Eagles-Cowboys: Scouting report and prediction | Paul Domowitch
Ezekiel Elliott has rushed for 100-plus yards against the Eagles four straight times. Is Sunday the day they finally neutralize him?
The NFC East title will be on the line when the Eagles host the Dallas Cowboys at 4:25 p.m. Sunday.
Here’s an in-depth breakdown of what is a must-win game for the home team.
When the Eagles run
With Jordan Howard sidelined the last five games with a shoulder/neck injury, the Eagles had to increase rookie Miles Sanders’ load more than they initially planned. And he has responded well.
Sanders notched his first 100-yard rushing game last Sunday, gaining 122 yards on 19 carries against Washington, including a pivotal 56-yard fourth-quarter run. Sanders’ vision and decision-making have improved as the season has gone on. He’s averaging 4.6 yards per carry and 5.0 in the last four games.
Former practice-squadder Boston Scott, whose body type and make-you-miss running style have drawn comparisons to Darren Sproles, is averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
Howard’s availability likely won’t be determined until closer to game time. Howard averaged 5.0 yards per carry on first down against the Cowboys in the first meeting. Right tackle Lane Johnson has been ruled out.
The Cowboys, who are tied for 11th in opponent rush average (4.1), held Todd Gurley and the Rams to 22 yards on 14 carries Sunday, but they gave up 151 on 34 carries to Chicago the week before. The Cowboys have allowed 4.4 yards per carry on first down, the ninth-highest average in the league.
When the Eagles throw
The Eagles’ top two wideouts, DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery, both are on injured reserve. Their third top wideout, Nelson Agholor, missed three of the last four games with a knee injury. The focus of the passing game is the tight ends — Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert — who have combined for 129 receptions, 1,212 yards, and 10 touchdowns. Ertz leads all NFL tight ends in receptions with 84, but he was held to two catches in the Week 7 loss to the Cowboys.
Wentz is 14th in the league in passing (92.3) and 27th in yards per attempt, but he has the league’s sixth-best touchdowns-to-interceptions differential (plus-18). He completed his last 15 passes in the win over Washington.
Wentz has established a much-needed rapport with wide receiver Greg Ward, who was promoted from the practice squad less than a month ago. Ward caught seven passes Sunday, including the game-winning touchdown from Wentz with 26 seconds left. Wentz has lost seven fumbles, including two in the first game against Dallas.
The Cowboys have three very good pass-rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn, and ex-Eagle Michael Bennett. They’ve combined for 21 sacks this season. But the Cowboys have just six interceptions, tied for the fewest in the NFL. They also gave up seven touchdown passes in their last three games.
When the Cowboys run
The Cowboys rushed for 263 yards in their lopsided win over the Rams. They had not one, but two, 100-yard rushers: Ezekiel Elliott (24-117) and rookie Tony Pollard (12-131).
The Eagles are third in run defense, and seventh in opponent rush average. But they had their problems with 34-year-old Adrian Peterson. The Washington veteran had four double-digit-yard runs, including a 10-yard touchdown.
Elliott clearly has the Eagles’ number. He ran for 100-plus yards against them in the last four meetings. The Cowboys lost their starting left guard, rookie Connor Williams, in Week 9. He’s been replaced by Xavier Su’a-Filo.
In the five games after Williams went down before the win over the Rams, the Cowboys had averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. The Cowboys had 16 rushing first downs against the Rams and averaged 5.6 yards per carry on first down. The Cowboys are one of only three teams that have averaged 4.0 yards per carry or better against the Eagles, the other two being Seattle and Buffalo.
When the Cowboys throw
Dak Prescott completed 21 of 27 passes and averaged nearly nine yards per attempt in the Cowboys’ Week 7 win over the Eagles. He’s 12th in the league in passing with a 99.3 rating. In his last seven starts, he threw 14 touchdown passes and just four interceptions.
