Three Philadelphia Eagles Numbers That Matter For Cowboys Week

The Eagles will need their defense to stay strong.

Jim Schwartz. (Jeff Fusco)

Jim Schwartz. (Jeff Fusco)

With Week 7 of the 2016 NFL season in the books, here’s a look at three Philadelphia Eagles numbers that matter.

3.3 – The Eagles rank tied for first in the NFL in sacks per game.

One week after failing to get much pressure on Kirk Cousins (zero sacks, two hits), the Eagles absolutely crushed Sam Bradford (six sacks, 16 hits) on Sunday. As a result, the Eagles are now tied with the Seahawks for most sacks per game.

The Eagles’ dominant pass rush performance was aided by the fact the Vikings were missing both of their starting offensive tackles. Not to mention that Bradford isn’t very elusive.

That’s said not to take away from what the Eagles were able to do. Rather, it’s to point out that the Birds will face a tougher challenge this week. The Cowboys have allowed 1.5 sacks per game, which is third least in the league. The Dallas offensive line can be over-hyped at times but there’s no denying it’s a strong unit. In addition, Dak Prescott is a mobile threat. The rookie quarterback has rushed for 67 yards and three scores through his first six starts.

The strength of the Cowboys is their offense. Dallas has gained 6.1 yards per play. That’s tied for third most. They rank fifth in offensive points per game with 26.5.

Prescott has been driving a lot of the Cowboys’ success. He set the NFL record, previously held by Tom Brady, for most pass attempts by a rookie quarterback without an interception (before later throwing a pick in that Week 6 game). On the season, Prescott has completed 68.7% of his passes for 1,486 yards, seven touchdowns, one interception, and a 103.9 passer rating. He’s clearly exceeded expectations while filling in for the injured Tony Romo. Helping Prescott this week is that star receiver Dez Bryant will reportedly return to the field.

Of course, Prescott isn’t the only talented rookie leading the way for Dallas. Ezekiel Elliott leads the NFL in rushing yards with 703. He’s averaging 5.1 yards per carry and he’s scored five touchdowns. His seven runs of 20-plus yards lead the league. Elliott, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, is very talented in his own right but he also benefits from a run-blocking unit that ranks first in the league by Football Outsiders.

The Eagles’ defense will have their hands full try to keep Dallas in check. Jim Schwartz’s unit struggled on the road in the Detroit and Washington games. The run defense was especially an issue in Week 6 with the Eagles giving up 230 yards.

Not allowing the Cowboys to get off to a fast start could be key. Against the Lions and Washington, Philadelphia’s defense allowed the opposition to build multiple-possession leads. Their defense has settled down in the second half of games, though. Disregarding a garbage time touchdown from Bradford, the Eagles’ defense has allowed only 12 points combined in the second half of games this year (hat tip to Brad Tessler).

The second half improvement could be a sign of Schwartz making adjustments. Speaking of, the Eagles’ defensive coordinator did a nice job of dialing up blitzes to disrupt Minnesota. After only blitzing 13 times in their last three games, the Birds blitzed on 12 occasions against the Vikings, as noted by Jeff McLane. Schwartz’s wide-nine defense typically relies on the defensive line to generate pressure without sending extra rushers. It’ll be interesting to see if Schwartz goes aggressive against Prescott.

5.9 – The Cowboys’ defense allows the 22nd most yards per play in the league.

For as good as the Cowboys have been, they aren’t without a key weakness: their defense. Dallas ranks 20th in defensive DVOA by Football Outsiders. They’re 23rd in sacks per game at 1.8. The Cowboys are tied for 12th in takeaways overall and 20th with four interceptions. In other words, there’s ample evidence to suggest it’s a below average unit.

So if the Cowboys’ defense isn’t so great, why hasn’t it prevented them from winning? The answer is simple: time of possession. Much like the 2014 Cowboys, who won 12 games and were a Dez Bryant non-catch (Dez dropped it) away from making the NFC Championship Game, Dallas is relying on their offense to mask their defense. The Cowboys rank first in the NFL in average time of possession (33:08).

But Dallas isn’t the only team in this game with a ball-control offense. Doug Pederson’s team ranks third in average time of possession (32:16). The Eagles can keep the Cowboys’ best unit off the field by continuing to control the clock.

If Schwartz’s unit can get some stops and force a turnover or two, the Eagles’ offense will have opportunities for success. This is game where the Birds really need Carson Wentz to step up after he’s struggled in recent weeks. It’s a big spot for the rookie quarterback.

52% – The Eagles’ current playoff chances as determined by FiveThirtyEight.

Sunday’s night game is a huge one for the Eagles. The Birds can move up to 5-2 and first in the NFC East with a win. A loss, however, would drop the Eagles to 4-3 with an 0-2 record in division games. Philadelphia’s win over the Vikings was significant, but as I wrote previously it won’t mean as much if they can’t beat their division rivals. Here’s a quick look at the NFC East as it stands.

1 – Dallas Cowboys (5-1)
2 – Philadelphia Eagles (4-2)
3 – Washington Redskins (4-3)
4 – New York Giants (4-3)

Believe it or not, the NFC East isn’t one of the worst divisions in football anymore. Instead, it’s arguably the best. The NFC East has a combined point differential of +109, which leads the NFL.  The next closest division is the AFC West at +72.

Entering this season, many (myself included) didn’t expect the NFC East to be very good. The fact that it is so competitive puts more pressure on the Eagles to win and stay ahead of their opponents. Beating Dallas would put Philadelphia in a real nice position. It just won’t be easy for the Birds. The Cowboys have played good football this year and they’re a one-point loss away from being 6-0. Then again, the Eagles are 5-1 in the last six games they’ve played at AT&T Stadium.

Washington is the only other NFC East team in action this week since the Giants have a bye. Jay Gruden’s team had a four-game win streak snapped in Detroit last weekend. Now they’ll travel to London to face the 3-4 Cincinnati Bengals. If Washington loses, they’ll fall to last place.

New York will return from the bye to face the Eagles in Week 9. Somehow the schedule makers made it so the Birds play three straight teams (Vikings, Cowboys, Giants) coming off their bye week. The Eagles have owned the G-Men in recent history. Philadelphia has won 13 out of their last 16 games against Big Blue. The Eagles are 8-1 in nine road games during that span.

Beating the Cowboys and Giants would put Philadelphia at 6-2 with a 2-1 division record. That cushion could really come in handy because the Eagles have a real tough four-game stretch starting in Week 10: home versus the Falcons, away at the Seahawks, home versus the Packers, and away at the Bengals on a short week.

For now, it’s all about Eagles-Cowboys week. It’s the biggest game of the year for both teams.