The Dallas Cowboys travel to Philadelphia in the biggest NFC East match up in the young NFL season. The Eagles are the only undefeated team in the league and the leaders in the NFC East. With a victory, the Cowboys will take control of the division. They are one game behind.
Can the Dallas Cowboys maintain their momentum with Cooper Rush or will the Eagles end their 4-game winning streak?
The Dallas Cowboys newly discovered blueprint has been pure complementary football with an offense providing timely plays, but led by a defense that many consider to be elite. The Dallas Cowboys defense will be called on once again to do some more heavy lifting in this game. And hopefully, it is the final game before Dak Prescott’s return.
These are my keys to victory for the Dallas Cowboys to win at Lincoln Financial Field.
1. Dallas Cowboys Run Defense
The game is won or lost in the trenches. Sunday night will feature a match between two premier defensive and offensive lines. The Dallas Cowboys defense has not allowed over 19 points in any single game this season and no team has scored over 1 touchdown against them.
The Cowboys’ pass rush has been outstanding as well. They’re terrorizing opposing quarterbacks (41.9 percent pressure rate, 49 quarterback hits, 20 sacks), and they must continue that trend Sunday night.
When healthy, the Eagles have one of the top offensive line units in the league. But coming into this game, the Eagles OL are dealing with injuries up this week. Jordan Mailata, Andre Dillard Jack Driscoll, Landon Dickerson, Jason Kelce and Isaac Seumalo are all banged up.
The Cowboys have not been a great run-stopping defense this season, the Rams game aside. They have allowed 117.6 rushing yards per game.
The Eagles offensive strength has been their effective ground game, averaging 160 rushing yards per game. Dallas must stop the run, and limit Jalen Hurts and Mile Sanders.
A strong day from the rush defense is a must at Lincoln Financial Field.
2. Dallas Cowboys 3rd Down Conversion Rate
Since Cooper Rush has been the starting QB, Dallas has been very run heavy. They have committed to the running game by default, having the highest run rate (running the ball 64.1 percent on first downs) in the league. While the offensive rankings have been far from impressive, the wins have come nonetheless.
The Dallas Cowboys run game has been solid, averaging 116 yards per game, but with a non-threatening passing attack, that is something to be proud of. But it will need more than that in order for the Dallas Cowboys to be successful on Sunday night. The mark should be 160 rushing yards. That will open the passing attacking. Making life easy for Cooper Rush.
If Dallas can keep them under 20 points, a win is within reach.
The Eagles selected Jordan Davis at 13th overall in the NFL draft and he is a load inside. The vast majority of his work is done on first down at 63.7 percent (72 of his 112 defensive snaps).
I can’t forget to mention Javon Hargrave, either. Tyler Biadasz better put on his big boy pants because he is going to have his hands full all game long. Big bodied defensive tackles have been a challenge for him. He will have help, but there will be moments in the game where he will have to deal with Davis or Hargrave one-on-one. My eyes will be on how he performs.
Look for the Eagles to force Dallas into 3rd down and long. The Cowboys 3rd down-offense is ranked at 29th with a 30.9 percent conversion rate.
This is where the Cowboys have truly missed Dak Prescott. Last season, Dallas was 11th in the league, at 43 percent and in 2019 they were second, at 47 percent.
On the opposite side of the coin, the Eagles defense on third downs is poor, they are rank 25th in the NFL. Something has to give.
This may be the week to have a heavier dose of dual running backs in the backfield.
3. Dallas Cowboys QB, Cooper Rush
Last week, The Cowboys won despite Rush throwing for only 102 yards. Dallas will need the Cooper Rush that rode into Minnesota last season in Week 8. He was fantastic, throwing for 325 yards and two touchdowns in that 20-16 win.
I don’t believe he needs to throw for over 300 yards, but he can’t be pedestrian either. That won’t cut it. In fairness, he will need his wide receivers to get over the case of drops and help him produce something like 250 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Last week, not a single RB or TE caught a pass. This week, that must change. Leaning on a heavy dose of 12 personnel would aid the running game and you can deploy the dual rookie TEs to be more than just run blockers. Screens would be another layer, but Dallas is not an effective screen team this season.
4. Defensive turnovers
The Eagles are a good group up front but Micah Parsons needs to produce a monster game. The Eagles will be the most complete offense Dallas will have faced this year. If Dallas can keep them under 20 points, a win is within reach.
Turnovers would assist in shortening the field and flipping the game, but those turnovers must produce touchdowns, not field goals.
Force Jalen Hurts to beat them with his arm and not legs. Opportunities will be there for the secondary if they can contain the Eagles running game.
This will be a huge test. I have no doubts that the Dallas defense will show up, but each week that goes by, the offense is regressing from an overall production stand point.
Without Dak Prescott who can threaten the Eagles, Cooper Rush will have to play the game of his dreams. Rush has played well, all things considered, but the environment in Philadelphia will be like anything he has ever experienced.
A healthy Dak Prescott and the predication is easier to make. Beating the Rams last week was outstanding. The Cowboys are playing with house money. Until someone beats them, I will bet against the odds.
Someway, Dallas steals another one on the road.
Kellen Moore will go into his bag of tricks this week with some misdirection and a gadget play or three to generate a few big plays.
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Ten weeks from now, the rematch will be played in Dallas.
Give me Dallas 24-20