He struggled in a Week 12 loss to the Patriots, throwing zero TDs and completing just 57.6% of his passes. In their Week 14 loss to Chicago, he completed only 55.1% of his passes. Prescott is nursing a sore shoulder. He also injured the top of the index finger on his throwing hand against the Bears, but he didn’t missed a snap the last two weeks. He wasn’t sacked against the Rams and was sacked just eight times in the last seven games.
Wide receiver Amari Cooper has had his way with the Eagles. He had five catches for 106 yards in Week 7, and had 10 catches for 217 yards and three TDs against them last December. But he’s nursing a knee injury that is affecting his play. He had just 18 catches on 31 targets and averaged only 12.5 yards per catch the last five games.
The Eagles have given up 23 pass plays of 30 yards or more, the sixth most in the league. They had just two interceptions in the last seven games. Against Washington, they managed to win a game without an interception or sack for the first time since 2015.
Jake Elliott has made 19 of 21 field-goal attempts this season. His only two misses were a 47-yarder against the Giants and a 49-yarder against Miami. The Eagles’ kickoff-coverage unit gave up 41- and 30-yard returns to the Redskins’ Steven Sims.
Punter Cam Johnston is sixth in gross average (47.1) and fifth in net (42.8). He has put 24 of 60 punts inside the 20. Cowboys punter Chris Jones is 30th in gross (42.4) and 31st in net (37.4), but he has had just 17 of 42 kicks returned. The Cowboys are 26th in punt coverage (9.0). But the Eagles’ Greg Ward has returned just 4 of 23 punts in the four games he has served as the primary punt returner.
Brett Maher was 31st in the league in field-goal accuracy (66.7%). and was released two weeks ago after going 5-for-13 from 40-plus yards. He was replaced by Kai Forbath, who made all four of his attempts, including a 50-yarder last week against the Rams. Punt returner Tavon Austin is averaging just 5.6 yards per return.
The fact that they’re playing this game at the Linc rather than AT&T Stadium theoretically should be an advantage for the Eagles. But anybody who listened to that deafening chorus of boos in the first half two weekends ago when the Eagles were stinking up the joint against the Giants says otherwise.
The Eagles are 4-3 at the Linc this season and have lost six of their last seven games to Dallas in South Philly.
Cowboys 30, Eagles 20
- Eagles defensive front seven vs. Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott: Elliott has rushed for 100-plus yards in four straight games against the Eagles. The Birds struggled against 34-year-old Adrian Peterson and a Redskins line that wasn’t half as good as the one they’ll face Sunday. ADVANTAGE: Cowboys
- Eagles CBs Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, and Avonte Maddox vs. Cowboys WRs Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Randall Cobb: Cooper is playing on an injured knee, which helps. But Gallup has developed into an excellent player and Cobb always is dangerous. ADVANTAGE: Cowboys
- Eagles TE Zach Ertz vs. Cowboys S Jeff Heath: Ertz is the No. 1 guy the Cowboys need to neutralize in the passing game, and they know that. Heath and Co. held Ertz to two catches in the first meeting. Ertz can beat Heath or anybody else the Cowboys throw at him one-on-one. But he’s going to be facing a lot of double teams and bracketing. ADVANTAGE: Even
Keys to the game
Ball security. Dallas Goedert fumbled on the Eagles’ first possession in Week 7 and Carson Wentz turned it over on their second possession. The Cowboys turned both turnovers into touchdowns and never looked back. That can’t happen Sunday. The Eagles have trailed at halftime eight times this season. They won just three of those games — twice against the Redskins and against the Giants.
Slow down Zeke. Elliott has faced the Eagles five times and rushed for 100-plus yards in four of them. He has averaged 4.9 yards per carry against them. The Eagles need to slow him down on first and second down and force Prescott into third-and-long situations.
Doug’s magic show. Given the limitations of his offense, it’s time for Doug Pederson to pull out all of the trick plays and creative strategies he’s been saving up for this occasion.