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Spadaro: 6 key matchups to watch vs. Cowboys

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

All week, the coaches of both the Eagles and Cowboys have been looking for ways to attack weak spots and create favorable matchups and we will see on Sunday night just how all that work manifests into a game plan. There certainly are plenty of intriguing battles, with two talented teams taking the Lincoln Financial Field stage in this NFC East showdown. With that, let's take a look at some of the things we'll be watching ...

1. Eagles offensive line vs. Cowboys edge pressure

This is not to slight what the Cowboys do inside, because their up-the-middle defense is stout and very good as well. It's just that Dallas is special off the edge with DeMarcus Lawrence, with Dorance Armstrong, and with, of course, the great Micah Parsons. Philadelphia has strong offensive tackles in Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata, who missed Sunday's game in Arizona and who has been limited in practice this week. Philadelphia has some injury question marks with left guard Landon Dickerson limited in practice and center Jason Kelce dealing with an ankle injury, so it's worth monitoring how that group collectively holds up through the weekend and then when the game begins.

No question the Eagles have to win here against a Dallas front that will use stunts to create pressure. Parsons will move up and down the line of scrimmage and he must be accounted for on every snap. Lawrence is having an outstanding season with three quarterback sacks in five games. Armstrong doesn't get a lot of attention from the media, but he's a really good player off the edge. There are many reasons Dallas has allowed only one touchdown per game in each of the five weeks of this season, and it all starts up front. This is a huge test for the Eagles.

2. Eagles WRs A.J. Brown/DeVonta Smith vs. Cowboys CBs Trevon Diggs/Anthony Brown

Dallas did a good job against Smith in the Week 3 matchup last season, limiting him to 3 receptions and 28 yards with Diggs having primary coverage responsibility. A big-play cornerback who had 11 interceptions, two returned for touchdowns in 2021, Diggs has two picks in five games. He is also not giving up the big play, as was sometimes the case last year, so in his third season, Diggs has become one of the NFL's top cover players. He and Brown have to work against not only Smith, who is coming off a 10-catch game in Arizona, but also Brown, who can do it all. This is just a terrific matchup as the Eagles look to establish the passing game. The offensive line has to give quarterback Jalen Hurts time to throw the ball and Hurts has to be on point against two sticky cornerbacks who are aggressive, confident, and very sure in their assignments.

3. Cowboys RG Zack Martin vs. Eagles DT rotation

One of the game's best guards, Martin will see a variety of Eagles defensive tackles, including veteran Fletcher Cox and rookie Jordan Davis. Martin is strong, savvy, and very technically sound. He's been the rock for a Dallas offensive line that has overcome some injuries and defections to still play very good football. Philadelphia wants to put pressure on quarterback Cooper Rush and the idea of collapsing the pocket from the inside/out works. To do that, the Eagles have to win against Martin. He's coming off a dominating performance against a Rams front that features Aaron Donald, so Martin and the interior of the Dallas line is playing at a top level.

4. The turnover/catastrophic play department

Philadelphia has turned the football over only two times in five games and that's a promising number going into a game against a team that has thrived in sudden plays. In the win over the Rams on Sunday, Dallas had a fumble recovery for a touchdown to open the game and then on the next possession, blocked a Rams punt and turned that into a field goal and a quick 9-0 lead in Los Angeles. While Rush has been efficient and has done a fine job managing the offense, he has directed one touchdown drive in each of the four starts he has made. Dallas has done a great job taking the football away – the Cowboys have a +5 in the giveaway/takeaway department – and in taking advantage of short fields.

Ball security on offense and being airtight on special teams are really important features in this contest. The Eagles lead the NFL with a +9 in the turnover department and Dallas is tied for second. That kind of edge has made a very large difference for Dallas as the Cowboys have overcome the loss of starting quarterback Dak Prescott.

5. Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb vs. Eagles CB Darius Slay

It is more than CeeDee Lamb vs. Darius Slay here, because the Cowboys have a wide receiver group that took a big leap forward last week with the return of Michael Gallup, who missed the opening four games of the season with a knee injury. Dallas has also gotten contributions from speedster Noah Brown, who is not to be overlooked here. The Eagles have gotten terrific play from Slay and James Bradberry on the outside in coverage and from Avonte Maddox and Josiah Scott from the nickel position. Don't sleep on the Dallas wide receivers. We've seen how dangerous Lamb is – he is a complete wide receiver – and the return of Gallup changes the dynamic of this pass-catching group.

6. Eagles run defense vs. Cowboys RBs Ezekiel Elliott/Tony Pollard

Isn't there always a focus on Elliott, who has rushed for 971 yards and 4 touchdowns, averaging 4.8 yards per carry, in his 10 games against Philadelphia (Elliott is 8-2 against the Eagles). He is part of a "Thunder and Lightning" duo along with Tony Pollard, who busted off a 57-yard touchdown run against Los Angeles. Pollard is averaging 5.7 yards per carry this season. He's a game-breaker. Dallas wants to use both players in the run and the pass game, so it's a huge responsibility for linebackers T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White as well. The Eagles can't let the duo of Elliott and Pollard dictate to them on Sunday night. If Dallas wants to play small ball, the Eagles need to find a way to shut that down and put the pressure on Rush to make big plays in the passing game.

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