Eagles-Cowboys Game Predictions: Three-and-out
The Eagles play the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday evening at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Here’s how we expect the game to unfold.
EAGLES PLAYER I’LL BE WATCHING
BLG: Jordan Matthews.
This is a huge game for Carson Wentz. The Eagles’ rookie quarterback struggled last week and the Birds really need him to bounce back big in this game.
As written earlier this week, however, Wentz can’t be expected to carry the offense by himself. He needs more weapons, and if the Eagles aren’t going to trade for a wide receiver as Doug Pederson said, then it’s time for one of the players currently on the team to step up.
Who better to help out Wentz than Matthews? The 24-year-old pass catcher has fared well against the Cowboys in the past. In four career games against the Eagles’ biggest NFC East rival, Matthews has 19 receptions for 264 yards and three touchdowns. One of those scores includes Matthews’ game-winning touchdown in overtime against Dallas last season.
Earlier this week, Matthews had a funny quote about playing in Dallas.
“Nah, bro,” said Matthews when asked if there was a reason he’s been productive against the Cowboys. “I mean, to be honest, the ball just got thrown to me, so I was like ‘OK, might as well catch and run.’ But I’m going to take the same attitude into every single game.
“Dallas is a cool place to play. I mean, it’s like a concert. It’s crazy. Half of the times we go, it really doesn’t feel like an away game. It feels like just this big hoopla. Like, it’s crazy, because all the Eagles fans, they travel like crazy to that game. Cowboys fans are going to be there. They’re fighting each other. And then you’ve got tourists there because they just want to see JerryWorld. And then there’s this big TV that’s as big as like three cities.
“There’s a whole bunch of stuff going on, so half of the time I don’t think the [Dallas defensive backs] even notice me running around, so I guess that’s why I’ve had a couple of good games there.”
Matthews has been kind of quiet recently. He hasn’t had more than four targets in a game since Week 2 and he hasn’t caught a touchdown pass since Week 3. The Eagles need to find a way to get him more involved. He’s the best receiver that Wentz has to work with.
Josh: Jordan Hicks.
I’ll take the other Jordan. It’s no secret how important stopping the run will be this week, and each of the linebackers will have to step up tonight. The Cowboys’ run game is very similar to Washington’s — which the Eagles struggled with two weeks ago — as their zone-blocking scheme really makes defenses pay if one guy gets out of his gap momentarily.
Gap discipline will be crucial this week not just because of the nature of Dallas’ scheme, but also because of Ezekiel Elliott. The rookie back is an excellent one-cut runner who hits holes quickly, so the Eagles won’t have time to make up for false steps. The Birds also have to play with better team speed and get downhill quicker against Dallas than they did in Washington, which is something they excelled at versus Minnesota — especially Hicks.
“He’s a smart player; he knows his way to the ball,” Jim Schwartz said. “He can execute the scheme. Jordan played one of the best games I’ve seen all year [against Minnesota]. I mean, he played at a different level in this game. He was covering and tackling in the open field. His tackle for a loss on that one toss play was a big, big play in the game. He was all over the place and he was putting us in the right calls, too. There’s a lot on the middle linebacker and there’s nothing that we’ve thrown at him that he has not been able to handle.”
Hicks will have to continue his high level of play, although he has bad memories of Arlington, Texas as that’s where he suffered his season-ending injury last year. Still, he turned in two terrific performances as a rookie against the Cowboys by totaling 14 tackles, one pick-six and one forced fumble in the two games. If the Birds hope to contain Dallas’ run game, Hicks will need to continue that trend.
OVER/UNDER: 149.5 rushing yards allowed by the Eagles — Whaddya got?
The Cowboys are averaging a league-leading 161.2 rush yards per game. 101 rush yards is the lowest total Dallas has finished with in a game this season and that was in Week 1. The Cowboys have gone over 191 yards in three out of their last four games. In other words, their rushing attack is very good.
The Eagles’ defense, meanwhile, has allowed 102.7 rush yards per game, which ranks 14th best. Philadelphia is only two weeks removed from allowing 230 rush yards to Washington. That may have been just one bad game for Schwartz’s unit. For the Eagles’ sake, they better hope that’s the case as they prepare to face Elliott.
