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Lawlor: Things To Evaluate In Sunday's Cowboys-Eagles Showdown

Posted Dec 30, 2017

The regular-season finale against Dallas will be unlike any other game this year. The Eagles will play their starters, but probably not for the full game. Dallas will play its starters, but nothing is on the line. The Cowboys are wrapping up a disappointing season. Shame.

The Eagles are going to have some different faces on the field. Cornerback Sidney Jones and quarterback Nate Sudfeld are in line to make their NFL debuts. Defensive end Steven Means will play a decent amount of snaps with Brandon Graham sitting out with an ankle injury.

One thing won't change. Doug Pederson's message to the team will be the same as it has been all season.

Play hard. Be physical. Be aggressive. Win the week.

The Eagles have been a consistent team all year long. There have been no letdown games. The only losses were at Kansas City and at Seattle, winning teams and two of the toughest places to play in the entire league. The Eagles played hard whether facing a playoff team like the Rams or a struggling team like the Bears. Effort and focus have been there all year long.

Pederson was asked if this was essentially a preseason game. Both teams will be looking at some young guys and the result of the game won't have any definitive meaning. Pederson said he's preparing the Eagles the same way he has all year.

The preseason question is interesting because Pederson is 6-2 in those exhibition games over the last two years. Anytime his team takes the field, the goal is to win. His team is prepared and it plays hard. The consistency of his approach has helped this team play well all season long.

Let's look at the new guys. Jones was put on the 53-man roster on Saturday. He has been practicing for several weeks and the Eagles must have liked what they saw. He hasn't played a game since last December 31, when he was in a bowl game with the Washington Huskies. There is bound to be some rust. The Eagles will have to figure out if Jones is ready to be on the field in the playoffs or if he needs more work.

Sudfeld played in preseason games with the Redskins the past two summers, but he has never played in a regular-season game. The Eagles want him to get some snaps for a couple of reasons. First, he's the team's backup quarterback and any experience can help him.

The Eagles also want to see how he does. Sudfeld is a young player whom the Eagles like. Seeing him in action will give them a better feel for whether he's worth keeping around in the future or if they should look for another young developmental quarterback in the offseason.

Most of the game will be played by regular starters. There just aren't enough roster spots for the team to rest all of their key players and put backups on the field. While there is nothing tangible on the line, this is a rivalry game and you can bet the Eagles will play to win. The Cowboys might be a mediocre team this year, but you always want to beat the guys with the star on their helmets.

The challenge for the defense will be shutting down Ezekiel Elliott. He missed the first Eagles-Cowboys game due to his suspension. Elliott ran for 97 yards last week and you know he would love to have a big game to close out the season.

The Eagles have the No. 1 run defense in the NFL and they want to keep that ranking. They'll have to get penetration and tackle well if they want to limit Elliott. He is a strong, athletic runner who is hard to tackle when he gets going. If the Eagles can get to him at or behind the line of scrimmage, Elliott will be less effective.

It is hard to know what to expect from the Dallas passing game. Dak Prescott has had a disappointing season. To give you an idea of his struggles, Carson Wentz has thrown a touchdown pass more recently than Prescott, not including his pick-six against Seattle last week. That's not good.

Interceptions have been a major problem. Prescott has been picked off 13 times. Last year, he did a great job of protecting the ball. This season has been completely different.

The Eagles' pass defense struggled two weeks ago and then played much better on Monday night. Double moves still were a problem a couple of times. You can bet Dallas will use the slant and go "Sluggo" route a few times, hoping the Eagles bite on the fake.

Nick Foles and the Eagles' offense will be looking for a much better showing than how they played against the Raiders. The Eagles only converted on third down once in that game in 14 tries. That has to change. Foles must be sharper. The offense must be better as a whole.

Alshon Jeffery didn't have a catch last week. I would expect the Eagles to target him on the first series. He is the team's best receiver and is someone you want to get the ball to early and often.

Stefen Wisniewski will return at left guard. Chance Warmack was solid in his absence, but Wisniewski is the better player so that should give the offensive line a boost. The Eagles ran for 215 yards in the first Cowboys game, with the line playing really well. I'm sure Pederson would love a repeat performance.

Pederson will likely pull his key players at some point. He doesn't have a specific plan. He wants to see how they play. The goal is for them to get some work in, play well, and then come out.

There is a risk-reward consideration here. You don't want to expose players to potential injuries, but you also want to win in the postseason. Too much time off could get them out of rhythm. Consistency has been a strength of the Eagles all year. You don't want to change what you do this week. You want the players to continue to do the things that have worked all year long.

Pederson has had a great feel for what buttons to push with this team. I trust him to make the right decisions on Sunday.

A year ago, it was Dallas pulling its starters and the Eagles battling all game long. This year, it's the Eagles' turn. One big difference is that the Eagles are at home, where they haven't lost this year. The guys in green will do everything they can to win, no matter who is in the game.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the editor of IgglesBlitz.com.

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