DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys are heading into their biggest matchup of the season Sunday night when they welcome the Eagles to Arlington. The Week 7 contest against their bitter rivals from Philadelphia will give the winning team with a leg up in the division as both squads come in with identical 3-3 records atop the NFC East.
The Cowboys currently hold all tiebreakers with their 2-0 divisional record. Dallas would like to put their Week 6 loss to the New York Jets behind them and keep their spotless in-division record intact. The Eagles, meanwhile, come into this game following a loss to the Minnesota Vikings whereas Dallas is on an overall three-game losing skid.
With an NFC East tone-setter ahead of them, here’s a look at the keys that could propel Dallas out of their tailspin and back in the driver’s seat for the division:
Weather the injuries
The Dallas offense has been bitten hard by the injury bug with three of the five starting linemen showing up on the injury report. Should all three be available, Dallas would have their season-opening starters on the line to start a game for the first time since the Week 4 contest against New Orleans.
That game against the Saints was the first loss of the season, and the moment that sent the Cowboys on a downward spiral, perhaps in no small part due to the fact that it’s when the injuries along the line first started cropping up.
Todd Archer of ESPN reports that tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins should be good to go barring any setbacks. All-Pro guard Zack Martin, who was also on the injury report this week, appears as though he will be able to play as well.
Having the offensive line together is big news for Dak Prescott as he was absolutely pummeled last week against the Jets.
The receiver group is the other area of the offense that has been hit hardest by injuries. However, Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb are slated to return. Cooper left the last game with a quad injury and had been listed as questionable all week. Cobb missed the Jets game with a back injury.
The Cowboys need all hands on deck for this matchup and the news that several key players should be good to go couldn’t have come at a better time. It remains to be seen whether or not the players will be able to effectively shake off the rust but having them back – considering the caliber of talent that was on the injury report all week – can’t be seen as anything but a plus.
The Eagles have had their own issues with injuries in the secondary and cornerback Ronald Darby has been ruled as questionable. The Philly secondary will be put to the test with Dallas having their top receiver trio together for the first time since Week 2.
Disrupt the Philly offense
Another example of how injuries could impact this game is that Philadelphia tackle Jason Peters is expected to miss the game with an ailing knee. With Peters likely out, Robert Quinn should be looked upon to continue his relentless attack on opposing quarterbacks.
The defense needs to get Eagles QB Carson Wentz off rhythm so that the unit can attack the offense in a myriad of ways. A successful Sunday for the Dallas defense starts with the pass rush and it’s a pass rush that clearly has offensive lines concerned, at least on the edges.
Alternatively, the interior defensive linemen need to step up their pass rush efforts. The Cowboys bookends have been the 2nd and 5th most double teamed edge rushers in the league thus far. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins needs to take advantage of the one-on-one opportunities and be more of a disrupting force like he was his rookie season when he accumulated five sacks.
The former Husker has dealt with his own share of injuries throughout his young career, but Collins is healthy now and Dallas needs him to be the muscle in the middle of the defense. With so much focus on the edge where DeMarcus Lawrence , the Cowboys are counting on the interior to create disruption and free up the linebackers to make use of their speed and playmaking skills.
This season, Wentz has been sacked a total of 10 times. The Cowboys need to get to him early and often and the key could be Collins’ ability to win his battles in the trenches.
Give the offense a short field
So far this season the Cowboys special teams haven’t been special in terms of creating short fields for the offense. The defense hasn’t created short fields with takeaways either. One or both of the units need to step up and help put the offense in favorable field positions.
One player who has shown a knack for creating turnovers has been third year cornerback Jourdan Lewis, but he rarely sees the field. This week, Lewis will likely get some opportunities to make some plays. Cornerback Anthony Brown has been ruled out with a hamstring injury, so, in nickel situations, look for Lewis to man the slot and look to make a difference.
Since joining the Cowboys, Lewis has the second most interceptions on the team with considerably less playing time than the rest. He follows only Jeff Heath on that list. If the defense needs a play to be made, bet your money on Lewis.
Provided that the offense actually does get their guys back from injury, it should provide plenty of energy to the team, to the fan base, and most importantly to Dak Prescott. With a spot in the catbird seat in the NFC East on the line, look for a very competitive matchup as is usually the case when divisional rivals meet. In the end, however, I have the Cowboys taking a close one at home 31-27.
Do you think the Cowboys can end their losing streak and stake claim to the top spot in the NFC East with a win over the Eagles? Make your predictions to Patrick on Twitter @DraftCowboys.
More Cowboys coverage from WFAA:
- Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper expects to play Sunday night versus Eagles
- Memory Lane: How Amari Cooper and the Cowboys turned the 2018 season around against Philly
- Cowboys players say they're still tuned in to Garrett's message
- Patrick’s POV: Cowboys can’t let injuries sink season ahead of Philly showdown
- Cowboys' loss to Jets was unacceptable