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Eagles schedule preview: Dallas sucks. Or they don’t.

The thin navy blue line

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles face the Cowboys in Week 11 and 17. Let’s talk about it.

Lost: CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church, CB Morris Claiborne, DT Jack Crawford, RB Lance Dunbar, TE Gavin Escobar, T Doug Free, LB Andrew Gachkar, G Donald Leary, DT Terrell McClain, QB Tony Romo, QB Mark Sanchez, S JJ Wilcox

Added: G Byron Bell, CB Nolan Carroll, G Jonathan Cooper, DE Damontre Moore, DT Stephen Paea

Drafted: DE Taco Charlton, CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, WR Ryan Switzer, S Xavier Woods, CB Marquez White, DT Joey Ivie, WR Noah Brown, DE Jordan Carrell

Why they’ll lose to the Eagles

The Cowboys could be pretty bad this year.

Dallas had little depth in 2016, and they have lost more than they gained this offseason because of their salary cap issues. Already treading on thin ice, the Cowboys may have stressed their roster too much this spring. Two starters on their offensive line are gone, which generally leads to offensive lines struggling. Half the secondary, already an issue, has been replaced by rookies and a guy who wasn’t good enough for the Eagles. And they still don’t have a pass rush.

And those might not matter. It could take just one player slipping up for the Cowboys to come undone, and it’s likely he does. Ezekiel Elliott had a tremendous rookie season, leading the league in rushing and powering the Cowboys to the #1 seed. But he also led the league in rushing attempts, and that doesn’t bode well for him in 2017.

Year Player Attempts Yards/attempt Next year att. Next year Y/A
2006 Larry Johnson 416 4.3 158 3.5
2007 Clinton Portis 325 3.9 342 4.3
2008 Michael Turner 376 4.5 178 4.9
2009 Chris Johnson 358 5.6 316 4.3
2010 Michael Turner 334 4.1 301 4.5
2011 Maurice Jones-Drew 343 4.7 86 4.8
2012 Arian Foster 351 4.1 121 4.5
2013 LeSean McCoy 314 5.1 312 4.2
2014 DeMarco Murray 392 4.7 193 3.6
2015 Adrian Peterson 327 4.5 37 1.9

Eight of the previous ten league leaders in rushing attempts saw their attempts drop at least 10% in the following year, with six of them missing significant time. Half of them saw their yards per attempt decrease. Odds are, Elliot will be less productive in 2017, and it’s a toss up that he’ll be less efficient. And his lone game against the Eagles was one of his worst games.

Dak Prescott, who finished 23rd in the league in passing attempts in 2016, is going to have to shoulder a larger load in 2017, and he struggled when asked to do so last year. In Prescott’s top five games in passing attempts, he put up his four worst passer ratings (not counting his end of season token appearance), including his three worst games being his three highest workload games. Regression by Prescott, who was among the league leaders in many rate stats, could put him into a quicksand situation: the worse he plays, the more he’ll have to throw, the more he has to throw, the worse he plays.

The Cowboys defense was once again mediocre, its flaws masked by the limited amount of time it spent on the field due to the offense staying on the field by grinding out first downs on the ground. If there’s any drop off from Elliott, and at 5.1 yards per carry it’s a near certainty there will be (only three running backs over the previous decade had at least 100 rushing attempts and over 5.0 yards per carry and followed it up with at least 100 attempts and a better average [Jamaal Charles, Darren McFadden, and CJ Spiller), the defense will have to improve, which they really haven’t done in three years under Rod Marinelli.

Year DVOA Pass DVOA Run DVOA Yards Points Off TOP/Drive
2016 17th 18th 8th 14th 5th 2nd
2015 19th 17th 29th 17th 16th 3rd
2014 30th 22nd 22nd 19th 15th 2nd

The Cowboys are hugely reliant on their offense, and they could take steps back both passing and rushing. In their only meaningful game last season, these teams went to overtime. If the Eagles improvements on paper and the Cowboys non-improvements on paper are real, it’s easy to see the Eagles making up the difference.

And in the first game the Eagles will be coming off a bye, which is a big advantage for any team. Like any Week 17 game, the second game could be meaningless beyond bragging rights.

Why they’ll beat the Eagles

The Cowboys could be pretty good this year.

Prescott’s struggles with high volume games last year was last year. Players routinely make big strides between years one and two, having adjusted to the speed and physical demands of the NFL. If the Cowboys have truly found an outlier in the 4th round at QB, then Prescott should be even better in 2017, a scary proposition for the Eagles.

As the table above showed, while it’s likely that Elliott doesn’t see the field as much as he did in 2016, that could be a complete non-factor in the specific games against the Eagles. All that matters, as it relates to Philadelphia, is that he is healthy and fit for two games, and maybe just one like last year. While his game against the Eagles was one of his worst, it was very good by any other measure: 148 yards on 26 touches.

On defense, the Cowboys roster hemorrhage might be addition by subtraction. They’ll be giving a lot of snaps to first and second year players who have a fairly low bar of production they need to meet to be an improvement from previous Cowboy defenses. With both games in the second half of the season, the Eagles could be coming up against a young and ascending defense.

The Eagles’ advantage of the bye in Week 11 is somewhat offset by the game being in Dallas.


How does the Eagles-Cowboys series go?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    Eagles sweep
    (585 votes)
  • 50%
    (748 votes)
  • 9%
    Cowboys sweep
    (146 votes)
1479 votes total Vote Now

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