An Eagles win means a first place NFC East slot.
Can the Eagles defeat the Cowboys Sunday night (7:30 on NBC) in a matchup of 3-3 teams at AT&T Stadium? If so, they’ll move into sole possession of first place in the NFC East. If not, they’ll be under .500.
A day after losing at Minnesota by 18 points, Eagles coach Doug Pederson promised in a radio interview that the Eagles would beat the Cowboys this Sunday night to take over first place by themselves in the NFC East.
The Eagles’ pass defense has been torched for 1,776 yards 13 TDs and 7.82 yards per attempt. This, despite being excellent all season against the run, allowing opponents just 3.3 yards per rush. Their 72.8 rushing yards allowed per game is the second fewest in the league behind Tampa Bay (68.0).
Their offense has been uneven and without a vertical dimension since wide receiver DeSean Jackson suffered an abdominal injury in Week 2. As a result, quarterback Carson Wentz’s average of 6.8 yards per passing attempt is his lowest since his rookie season of 2016.
Potential turmoil also has struck, thanks to at least one anonymous member of the team expressing anger that general manager Howie Roseman failed to land cornerback Jalen Ramsey in a trade and that the offense is not functioning at a high-enough level.
After scoring at least 31 points in each of their first three games, all wins, the Cowboys have sputtered a bit during the three-game losing streak that has followed.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott has been held to 3.48 yards per attempt during that span, which has also featured quarterback Dak Prescott throwing just two touchdown passes against four interceptions.
Last week’s 24-22 loss to the New York Jets was marked by the loss of leading receiver Amari Cooper on the opening series and the absences of starting tackles La’el Collins and Tyron Smith coming in. All were due to injuries.
The Cowboys have allowed a sack on just 3.2% of dropbacks in 2019, the second-lowest percentage in the league.
Five Eagles to watch
Jalen Mills. After not playing for almost a full calendar year, the cornerback said Friday that he expects to be activated from the PUP list and start Sunday night’s game. Coach Doug Pederson anticipates him starting the rest of the season as well. “I feel good,” Mills said Friday. “I had a good week of practice, flying around, communicating.”
Rodney McLeod. This veteran safety needs a bounceback game after a poor one the previous week against Minnesota. The Cowboys will test the Eagles deep early and often, and McLeod and fellow safety Malcolm Jenkins will have to be infinitely more alert than they were against the Vikings.
T.J. Edwards. A rookie linebacker, Edwards is expected to have an expanded role following the surprise release last Monday of Zach Brown. “I’m expecting all of them to really take a step forward,” coach Doug Pederson said. “This is a great opportunity for all those guys in that room to increase their performance and increase their play time.”
Zach Ertz. There is a blueprint floating around the NFL now featuring a proven method to stifle the Eagles’ attack: Plaster this veteran tight end with as many defenders as required and make somebody else beat you. How will he and the Eagles adjust?
Andre Dillard. Another rookie, he’ll be making his first career start as left tackle Jason Peters (knee) sits this one out. Dillard also played extensively the week before after replacing Peters. “I feel like spatial awareness, quickness, getting where I need to be was good,” Dillard said Friday. “[But] there’s obviously things to work on with my game.”
Five Cowboys to watch
Dak Prescott. This fourth-year quarterback is widely considered to be inferior to Eagles counterpart Carson Wentz despite better career numbers in most key areas, such as completion percentage (66.5 to 63.4), interception percentage (1.8 to 1.9), yards per attempt (7.6 to 7.0) and winning percentage (.648 to .565).
Robert Quinn. In his first year with the Cowboys, this veteran defensive end (5.0 sacks) is on pace for another productive season. He’s expected to line up against Eagles rookie Andre Dillard most of the time.
Zack Martin. One of the league’s top interior linemen, this right guard is one of the few who can block Eagles DT Fletcher Cox without help most of the time. However, he’s battling through back and ankle injuries.
Amari Cooper. Another player who will attempt to play through a good bit of pain (quad), Cooper is their leading receiver, with 33 catches for 515 yards and five TDs.
Leighton Vander Esch. A talented, ball-hawking middle linebacker, Vander Esch is rarely out of position and often dissects plays before the ball is snapped. That’s why he leads the team with 60 tackles.
Eagles: LB Nigel Bradham (ankle), WR DeSean Jackson (abdomen), DT Timmy Jernigan (foot), CB Avonte Maddox (concussion, neck), T Jason Peters (knee) and RB Darren Sproles (quadricep) are out. CB Ronald Darby (hamstring) is questionable). CB Jalen Mills (foot) is expected to be activated from PUP list and start.
Cowboys: CB Anthony Brown (hamstring) is out. DE Dorance Armstrong (neck), WR Randall Cobb (back), T La’el Collins (knee), WR Amari Cooper (ankle, quadricep), CB Byron Jones (hamstring), C Joe Looney (back), G Zack Martin (back, ankle) and T Tyron Smith (ankle) are questionable.
I have to see it.
I mean, I hear how the Eagles may be so much better with Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby at cornerback, which may happen as quickly as this weekend. I hear how the Cowboys have been reeling without their two starting offensive tackles and wide receiver Amari Cooper. I hear the optimism that the Eagles will seize control of the NFC East.
But I have to see a functioning defense and an offense that stops getting out of its way before I ever pick the Eagles to win again X. That goes for every opponent left on their schedule, including the winless Miami Dolphins.
There’s a blueprint out there now on how to beat the Eagles’ defense (max-protect and go deep) and how to neutralize their offense (beat up tight end Zach Ertz), and until I actually see adjustments made, I’m going to go with the opponent every time.
Cowboys 30, Eagles 20