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Eagles-Cowboys preview and predictions

Prime time game time

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It’s game day. Well, game night. The big story tonight will be Carson Wentz “versus” Dak Prescott. The performance of both rookie QBs will certainly be a large factor in the game, but this isn’t a battle of one man teams.

It’s a battle of offensive game plans, both of which are centered on accomplishing the same task different ways: control the clock and slow the game down, and of defenses. It’s worked pretty well so far for both teams.

The Cowboys are 1st in the league in time of possession per drive at 3:26, the Eagles are 3rd at 3:06. The Eagles, at 60 and the Cowboys, at 66, are near the bottom of the league in offensive plays per game. Don’t expect a shootout tonight.

The Cowboys control the ball through Ezekiel Elliott, who leads the league in attempts per game, by a wide margin. At 22.8 attempts per game, he has almost 2 carries per game more than the next most used RB, David Johnson, at 20.9. The difference between Elliott’s most and Johnson’s 2nd most is greater than the difference between 2nd and 9th (Carlos Hyde). Elliot is on pace for 365 rushing attempts, which would be 38th all-time. He’s more than adequately replaced DeMarco Murray, the catalyst of their 2014 season.

Dak Prescott is asked to make low risk, low reward passes and let Cole Beasley, Jason Witten and Elliott pick up the first down and keep the drive alive. The return of Dez Bryant, if he is fully healthy, gives Prescott a tremendous weapon to use. But consider this: In three games with Bryant, Prescott has a 93.3 passer rating, in three games without him it’s 116.5. Perhaps that can be simply explained by the games with Bryant being the first three games of his career. Or perhaps the Cowboys don’t trust Prescott, who didn’t complete a pass beyond 20 yards in his first two games and the Cowboys haven’t asked him to make many deep throws since, to consistently be productive with the deep ball. It’s one reason why he has just one interception this year.

The Eagles also rely on short passes, but for different reasons. Unlike Prescott, Carson Wentz had shown he is willing and able to throw deep, but unlike the Cowboys, none of his receivers have shown a consistent ability to catch the deep ball. He might get those chances tonight, and Prescott could be short on opportunities.

The Cowboys defense has once again been a problem. They are 20th in DVOA, 7th in points per game, 24th in passer rating and 18th in adjusted sack rate. Like 2014, they aren’t good at anything, but they see the field so little that they having a better showing in scoring defense than they should.

The Eagles defense has been dominant, 1st in DVOA, 3rd in points per game, 6th in passer rating and 1st in adjusted sack rate, going up against an offensive line that is dominant in the run but mediocre at protecting the QB, over the past three years they have been 16th, 19th and 9th at adjusted sack percentage, and have seen Tony Romo hurt three times in two years and got Kellen Moore hurt as well.

But against the run, they have struggled with consistency. Two weeks ago against a poor Redskins rushing attack, they were embarrassed, but the following week against an equally bad Vikings running game, they played very well. Tonight they get the best in the league. If they can hold their own without Bennie Logan again, they should be in a position to win. If not, it could be a long night.

And they’ll have to do it against a Cowboys team that is coming of a bye. This is the second of three straight opponents the Eagles are facing who are coming off the bye. And they’re on the road. The deck might be stacked just a little to heavy against the Eagles.


Score: 23-20 Cowboys

Bold prediction: Josh Huff receiving touchdown

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