The Eagles will play at Dallas on Sunday with a chance to tie for the lead in the NFC East. Here’s an in-depth look at the matchup.
When Eagles run the ball
The Eagles ran the ball 33 times (for 130 yards) in Monday night’s win over the Redskins, including 17 times in the first half. The big question this week is whether they’ll continue that commitment to the run game. In their Week 10 meeting with the Cowboys, they had just 16 rushing attempts (for 71 yards) and only seven in the first half.
Rookie Josh Adams, who has had back-to-back 20-carry games, is averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He has nine rushing first downs and six runs of 10 or more yards in the last two games. Corey Clement is used more as a receiver, but he has averaged 6.9 yards per carry in the last three games.
The Cowboys have a quick, undersized defensive line and fast linebackers with sideline-to-sideline pursuit ability. Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith have combined for 33 tackles the last two games. The Cowboys haven’t given up more than 80 rushing yards in their last four games and have given up more than 100 just twice in their last nine games.
When Eagles throw the ball
Carson Wentz is fifth in the league in completion percentage (69.6), but 17th in touchdown percentage (1 every 20.5 attempts). Last year, he averaged one every 13.3 attempts. He threw for 360 yards and two touchdowns in the first game vs. Dallas. Tight end Zach Ertz had 14 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns in that game. Ertz is second in the league in receptions with 93. His 83.8 catch percent rate in the last eight games is the best in the league among wide receivers and tight ends.
WR Golden Tate played just 18 snaps in the first Dallas game, but is coming off his best game as an Eagle. He had seven catches for 85 yards and a TD last week vs. the Redskins. Clement has been effective on screens, but the Cowboys play mostly zone coverage, which is an effective screen deterrent. It will be interesting to see whether the Cowboys change their approach to defending Ertz.
The Cowboys have given up just 16 touchdown passes, third fewest in the league. They’ve also given up the second-fewest 20-plus-yard completions (30).
When Cowboys run the ball
Ezekiel Elliott is second in the league in rushing with 1,150 yards. Elliott feasted on the Eagles in Week 10. He rushed for 151 yards and had five double-digit-yard runs, including two for 35 and 32 yards. He has averaged 117.5 yards in the Cowboys’ last four games. Elliott has a league-high 22 runs of 15 or more yards. Quarterback Dak Prescott is a threat to run. He has 24 rushing first downs, including seven in the last three games. His five rushing touchdowns are the most by a quarterback.
The Eagles have struggled against the run this season. They are 29th in opponent run average, allowing 5.0 yards per carry. They have tackled poorly, and their linebackers have had trouble getting off blocks. Nigel Bradham, who was one of the keys to the Eagles’ success against the run last season, has made few impactful plays. Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill both are playing with casts on their hands to protect broken thumbs. MLB Jordan Hicks has missed the last two games with a calf injury.
In their last seven games, the Eagles have allowed a league-worst 6.95 yards per carry on first down.
When Cowboys throw the ball
In the seven games before the Cowboys traded for Amari Cooper, quarterback Dak Prescott had an 87.4 passer rating, a 62.1 completion percentage, and a 6.9 yards-per-attempt average. In five games with Cooper, Prescott has a 106.0 passer rating and 72.8 completion percentage and has averaged 8.0 yards per attempt.
Cooper, who has 30 receptions in five games with the Cowboys, has helped make Prescott and the Cowboys much more formidable on third down. The Cowboys had a 31.9 third-down success rate in seven games without Cooper. In the five since his arrival: 48.5. Prescott has a 114.3 third-down passer rating with Cooper. Cooper has been targeted 13 times on third down and has 10 catches for 121 yards and eight first downs.
The Eagles are slowly but surely getting many of their injured DBs back. Prescott has been sacked 45 times this season, including seven times in their win over the Saints last week. The Eagles sacked Prescott four times in the first meeting and held him to one TD.
Jake Elliott is having a solid season. He’s made 19 of 23 FG attempts, including 13 of his last 14. He missed his only attempt in last year’s game at AT&T Stadium: a 34-yarder that went wide right. Elliott has the league’s second-best touchback percentage on kickoffs (78.9). Nineteen of his last 22 KOs have not been returned.
P Cam Johnston is second in gross average (48.7) and third in net average (42.8). Both would be franchise records. He’s had 24 of 47 attempts returned, but the Eagles are fifth in punt coverage (6.4) and the Cowboys are 30th in punt returns (5.8).
Darren Sproles finally returned last week and had a 14-yard punt return. He’ll be going up against a Cowboys punt-coverage unit that is ranked 20th (8.4). The Cowboys held Golden Tate to 5.5 yards on two returns in the first game.
Cowboys PK Brett Maher, who replaced Dan Bailey, is 24-for-28 on FG attempts. He’s 4-for-5 from 50-plus yards, including a 55-yarder. He’s seventh in touchback percentage on kickoffs (71.2).
There’s the obvious one. The Cowboys are well-rested, and the Eagles aren’t. The Cowboys at home on 10 days' rest. The Eagles are in short-week mode after playing Monday night. And there’s the fact that the Cowboys are 5-1 at home this season and the Eagles are 1-3 on the road (not including their win over Jacksonville in London).
Cowboys 30, Eagles 24
Eagles RB Josh Adams vs. Cowboys LBs Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. Adams is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and has had back-to-back 20-carry games. Vander Esch and Smith are athletic linebackers who spearhead a run defense that is giving up the second-fewest yards per carry in the NFL (3.7).
Eagles RT Lane Johnson vs. Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence. Johnson won the battle against Lawrence last season, but missed last month’s game with a knee injury. Lawrence had five QB pressures against his replacement, Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
Eagles CBs Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones vs. WR Amari Cooper. Dak Prescott had an 87.4 passer rating before Cooper arrived, and has had a 106.0 rating with him. The Cowboys are going to try to get Cooper matched up on Douglas as often as possible, particularly on third down.
Run the damn ball: The Cowboys are very good against the run, but the Eagles need to stay committed to it. In their Week 10 loss to Dallas, they ran the ball just twice in the first quarter and seven times the entire first half.
Don’t let the Cowboys run the damn ball: The Eagles aren’t going to shut down Ezekiel Elliott completely. But they’ve got to do a better job against him than they did in the first meeting when he went off for 151 yards. That’s going to mean better tackling, staying in their gaps and swarming to the ball, so that if he slips away from one tackler, somebody else will be there to finish the job.
Another fast start: The Eagles are averaging a league-worst 2.3 points in the first quarter this season. That’s a far cry from last year’s 6.6. Last week, they scored on their first possession for the first time in six games and only the third time this season, driving 75 yards for a touchdown on 12 plays. If they’re trailing at the end of the first quarter, be afraid. Be very afraid.