By Matt Szczypiorski, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
Well, this is it. The Eagles have somehow stayed alive long enough to make it to this game with it still holding significant meaning.
It's as simple as this: win this game, you control your own destiny and take sole possession of first place in the NFC East. Lose this game, and you’ll be watching your most-hated rival celebrate their division title in your house.
When the schedule first came out, everyone circled this game and said this would be for the division. We were right, we just didn’t realize how pathetic both teams would be.
I am a lot more confident in the Birds today than I was at the beginning of the week. Whether that has to do with me getting caught up in the whole hoopla of the week or the actual football aspect still remains to be seen.
But c’mon, how could you not get lost in the aura of the game when the Eagles tweet out videos like this.
Eagles Offense vs. Cowboys Defense
The Eagles somehow, some way, scored 31 points last week. How they did that with some of the dudes they had out there is beyond me. There were some things that I noticed in last week's game.
1: Carson Wentz is clutch. In the fourth quarter last week, Wentz didn’t throw an incompletion and led a game-winning drive. He rebounded from a near critical mistake when he fumbled in Washington territory, and led an incredible drive that culminated in an electric touchdown to Greg Ward Jr.
2: Let’s talk about Mr. Ward. Greg, you beautiful son of a gun, where have you been all season? How this guy was stuck on the practice squad all season while JJ Butterfingers Arcega-Whiteside remained on the roster is totally beyond me.
Wentz went to Greg Ward in the clutch multiple times, and he delivered. If he wasn’t wide stinkin’ open in the middle of the field, he was making great catches to win the game. My #84 midnight green Ward Jr. jersey is currently in the mail.
3: Miles Sanders is a heckuva lot better than we thought. There were multiple plays on Sunday that Sanders made and left me wondering how in the world he did it. Whether it was his incredible speed, his nasty juke moves, or his ability to get his buttcheeks down in the back right corner of the end zone, I was constantly impressed by the Penn State product.
This week against Dallas it is absolutely imperative that the offense shows up. I know that the Eagles have considered it treason to the highest degree for the offense and defense to both play well at the same time this season, but it’s going to have to happen.
This Cowboys defense is vulnerable. They are not as good as we had originally anticipated they would be. They can be scored on.
Wentz is going to have to play another great game and hold on to the football. Miles Sanders is probably going to be the main guy in the backfield again, as Jordan Howard is unsurprisingly still hurt. Boston Scott and Greg Ward, keep doing what you’ve been doing.
Expect Zach Ertz to be heavily relied on yet again. The last two weeks, the Eagles have force fed Ertz the football and boy has it worked. Ertz has embraced the workload and has been nearly uncoverable. Big time players make big time plays in big time games. Eight catches minimum for 86 on Sunday if the Eagles want to win.
Pederson has been so much better the last two weeks with calling plays. He’s back to being his old self, as he’s calling plays that have me going “No no no no Doug what kind of play call is tha-....wait yes yes yes Doug great call.” Exhibit A: the draw plays to Sanders on two different third and longs. The play worked both times, and one of them Sanders took for 50 yards.
Don’t look now, but Doug might just have his mojo back. Jason Garrett is shaking in his boots.
Dallas’ defense is certainly above average in terms of their season stats, and they played very well last week against a good Rams offense. Make no mistake about it, though, this isn’t the ‘85 Bears. They can be scored on.
The Cowboys defense ranks seventh in yards allowed per game (323.6), 12th in points allowed (20.6), and eighth in passing yards allowed per game (220). They don’t necessarily have a weakness, but they aren’t dominant in any particular area either. If the Eagles offense performs how they did last week, they should be successful.
Injury Report: Cowboys at Eagles
Eagles Defense vs. Cowboys Offense
Here we go again with this defense. This defense’s inconsistency is so beyond frustrating. How can you play so well against the Patriots and Seahawks and then be ripped to shreds by Dwayne Haskins, who is a turnover machine, and a 53-year-old Adrian Peterson.
Does anyone know the whereabouts of Asante Samuel, Lito Sheppard or Troy Vincent? Can they play cornerback for us this week? Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby can’t cover a blanket. Neither of them can tackle. Mills gets flagged any time he’s covering a deep route or it’s a key third down. I cannot stand either one of them.
The defensive line is confusing. They play the run game very well. They get pressure pretty consistently, but I feel like they should be getting more sacks with all the pressure they get. Yet, they don’t.
Jim Schwartz’s defense is predicated on the defensive line getting to the quarterback and controlling the line of scrimmage. They need to make their presence felt and get in Prescott’s face all day. Dallas’ offensive line is very good, so it will be a challenge.
