A loss would drop the Eagles to 4-3 and the team could possibly be in last place in the division. That's quite a difference in outcomes. I think you can see why this is such an important game.
There is no such thing as a "must-win game" in October and I'm not trying to imply that's the case here. A win doesn't guarantee the Eagles anything long term and a loss doesn't mean the season is over. This game is important because it affects the next month or so. 5-2 gives you breathing room. 4-3 means your back is against the wall.
The Eagles have some tough games ahead of them. It would really help to go into that stretch with some cushion in the standings and some confidence on the field. If not, every third down, red zone trip and field goal attempt is going to feel like a huge play. Pressure like that can bring out the best in some teams, but the Eagles have a rookie quarterback, rookie head coach and new schemes. This feels like the kind of team that is best when it is loose and comfortable.
The 2008 Eagles had Andy Reid, Jim Johnson, Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Brian Dawkins. They hovered around .500 until December and that pressure made things really hard on them. They didn't clinch a playoff berth until winning the season finale in the epic 44-6 beatdown of Dallas (always fun to sneak that into a story). A veteran team like that was able to handle the pressure of a long, grinding season.
While Dallas is hot (five wins in a row) and playing well, this is a winnable game. The Eagles have won five of the last six games in Dallas. Different coaches, quarterbacks and players have all been a part of that. There is just something about that giant star on the field that seems to bring out the best in the Eagles. Many Eagles remain from last year's dramatic 33-27 overtime win in a Sunday night showdown.
The Cowboys have found success using a combination of star runner Ezekiel Elliott and a terrific offensive line. The Cowboys' line has been together for a few years. The Eagles' front seven has battled these guys, winning some and losing some battles. The new guy is Elliott, a dynamic rookie runner. His smooth running style makes it look easy, but don't be fooled. It is rare to find a player with his combination of vision, size, strength, speed and footwork. There is a reason that in the age when running backs are devalued, Elliott was a top-five pick. He is special.
Linebacker play will be huge in this game. Those guys have to be in the right gaps and have to tackle well. It is easy to get out of position when facing the Dallas zone running attack. You have to ignore the flow and play your gap. If not, Elliott can cut to the back side and will have a huge hole to run through. The Eagles' linebackers played their worst game of the year at Washington and then followed that with their best game of the year against the Vikings. Hicks was amazing. He flew all over the field, making his impact felt on run and pass plays. Twenty-five years ago, we had Byron Evans against Emmitt Smith. Now we have Hicks against Elliott. I can't wait to see how Hicks does in this game.
Dallas hasn't faced a defense playing as well as the Eagles this year. Jim Schwartz and his unit will be a huge challenge for the Cowboys. The Eagles have playmakers all over the defense so this isn't as simple as blocking Cox and then running wild. Prescott has played with the lead for most of the year and has only thrown more than 32 passes in a game once. The Eagles are tied for first in sacks per game in the NFL. Prescott hasn't faced any other team in the top five. This pass rush will be something he's just not used to.
Cole Beasley and Jason Witten are the team's leading receivers. They do a great job of working the middle of the field. The safeties and linebackers will have to work together to shut them down. Dez Bryant will be back on the outside. When healthy, he's one of the best receivers in the league. The Eagles would love to double him, but there will be times when
One of the reasons the Eagles have had so much success in Dallas recently is that they have averaged 29 points per game down there since 2011. That stretch includes different coaches, quarterbacks, runners and receivers. The one constant has been a good offensive line, led by
I'm interested to see how Doug Pederson decides to attack Dallas. The Cowboys have faced the third-fewest plays of any team in the NFL. It would be interesting to come out there and go no-huddle in an attempt to wear them down. The Eagles started slow in road games against Detroit and Washington. They can't afford a slow start on Sunday night. That would play right into the Cowboys' hands. The Eagles must be able to move the chains and keep the ball away from Elliott.
Wentz should have more time to throw than he did the last couple of weeks. If that happens, he needs to get back to making some big plays in the passing game. The Eagles have tried to get chunk plays in recent games, but something has been off, whether it's the throw, catch or blocking. This is a game where there should be some plays available. Wentz needs to be smart and then make accurate throws. He was very good in the second half last week after a wildly up and down opening 30 minutes. When it mattered, Wentz came through with clutch throws and big plays.
Tight ends have had big games against Dallas this year. Maybe this is the week that
The Eagles have played two "big games" this year, beating both the Steelers and Vikings. The Eagles' defense only allowed one late touchdown in those two games combined. Dallas has a far better offensive line than either of those teams, but the Eagles' defense can still have a huge game and lead the team to a win. Wentz and the offense have been up and down in recent weeks. This is a game where they need to get going and score touchdowns.
A win for the Eagles will put them atop the NFC East. It won't guarantee anything long term, but it would put the team in good position as the Eagles head into the middle of the season. Beyond that, it is just fun to watch the Eagles go down to Dallas and beat on the Cowboys. Jerry Jones might pay the rent on that place, but based on results, the Eagles actually own the field. Let's hope four of five turns into five of six and the Eagles come away with a huge win tonight.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com.