Heading in to what amounts to a must win scenario, here are a few things to watch for as the Dallas Cowboys host the Philadelphia Eagles.
It’s not exactly an optimal situation. Here are the 2017 Dallas Cowboys. It’s not even Thanksgiving and they already are playing in a must win game. Yet, here we are.
Sunday night, 7:30 PM CST, the Dallas Cowboys host the Philadelphia Eagles on NBC in what amounts to their last ditch effort at winning the division. The Eagles come in as hot as one team can be, owners of the best record in football. The Cowboys, nine games in, are still trying to find their way through disappointing play, injuries and suspensions.
As one former player who played for both teams once said, “Getcha popcorn ready!”
At the time of this writing, it is pretty evident that linebacker Sean Lee will miss this game. That’s not a good thing for Dallas as the disparity in points allowed with and without Lee is cavernous.
In ten quarters of football, Dallas has allowed 87 points minus their star linebacker. In six games with Lee on the field, the Cowboys have allowed a total of 108 points. Here’s something even more problematic. The Eagles just so happen to be the second highest scoring team in the NFL.
On the other side of the ball, it is still up in the air as to whether or not left tackle Tyron Smith will be active due to a groin injury.
The Cowboys, themselves, are no slouches when it comes to putting up points, averaging 29.1 per game when Smith plays. In the one game he missed due to injury, Dallas scored seven points and allowed eight sacks. You don’t need me to tell you that is not good.
So, how can two teams seemingly going in very opposite directions provide a game worth watching? Here are some things to watch for in this divisional matchup in primetime.
- In order for the Dallas Cowboys to have a chance, they will need to avoid a hot start by the Eagles. In Philadelphia’s three blowout victories, the games were over by halftime. Against the Broncos, Philadelphia led 17-3 at the end of the first quarter and 31-9 at halftime. They were up 17-0 on San Francisco at the half and had Arizona down 21-0 by the end of the first quarter.
Dallas, meanwhile, has shown a propensity to start slow. If they do so tonight, they will lose.
- Dallas has built their offense around a strong run game that dominates the clock and wears down their opponent. Unfortunately, not only is Smith likely not going to play but obviously the Cowboys will be without star running back Ezekiel Elliott. That alone would cause a problem.
Add to that is the fact that Philadelphia owns the league’s best run defense and you can see how this becomes quite the challenge. Dallas cannot afford to abandon the run but they also can’t continue to try if it does not work.
If it means anything, Philadelphia has only faced two top 12 rushing attacks. One of those games resulted in their only loss. The other game was won because their opponent’s quarterback threw three interceptions, two of which were inside their own 20-yard line. With Dallas having the second best rush attack in the NFL, their success or lack thereof will be a key in this game.
- If the Cowboys cannot find success running, attacking the Eagles in the air isn’t a bad second option. Philadelphia has the seventh worst pass defense in the league while Dallas does have weaponry. Ultimately, Dak Prescott will need time to dissect the defense, something he had none of last week. Replacing Chaz Green with Byron Bell at left tackle should at least provide some improvement.
I don’t believe anyone is disillusioned enough to think that the Dallas Cowboys can show up tonight, play uninspired and manage to be victorious. The Eagles likely represent the biggest challenge Dallas has had to face in 2017. Injuries and suspensions make it even more difficult to task to accomplish.
Can the Dallas Cowboys win tonight? Yes, but only if they play a near perfect game. With their playoff lives on the line and a divisional foe in front of them, they should not lack for motivation. We’ll see if that’s enough.