Stopping the Cowboys’ rushing attack is critical to an Eagles victory. If Dallas can’t control the clock, they can’t keep the Eagles’ offense off the field and hide their below-average defense. If the Cowboys have their way, however, it’s likely game over for the Birds.
It won’t be easy for the Eagles to stop the Cowboys’ biggest strength. Philadelphia’s best run-stopper, Bennie Logan, has been ruled out for this game. Still, the Eagles have enough talented defensive linemen to have a fighting chance. Philadelphia dominated the line of scrimmage last week against Minnesota. Facing the Cowboys’ offensive line will be a much tougher challenge, but the feeling here is the Eagles’ run defense can at least prevent Dallas from running totally wild on them.
I agree, BLG, but I think Dallas will get close. While the Eagles have only allowed more than 94 rushing yards twice this year, the Cowboys haven’t been held to less than 180 yards since the second week of the season. In their most recent game, Dallas ran for 191 yards against the top-ranked run defense in the NFL as Green Bay still allows just 3.1 yards per carry after giving up 5.8 to the Cowboys.
I anticipate a more disciplined Eagles defense than what we saw against Washington, but Dallas also has a better offensive line and a better feature back. I’ll go with around 140 rushing yards for the Cowboys.
BLG: Eagles 30, Cowboys 27.
This game has the makings of a barn-burner. The Cowboys are a one-point loss away from being 6-0. The Eagles are a one-point loss away from being 5-1. Wentz versus Prescott. Philadelphia versus Dallas. Sunday Night Football with the whole nation watching. It doesn’t get much better than this.
The Cowboys are favored to win this game, and reasonably so. Their offense has been great. Prescott is playing much better than anyone would have expected heading into this season. He has no shortage of quality receiving options with the likes of Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Cole Beasley. Elliott is a dynamic rusher with star potential. Dallas has a strong offensive line which helps pave the way for all of their success.
While Philadelphia’s defense hasn’t been perfect this season, Schwartz’s unit has played very well at times. The Eagles actually rank No. 1 overall in defensive DVOA as determined by Football Outsiders. The Birds are tied for seventh in yards per play allowed. The Cowboys’ offense against the Eagles’ defense should be a “great matchup,” as Schwartz dubbed it.
Shutting down the Cowboys’ offense entirely isn’t realistic, but if the Eagles can merely hold Dallas in check, Philadelphia’s offense should have opportunities to score. The Cowboys’ defense can be exploited. Wentz could really bounce back to early season form this week.
This should be a great game between two NFC East rivals. It could come down to the last minute and I’ll give the Eagles the edge because they figure to be the most desperate team. Dropping down to 4-3 overall and 0-2 in the division is far from ideal. Philadelphia has typically played well on the road in this rivalry in recent history. The Eagles are 5-1 in their last six games at AT&T Stadium. They just might be able to extend that record to 6-1 on Sunday night.
Josh: Cowboys 27, Eagles 23.
BLG, I haven’t accurately predicted the outcome of an Eagles game since Week 2, so you made a wise decision to go the opposite way of me. I’m taking the Cowboys, though, because I think the Eagles will have trouble slowing down Elliott. It wouldn’t surprise me if missed tackles plague the Birds — as they did against Washington — and I think Dallas will be efficient on the ground as they control the clock.
On the other side of the ball, I still expect Wentz to have a good game; I’m just not sure he’ll have enough help to win a relatively high-scoring game. Halapoulivaati Vaitai took a significant step forward against the Vikings after a rough debut in Washington, but even players in the Eagles locker room acknowledge the challenge young offensive linemen face on the road. Especially with the Cowboys pre-snap movement and slanting and angling, it will be harder for Vaitai to come off the ball well as he peeks inside at the football on the silent snap count.
But at the end of the day, it’s particularly difficult to predict how rivalry games will go. You’d think the Cowboys have an advantage because they’re playing at home, but as you alluded to, BLG, that hasn’t been the case recently. Chip Kelly won all of his road games against the Cowboys and lost all of his home ones, so does it really matter that the game is being played in Texas?
One thing I definitely agree with: This should be a fun one to watch.