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Spadaro: 6 storylines to follow vs. Cowboys

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

Beyond the obvious theme of the latest installment of Eagles-Cowboys, The Rivalry, the fact is that Saturday's NFC East battle is one that involves two very good football teams that have a lot of similarities: Star power across the board, high-powered offenses, defenses that take the football away, and aspirations that clearly extend beyond the regular season.

There is a lot on the line for this one, with Gardner Minshew starting at quarterback, having a chance to lead the Eagles to a victory that would clinch the NFC's top playoff seed and, with that, the NFC East title. This is a highly anticipated, nationally televised game that has some juicy storylines that extend beyond Minshew, making his first start of the 2022 season. Let's get into them right now ...

1. The Dallas offense is a handful

Since quarterback Dak Prescott returned to the lineup in Week 7, the Cowboys have been a potent offense. The Cowboys have converted 56 percent of the time on third down, lead the league in offensive points per game (33.9), and are second in yards per game (408.4). They've averaged 38.3 points per game in the last three weeks, so the Cowboys have something really potent cooking. The Eagles have been outstanding on defense this season – second in total defense, first in pass defense – but this is going to be a huge challenge.

Prescott has weapons in the passing game with CeeDee Lamb, who has 81 receptions for 1,087 yards and 6 touchdowns this season, Noah Brown (40-533-3), tight end Dalton Schultz (43-445-3), and a new addition, veteran T.Y. Hilton. The running game is lethal with Tony Pollard (969 yards, 9 touchdowns, 5.5 yards per carry) and Ezekiel Elliott (774 yards, 10 touchdowns, 4.1 yards per carry) providing some lightning and thunder. Dallas has veteran tackle Tyron Smith back and he played on the right side at Jacksonville and played well.

Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon will have a great plan, as he's had all season. But how much of this offense can you take away? Gannon noted that the Cowboys have stayed on schedule offensively, so a key will be finding a way to get Dallas behind the sticks in the early downs and then pressuring Prescott in passing situations. Which leads to ...

2. Philadelphia has five players with 6 or more quarterback sacks

This is really important, because offensive coordinators know they can't zero in on so many pass-rush threats. The Eagles have had great production from multiple threats all season and that's a must for Saturday's game. Prescott was sacked three times by Jacksonville on Sunday, but he's only been sacked 12 times in the nine games he has played. And while the sack total isn't the most telling stat for this game, pressuring Prescott is going to be vital.

The Eagles have generated a ton of pressure this season and they lead the league with 55 quarterback sacks. They're playing an offense that, despite giving the football away at key moments last week and in recent games, has been largely on point for long stretches of times. Philadelphia can't give Prescott a comfortable pocket and time to throw. The front seven has to win on Saturday. An interesting statistic to digest: Even with all of these points scored, Prescott has an interception percentage of 3.9 percent (for comparison, Jalen Hurts is at 1.2%) this year. That's way too high and out of character for him. He's thrown 7 interceptions in the last 4 games.

3. These two teams live on the turnover ratio

The Eagles lead the NFL with a plus-12 giveaway/takeaway number and Dallas is No. 2 at plus-9. In the first meeting between the teams, the Eagles picked off quarterback Cooper Rush three times and turned those takeaways into 10 points. The Eagles were plus-3 in that game and, obviously, that made all the difference on the scoreboard. It's really very simple and it is something that both teams have been the best in the league at doing this season: Turnovers decide football games. Win this key statistic.

4. Hold them to field goals in the red zone – easier said than done

Again, a second category in which the Eagles and Cowboys rank 1-2, respectively, in the NFL is touchdown efficiency in the red zone. The Eagles score touchdowns on 73.47 percent of their trips inside opponents' 20-yard lines and Dallas checks in with a 71.74 percent touchdown rate. In these kinds of games, it can come down to one possession. That's sometimes all it takes.

5. How can the Eagles neutralize Micah Parsons?

Eagles fans have circled Micah Parsons as the No. 1 Cowboys villain, but we all also recognize what a game-changing player he is. In the Week 6 battle, Parsons had 7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 2 passes defensed, so the Eagles did an excellent job minimizing his impact even with right tackle Lane Johnson lost for the game to injury after just 34 snaps. Jack Driscoll came in and did an excellent job and the Eagles did the work scheming to take away Parsons in the pass-rush game.

But the man also has 13 sacks and Minshew, while an athletic guy, isn't the same level as Jalen Hurts. Few are. What do the Eagles do to take away Parsons and the Dallas pass rush that, by the way, has struggled with only one sack in the last two games? It bears watching, for sure.

6. The Dallas run defense has been challenged

Jacksonville last week: 27 carries, 192 yards. Houston, the week before: 37 carries, 114 yards. Dallas is tied for 24th in the NFL in run defense, allowing 133 yards per game. Their big, run-stuffing defensive tackle, Johnathan Hankins, suffered an injury in the game against Houston and is gone for the season. Leading tackler, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who covers sideline to sideline and who is always around the football, is injured and won't play in this game.

The Eagles won't have the Hurts element in the running game, but the running game can certainly still be very good. The Eagles ran for 185 yards and a touchdown when Minshew subbed for Hurts last season in the win at the New York Jets. Miles Sanders is a Pro Bowl back. He's going to get some touches here, perhaps. The Eagles will lean on that big, strong offensive line as they have the entire season.

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