they’ll cover.
Prediction: Eagles 29, Cowboys 23.
Following another embarrassing loss Sunday, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones felt the need to issue a public vote of confidence to his first-year head coach, Mike McCarthy.
This came a couple of days after Dak Prescott’s quarterback replacement, Andy Dalton, had to leave the team’s 25-3 loss to Washington with a concussion, and a week after some anonymous Cowboys players criticized McCarthy and his coaches, calling them, among other things, “unprepared.”
So, while the records of the 2-5 Cowboys and the 2-4-1 Eagles might not be that much different, the focus and mindsets of these teams are as different as night and day.
While it wasn’t particularly pretty, the Eagles came back from an 11-point deficit to beat the Giants last week. Before that, they went down swinging in a 2-point loss to 5-1 Baltimore and got within two points of the undefeated Steelers before losing by nine. And they are starting to get some key players back from injury.
The Cowboys? They’ve been outscored in back-to-back losses to Arizona and Washington by 50 points, and were outscored in the first half of those two games, 43-6. They are begging to have somebody stick a fork in them.
If the Eagles can come out Sunday night and grab the lead, I think we’re looking at a first-round knockout. If they can’t, I think they’ll still win, but it might require a little more effort.
Both teams have injury-ravaged offensive lines. The difference is the Cowboys are expected to have a rookie seventh-round pick lining up behind center, and he’ll be facing one of the league’s best pass rushes.