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Lawlor: A Lot Is On The Line Sunday Night


The Eagles are in Dallas for a huge NFC East matchup tonight. Both teams have the same goal, but for very different reasons. The Cowboys are desperate to help their fight for a playoff spot. The Eagles want to tighten their grip on the NFC East. A win by the Eagles gives them a four-game lead with only six to go. That would pretty much lock things up and leave Dallas in a tough battle for one of the Wild Card spots.

There is a lot on the line for a game in mid-November.

Many will focus on the quarterbacks in this game. Dak Prescott had an amazing rookie season and is playing well again this year. Carson Wentz had a solid rookie season but has taken a huge step forward this year. He is the front-runner for MVP as of now. Both players are stars and look like they will be good rivals for years to come.

Prescott benefited from a strong supporting cast and a lot of favorable circumstances last year. He made the most of that and posted some crazy numbers. The question many have had with him is how he would fare when things didn't go his way. He played without his elite left tackle and star running back last week and the results weren't good. Prescott threw for just 176 yards and Dallas only scored seven points. The lone touchdown came after an interception gave them the ball at the 21-yard line.

There will be a ton of pressure on Prescott tonight, literally and figuratively. If the Cowboys want to have a chance to win, Prescott needs to be great. He must carry that team on his back, making plays and avoiding mistakes. The Eagles watched the tape of Atlanta sacking Prescott eight times and now they want a shot to pound on the Dallas quarterback. Jim Schwartz will turn his guys loose and expect a big day from the defensive line.

The Cowboys started Chaz Green at left tackle last week and he struggled so badly that he was benched. Byron Bell took over late in the game and is expected to start this week. Smith has missed a couple of weeks of practice and isn't close to 100 percent. It doesn't feel like he's going to play.

Bell has a lot more experience than Green, but neither of them is a natural left tackle. Vinny Curry and Derek Barnett, the usual right defensive ends, have to be licking their chops. Bell could have the game of his life, but Smith is arguably the best left tackle in football. Going against Bell should make life a lot easier.

The Dallas coaches didn't provide a lot of help for the left tackles last week. They weren't using tight ends to block very much. They didn't have running backs chip often. They didn't seem to adjust the overall game plan and that backfired in a major way. They won't repeat that mistake. I don't know exactly what the plan will be, but they won't leave Bell out there without help play after play.

The big X-factor here is the run game obviously. If Dallas can run the ball, that changes everything. The problem is that they are without their best blocker and their star runner. Oh yeah, the Cowboys are also facing the best run defense in the league. The Eagles give up just 66 yards a game. The number two team, Carolina, gives up almost 81 yards a game. That is a big difference and should tell you just how amazing the Eagles' run defense is this year.

If Schwartz can have his guys shut down the Dallas run game, the Cowboys could be in for a real long night. They have to help Bell out in pass protection and just have four receivers going out or they can take a chance with Bell on his own and put five receivers out on pass routes. Those are not ideal options.

The Eagles' offense also factors into this. They have done a great job this year of scoring points early in the game to give the team a lead. If you can build a lead and force Dallas to play from behind, you can dictate some of the offensive strategy. They can't run the ball and stay conservative if they trail by a couple of scores.

Wentz and the offense catch a major break. Linebacker Sean Lee is out this week. He is the heart and soul of the Dallas defense. Safety Jeff Heath is also likely out as he's in the concussion protocol. That takes away a couple of starters from the middle of the field, an area the Eagles are good at attacking.

I'm excited to see how much Jay Ajayi plays. He has had a couple of weeks to learn the playbook and get up to full speed on the offense. Ajayi is the kind of athletic, physical runner you want to use to test the Dallas linebackers. If the defenders aren't in the right gap or fail to make a tackle, he can turn a short gain into a big play. His burst makes him dangerous as we all saw in the Denver game.

This is also another week for Wentz to feed the ball to his tight ends. Zach Ertz is back after sitting out a game and he is deadly in the middle of the field. Dallas might put Byron Jones on him. That could free up the wide receivers to make plays. You also don't want to overlook Trey Burton and Brent Celek. They were terrific against the Broncos.

The Eagles' offensive line played its best game of the year the last time out against the Broncos. The linemen would love to build on that. The Cowboys have a couple of good pass rushers in David Irving and Demarcus Lawrence so keeping those guys blocked won't be easy.

Wentz has been red hot recently, throwing 17 touchdowns over the last five games. The Cowboys have struggled at times with their pass defense. Opposing quarterbacks have a rating of over 96 against them. That's not good. Wentz and his receivers should have a chance to make plays.

This is a game the Eagles should win. As with all division games and rivalry games, you never know for sure what will happen. This Eagles team just feels different than teams from the past. They seem to live in the moment and I think they will be completely focused on beating the Cowboys.

Never count your turkeys before they hatch, but I think this will be a happy Thanksgiving week in Philadelphia.

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

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