The Philadelphia Eagles (6-6) and Dallas Cowboys (7-5) are set to play on Sunday at AT&T Stadium. In order to preview this Week 14 matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Blogging The Boys. The devilish Dave Halprin took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming game. Let’s take a look at his answers.
1 - After starting 3-5, the Cowboys have won their last four games. What’s the reason for the turnaround?
Two very obvious things happened when the Cowboys were on a bye. They traded for Amari Cooper and they fired their offensive line coach. Those two moves fundamentally changed the offense and allowed that side of the ball to become good enough to get the victories the Cowboys defense was handing to them. Earlier in the season that wasn’t the case, the Cowboys defense would do their job but the offense would fail. Amari Cooper has changed the way defenses have to play Dallas. Teams have to be aware of him, they’ll need to shade coverage his way and all of that. He opens up room for Ezekiel Elliott and gives the other receivers open area to work. He is also converting third downs on the regular. He has also given Dak Prescott his confidence back. As we discussed a month ago when the two teams played, Prescott was holding the ball too long and seemed unsure of himself in the pocket. Having Cooper on the field has helped Prescott settle in and become much more efficient.
The change in offensive line coach has led to a better running game. The pass protection is still not great and the Cowboys will definitely give up sacks, but Ezekiel Elliott is getting the kind of blocking he needs to allow him to use his power and/or vision to help dominate the clock, tire out defenses, and put points on the board. Other things have also happened, the defense has stepped it up a little more, the coaching staff is a little less conservative, things like that, but really you can go back to those two moves during the bye week that changed everything.
2 - On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most confident), what’s your confidence level in Jason Garrett? Do you think the Cowboys retain him regardless of what happens down the stretch or does that majorly factor in?
Let’s say a seven which is a lot higher than it was a month ago. Confidence comes and goes with the winning and losing. I absolutely think what happens down the stretch will play a major factor in his future. His hot seat might be cool now, but lose a few games coming up and it will be scalding again. My opinion is that Garrett has to make the playoffs at minimum to keep his job. If they fail to make the post-season, they really need to make some changes. If they make the playoffs then bomb out in the first game, there will still be people who want to see him go. Two playoff wins in all this time is not going to sit well.
3 - The Dallas defense sure impressed against the Saints. If you had to game plan AGAINST the Cowboys defense, how would you attack them?
The first thing I would do, which is something that I am sure you guys will do, is involve the tight end as a focal point. The Eagles should throw the ball to Zach Ertz over and over again. The Cowboys have given up some big plays to tight ends this year and it seems to be a vulnerable part of their defense. Also, attack corner Chidobe Awuzie instead of Byron Jones. Teams have had a lot more success going at Awuzie. Also, in the passing game, take what Dallas gives you. This defense likes to stop the big play, but they will allow a lot of underneath stuff at times. Keeping taking that until you think you can drop one over their heads.
The Cowboys defense is very tough to run against. They are fast, aggressive and good tacklers. The linebacking duo of Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith do a good job of running sideline-to-sideline and pulling down ball-carriers. One thing that sometimes trips up this defense is a running quarterback. Read-options, designed draws or even scramble runs can pile up some yards. You don’t want to be crazy with a QB that is coming back from a knee injury, but involving Wentz in the running game a little might loosen things up.
4 - If you had to game plan AGAINST the Cowboys offense, how would you try to stop them?
You probably don’t need me to tell you this but the way to stop Dallas is to stop Zeke. Everything works off the Cowboys ability to run the ball. The team is build around that concept. Dak Prescott is not the kind of quarterback you send out to win the game on his own. You send him out to be efficient, not turn the ball over and be a passing complement to a running offense. Dallas wants to grind down a defense, they want to control the clock, they want to out-physical the opposition. If you can stop Zeke, you can force the game into Prescott’s hands which is a better bet. How do you do that? Well, that’s the trick, isn’t it. Some keys are to get personnel to the play side of the run, Zeke is not big on a lot of cutbacks and wiggle in the backfield. He wants to stay patient, wait for the hole to open then power his way to the second level. You need personnel there to absorb blocks and create traffic. Basically, over-commit to the play side on a run and hope it’s not a fake or that he cuts back into the open.
Also, I would double Amari Cooper as much as I could and see if the other receivers can beat you.
5 - What’s the nicest thing you can say about the Eagles?
Hotel California is a classic.
6 - What’s your prediction for Sunday’s game? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Cowboys season?
Obviously we’re a little optimistic on this side given the past month. The Saints game was a real eye-opener, even to Cowboys fans. We knew the defense was good, but the way they played in that game was extraordinary. With the Cowboys at home, and the resurgence on offense and better play from Dak Prescott, I’m predicting a Cowboys victory. But I think it will be a defensive struggle with Dallas winning something like 20-17.
Nothing is in the bag yet, Dallas really needs to win Sunday or the NFC East opens back up to a two-team race. Since I think the Cowboys will win on Sunday, I think they will end up winning the NFC East. I would even think that a win in the first round of the playoffs is a possibility. After that? Well, we’d just have to wait and see if they can make it that far. Obviously, things could go the exact opposite of my expectations.