Philadelphia Eagles News

Big Question: Who Is The Cowboys' Biggest Threat?

1. What's the biggest lesson learned from the first meeting?

Dave Spadaro: I guess my biggest lesson learned from the loss on November 11 was that the Eagles need to be at the highest peak possible emotionally to play these kinds of games. That was the most disappointing part of that loss. Think of the circumstances: Just off the bye week, at 4-4, home in front of a national audience, and the Eagles came out ... flat. I just didn't see the energy or the urgency. I need to see that this week because, obviously, the Cowboys lead the division and the Eagles, even with two consecutive wins, are still fighting for their playoff lives. I expect a super-emotional team, one that is focused, one that plays urgent football. Dallas is red hot, very confident, and the best way to take over the game is to come out early and execute and put points on the board and play from ahead.

Fran Duffy: The Eagles have to account for the Dallas linebackers, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. We know that the Dallas defensive line is aggressive and the Cowboys explode upfield at the snap of the ball, but getting bodies up to this 'backer combo will be just as important. Vander Esch, a rookie from Boise State, is excellent laterally and is a very tough, instinctive player. Smith is an explosive athlete who flies sideline to sideline and can be ferocious downhill. The Cowboys have arguably the best young pair of linebackers in the league, and the Eagles will have to try and keep them confused in this matchup. That could be with the screen game, which has been so effective over the last couple of weeks. That could also be with play-action, which was a huge part of the win over Washington. Regardless, the Eagles can't let either of these players wreck the game.

Chris McPherson: If the Eagles can apply what they did Monday night against Washington, start fast and finish strong, then they will be just fine. That wasn't the case at all against the Cowboys. The Eagles trailed early and never led. Then, with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, the defense couldn't get a stop and allowed 14 points in the final 15 minutes. The other key from the first game is maximizing opportunities when they present itself. Kamu Grugier-Hill should have had a pick-six in the first meeting. Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott bailed out the Cowboys with his legs on a couple of third-down chances. This Cowboys team doesn't need extra opportunities to be successful.

2. The Cowboys allowed only 10 points to the Saints. How will the Eagles score?

Fran Duffy: It starts with running the football. Dallas shut down New Orleans' run game by winning one-on-one matchups in the trenches and by running different stunts and twists up front, confusing responsibilities and assignments for the Saints' offensive line. If the Eagles can be efficient on offense and control the clock, something that Dallas did in a HUGE way in that upset over the Saints last week, it will go a long way towards a victory.

Dave Spadaro: The Eagles can score on any team. There are dangerous weapons here. The offensive line is good. Carson Wentz is a top quarterback. The Eagles have established a running game to respect. I think the way to attack Dallas is to throw the football and create favorable matchups and the Eagles can do that with their variety of packages. Yes, the running game is important, so getting out early and giving the ball to Josh Adams and having him follow Lane Johnson (who didn't play in the November 11 game) and Brandon Brooks is a sound plan. I want the ball out of Wentz's hand quickly to negate the speed of the Dallas pass rush and I want to see a shot or two down the field, maybe to Nelson Agholor. This Eagles offense hasn't operated anywhere close to the level we all expected, but it showed signs last week that it's coming. Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert between the numbers and Agholor, Golden Tate and Alshon Jeffery on the outside should have opportunities to make plays.

Chris McPherson: Big plays were had in the first meeting between these two teams. Josh Adams broke off a 29-yard run. Nelson Agholor hauled in a 51-yard pass. Self-inflicted wounds hurt the offense. Going back to Spuds' point earlier about starting fast, the Eagles' offense, in particular, struggled out of the gate in the first meeting. On third-and-long, the Eagles called a screen pass to Golden Tate. Carson Wentz blindly threw the interception to Vander Esch on the second drive. The return of Lane Johnson can't be stated enough. There was a fourth-and-1 run to Adams where he was stuffed because Halapoulivaati Vaitai got pushed back. And going back to Tate, that was his first game as an Eagle. The coaches found the right formula for him Monday night where he wasn't forced into the offense.

3. Who is more of a concern? Ezekiel Elliott or Amari Cooper?

Dave Spadaro: No question that Amari Cooper has helped Dallas in the passing game and provided some balance to the offense, but the biggest concern for this defense is running back Ezekiel Elliott, who dominated in the first meeting. The Eagles need to play with great discipline with their run gaps and they must, must, must tackle well to hold Elliott to a reasonable number. I'm not sure that any defense is going to "shut down" Elliott right now, but the Eagles can contain him by dominating the line of scrimmage. I'll go with Elliott here and say that he's the No. 1 focal point for coordinator Jim Schwartz and his defense this week.

Fran Duffy: I think Zeke is the bigger concern because he's the best back in football, but remember that it's not just him as a runner, but also as a receiver. They've made it more of a point to get him involved through the air this year. Whether it's in the screen game (which is how they scored their touchdown vs. New Orleans), running routes out of the backfield (how he scored at the Linc four games ago), or moving into the slot (where he caught a long pass that helped net an overtime win over Detroit earlier this season), Elliott is a big factor in the passing game.

Chris McPherson: Clearly, it's Elliott. Getting Tim Jernigan would be great – he's questionable with back spasms. But either way, 151 yards on the ground, two total touchdowns including the game-winner in the first meeting. Let's go back to Monday night. Sure, Adrian Peterson had the 90-yard touchdown, but he didn't hit the century mark. Elliott had gains of 35 yards, 32 yards, 18 yards, and 15 yards in this game. Sheesh. Tackling, especially on the perimeter, is of the utmost importance. I thought Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas more than held their own against Peterson last week.

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