Eagles at Cowboys: Five games to watch

Eagles at Cowboys: Five games to watch

If the Philadelphia Eagles win any of their three remaining games against the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints or New York Giants, they will clinch the No. 1 seed, and thus a first-round bye as well as home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Had the Cowboys taken care of themselves in Jacksonville against Doug Pederson and the Jaguars last Sunday, the Birds’ path to the No. 1 seed would have been more difficult, and this matchup would have had significantly more significance.

Still, Nick Sirianni and the Eagles don’t seem to be taking anything for granted, and will go all out to win this game, whether it’s with the injured Jalen Hurts or backup Gardner Minshew. Here are our five games to watch.

1) “No crush, no rush”

“No crush, no rush” is a mantra that has been repeated by senior defensive assistant Jeremiah Washburn to the Eagles’ defensive linemen. It basically means that if you don’t crush the opposing team’s rushing attack, you don’t earn the right to rush the passer.

Over their last three games, the Eagles have faced a trio of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL in the Titans (fifth-most run-heavy), Giants (sixth-most run-heavy) and Bears (most run-heavy). In those games, the Eagles defense was able to shut down the run, create obvious passing situations and look for the quarterback. They have essentially shifted from a defense that has aimed to stop the pass primarily to one that has followed more of the Jim Schwartz approach. Credit Jonathan Gannon and the Eagles’ staff for adapting and finding success.

• The Eagles run defense held Derrick Henry to 30 yards on 11 carries, then sacked Ryan Tannehill 6 times in making the Titans one-dimensional.

• They held Saquon Barkley to 28 yards on 9 carries, then sacked Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor a combined 7 times.

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• And in Chicago on Sunday, Justin Fields had some electric runs, but the Eagles mostly did a good job of putting the Bears in obvious downs, sacking Fields 6 times.

Three games, 19 sacks, but it all started with stopping the run.

The Cowboys are the seventh-most run-heavy offense in the NFL, and they have a very good running back duo in Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott. Their numbers this season:

Cowboys RB Hurry Yards YPC TD
Tony Pollard 177 969 5.5 9
Ezekiel Elliott 188 774 4.1 10

Pollard is the biggest threat, as he ranks second in the NFL with nine rushes of 20-plus yards, while Elliott has settled in as a middle linebacker in his seventh NFL season.

The Cowboys found some success on the ground against the Eagles in their first game, racking up 89 second-half rushing yards, staying on track and putting together a pair of long TD drives fueled by the run. The Eagles have a better run defense now than they did then, with the addition of Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh (but mainly Joseph).

The Cowboys want to run the ball and the Eagles should try to take it away from the bounce and have Dak Prescott beat them with his arm.

2) CeeDee Lamb vs. The Eagles’ secondary

Lamb is by far the Cowboys’ biggest weapon in the passing game, as he has at least twice as many receiving yards as any other player on the team.

Cowboys receive Rec Yards YPC TD
WR CeeDee Lamb 81 1087 13.4 6
WR Noah Brown 40 533 13.3 3
TE Dalton Schultz 43 445 10.3 3
WR Michael Gallup 31 339 10.9 3
RB Tony Pollard 33 310 9.4 3

Against the Vikings earlier this season, the Eagles’ staff had an excellent scheme for Justin Jefferson, making sure his one-on-one opportunities were limited and when he did get one-on-one matchups, making sure they came against Darius Slay, who responded with a monster play. Lamb isn’t on the same level as Jefferson, but the structure of the Cowboys’ roster is similar in that Lamb is the clear No. 1 option on offense, with every other pass catcher a distant second. The Eagles may want to have a similar plan for Lamb as they did for Jefferson, forcing some of the more inconsistent receivers like Brown or Gallup to try to beat them.

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3) Where can the eagles go and feast?

Cowboys quarterbacks have been sacked just 19 times this season, which is tied for best in the NFL. They have an interesting offensive line configuration, especially at RT, where Tyron Smith (recently back from injury) and Jason Peters split time last Sunday in Jacksonville after Dallas lost starting RT Terence Steele for the season.

LT LG C RG RT
Tyler Smith Connor McGovern Tyler Biadasz Zack Martin Tyron Smith / Jason Peters

The Cowboys’ line is most susceptible to pressure on the edges. PFF has Tyler Smith down for 6 of the Cowboys’ 19 sacks allowed this season, and he has committed 11 penalties. Here he gives up a sack to Arden Key last Sunday.

122122 TylerSack

The future Hall of Fame duo at RT is also up for grabs, in my opinion. Those guys have played on the left their entire careers. It is not so easy to just turn right and expect similar results. Here’s JP giving up a sack to Jacksonville:

122122JPSack

The trio of Haason Reddick (12 sacks), Josh Sweat (9.5 sacks) and Brandon Graham (8.5 sacks) have an opportunity to capitalize if the Eagles defense can put Dallas in open passing situations.

#FeastinMeter: 5 turkey legs 🍗🍗🍗🍗🍗

4) Nick Sirianni and Shane Steichen vs. Micah Parsons

One way to neutralize good players is to leave them unblocked, “read” them and let them pick their own poison. That’s what the Eagles did on multiple occasions with Micah Parsons in the first Eagles-Cowboys meeting, most notably on a TD pass to AJ Brown.

If Parsons covered Brown, Jalen Hurts would have just run with it. If he attacked Hurts, Brown would be wide open.

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That approach will be a little harder to pull off this Saturday, (a) because the Cowboys will have a better plan for it this time, and (b) it won’t be as effective if Gardner Minshew is at quarterback because he doesn’t possess Hurts’ elite running ability. Parsons is the Defensive Player of the Year candidate and a play offender. The Eagles had a fantastic plan for him Week 6. It will be interesting to see how they will try to slow him down this time.

One thing to note is that Lane Johnson shut down Parsons in the first half, but Sirianni and Steichen were extremely conservative in the second half after Johnson was injured in that game.

5) Eagles’ receivers vs. The Cowboys’ cornerbacks

The Cowboys’ best cornerback is Trevon Diggs, who makes a ton of big plays but also gives them up. Otherwise, the Cowboys are missing CB2 Anthony Brown and starting slot CB Jourdan Lewis. The Cowboys’ CB snap distribution went like this against the Jaguars last Sunday:

  1. Diggs: 70 snaps (out of 70 possible snaps)
  2. DaRon Bland: 65 snaps
  3. Kelvin Joseph: 37 snaps
  4. Nahshon Wright: 19 snaps

Logic might dictate that the Eagles should go heavy on Miles Sanders if Hurts can’t play, but AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith vs. that group of corners is perhaps the biggest mismatch in this game. My bet is that the Eagles will come out throwing, no matter who the quarterback is.


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