The good news: they can’t play any worse than they did in the first match-up, when the Cowboys offensive line treated the Eagles d-line like a high school junior varsity squad.
In order for the Eagles to win this game, the defense is going to have to keep everything in front of them. The Cowboys have torched this secondary with big plays over the top for the last two years, which is part of the reason they’ve won every game during that span. Lucky for the Eagles, that could be a non-factor on Sunday.
The reason why: Dak Prescott isn’t 100% healthy. I realize he’s not listed on the injury report. However, when a quarterback has a shoulder injury, especially to the AC joint, that is going to affect how they play.
To further convince you that this could be an issue, here are the air yards on Prescott’s 11 throws after he hurt his shoulder last Sunday: 6, 2, -3, 0, 1, -1, 4, -2, 2, -4, -2. Not one throw past six yards. That, my good friends who read this, says a lot. Numbers never lie baby.
After the Dak to Tavon Austin TD Sunday vs the Rams (made it 14-7), Prescott threw 11 passes the rest of the game.— 𝐃𝐚𝐧 𝐑𝐨𝐜𝐡𝐞 (@RochesRWinners) December 19, 2019
Total air yards of those throws, related to the LOS: Three.
6, 2, -3, 0, 1, -1, 4, -2, 2, -4, -2.
So, if Prescott’s shoulder limits him to making a lot of short throws, that’s advantage: Eagles all day.
With Prescott not 100%, expect the Cowboys to rely even more heavily on running back Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott has given the Birds fits ever since he’s been in the league. In the last match-up in week seven, Elliott rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles need to hold the Cowboys rushing attack under 100 yards if they want to win on Sunday.
If Philly stops the run, that will force Prescott to throw the ball more. As I’ve already mentioned, that could give the Eagles a huge advantage.Unless, of course, the defense forgets how to tackle again.
The Cowboys have a good group of receivers. Amari Cooper has already hurt Eagles fan’s feelings enough over the past two years, so I don't really need to go into detail on him. Michael Gallup is very similar to Cooper in terms of skill set, and has good speed. He just has issues with dropping the ball. Randall Cobb is a consistent player out of the slot, and I’m honestly surprised Dallas doesn’t use him more.
At tight end the Cowboys have Blake Jarwin, who is pretty good. Dallas just doesn’t throw him the ball a lot. And then there’s Jason Witten. This (expletive) guy. He is guaranteed to have a three-yard touchdown where he is somehow wide open in the end zone. He’s been killing the Eagles for years and years and it is so frustrating because he just looks so slow and unathletic. He’s so annoying.
Folks, this game is going to be tighter than your favorite shirt from high school. I am so torn on this game. Every time I convince myself that the Eagles could definitely win this game, I just imagine Ezekiel Elliott leaping over Nathan Gerry or Amari Cooper running right past Jalen Mills.
I think that this game being in Philadelphia is a significant advantage for the Eagles. The crowd will be rowdy from the time Dak screws up the coin toss all the way until triple zeros. I also feel like the Cowboys hate playing in the cold. Another advantage for the Eagles. The Eagles are coming off of two huge, team-defining wins, albeit against two truly horrible teams.
I just don’t know. This game could legitimately go in any direction. I could see it being close throughout, but I can also imagine a scenario where it turns into a blowout for either side.
I will, with great regret, caution and extreme hesitation, take the Eagles to win 27-24. The game will be close throughout, and the defense gets off to a horrible start. Tavon Austin will probably score on some stupid trick play at some point. Not to be outdone, Pederson dials up a trick play of his own.
Mr. Greg Ward Jr., the former college quarterback, finally gets to show off his arm and throws a touchdown pass as his legend grows. Carson Wentz is playing in one of the biggest games of his young career, and he delivers with a huge game. Miles Sanders and Boston Scott continue to be a dominant tandem. Zach Ertz does Zach Ertz things, catching nine balls and breaking zero tackles while running in quicksand (but it works!). The Eagles defense holds as Rodney McLeod seals the game with an interception of Prescott on the Cowboys final possession.
The Birds have the inside track to the NFC East crown.
the sentiment remains the same for the Mavericks don’t get it twisted pic.twitter.com/FthanGNlG9— Jeff McDevitt (@JeffMcDev) December 20, 2019
Time: 4:25 p.m.
TV: FOX (Joe Buck and Troy Aikman; plan accordingly)
Radio: 94.1 FM WIP
Online: NFL Gamepass