It’s all about Dallas now on this short week. The Eagles play a team that turned its season around with a win in Philadelphia one month ago, that is playing with confidence, and that has a one-game lead over the Eagles and Washington at the top of the NFC East.
One game sparked Dallas. The Cowboys have been a different team since beating the Eagles on November 11.
“It seems like our game kind of sparked them, kind of got them going a little bit,” head coach Doug Pederson said on Tuesday. “One thing is, they’re relying on their run game, they’re putting the ball in Zeke’s (Ezekiel Elliott) hands and they’re successful offensively doing that. I think the other thing, when you look at their defense right now, they’re a little more consistent on defense with the guys that they have. They’ve got Jaylon Smith in there and (Leighton) Vander Esch and they’re young, athletic linebackers who are playing well and they’ve got (Randy) Gregory and (DeMarcus) Lawrence coming off the edge and they’re game-wreckers. This defense is playing fast and they’re playing faster than they were a month ago.
“Our work is definitely cut out for us. We have to have a good week of preparation.”
This is a short week, while the Cowboys have been resting since Thursday night’s win over New Orleans. The Eagles must come out fast and get the Cowboys on their heels and be more physical and sound and, simply, play their best game of the season to win on the road. Some thoughts early in the week on the keys to victory …
CONTAIN EZEKIEL ELLIOTT
Second in the NFL with 1,250 rushing yards, Elliott wrecked the Eagles with 151 rushing yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and added six receptions for 36 yards and a score in the November win in South Philadelphia. Elliott is at the top of his game, and the Cowboys are blocking well for him, and the offense revolves around his skills. The Eagles handled Washington’s ground game on Monday night with the exception of the 90-yard touchdown run by Adrian Peterson, so maybe that provides some confidence. What was most impressive about the Eagles’ defense on Monday night was the improved tackling, particularly in the open field.
The Eagles, beleaguered by injuries defensively, have had games in which they tackled very poorly this season. They must be at their best against Dallas. Elliott punished a spotty performance at Lincoln Financial Field and is poised to do the same on Sunday. He’s rested. He’s playing behind an offensive line that is playing well together. The Cowboys are committed to the running game. So … the defensive front seven has its hands full. Pederson said that tackle Tim Jernigan, who did not play Monday night because of back spasms, should be OK for the Cowboys. The Eagles need as many hands on deck as they can possibly have, because Dallas, while not spectacular on offense, is very sound.
WORK THE SCREEN GAME ON OFFENSE
In case you haven’t noticed, the Eagles have something very good going in the screen game with Corey Clement. He gained 47 yards on three screens on Monday night and, as Pederson noted at his Tuesday press conference, had could have had more. The screen game can be a potent weapon and Clement is working in sync with quarterback Carson Wentz and the blockers. There is a fine line as far as leaning on the screen too much, but Pederson has a good feel for when to dial it up. In this week of preparation, Dallas has to account for a screen game that wasn’t being executed at a high level one month ago.
Now it is.
KEEP FEEDING JOSH ADAMS
Playing with a hip injury that flared up a little bit in the days before the Washington game, Josh Adams nonetheless responded with 20 carries for a career-high 85 yards on Monday night. He’s got an interesting style, showing patience and a “glide” to the line of scrimmage before an impressive burst through the hole. And Adams has shown that he can get to the edge and break off big runs – he’s had a long run of 18-plus yards in each of the last five games. Adams is the go-to back and he appears to be ready to continue in that role.
That said, Clement looks to be healthy after battling a quad injury this season and Darren Sproles added a nice spark in the run game. Pederson has been committed to the running game in this two-game winning streak. He’s going to stick with it moving forward.
SPREAD IT AROUND IN THE PASSING GAME
Tight end Zach Ertz is having a record-setting season and he’s been beyond outstanding. He and the offense will be even more effective if the Eagles spread the ball around as they did in the passing game on Monday night. Wide receiver Golden Tate was a weapon for the first time as an Eagle and he deserves plenty of opportunities in the last month of the season. Alshon Jeffery is going to make plays when he’s in single coverage by using his big body and hands. Nelson Agholor is a threat with the ball in his hands and he has the best vertical speed on offense.
The Eagles know they left points on the field against Washington with two blown drives inside Washington’s 5-yard line. Yes, the red zone needs to be better. But the encouraging aspect to the game was the way the offense moved up and down the field at will. The offense enters Sunday’s game feeling like it has something going.
THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE IS WHERE IT’S AT
We can talk about all the skill-position players and illustrate the matchups and, you know, it only works on the outside when it works first on the inside. To that point, the Eagles need to be better than Dallas up front. The offensive line played perhaps its best game of the season against a good Washington front seven and needs to duplicate that performance on Sunday. Lane Johnson will see a lot of Lawrence, and that’s a battle worth watching as Jason Peters sees the ultra-quick Gregory on the other edge. Remember, Johnson did not play in the first meeting a month ago. The Eagles have to create running lanes and they have to keep Wentz clean.
This is simple stuff. This is what we all know. The Eagles are all about Dallas now (the coaching staff moved from the Washington game straight to Dallas without any kind of review period). The Cowboys are at the head of the pack in the NFC East. The Eagles are playing catch up. It’s Dallas Week.
Sunday is right around the corner.