The Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) and Dallas Cowboys (3-3) are set to play at AT&T Stadium on Sunday Night Football. In order to preview this Week 7 matchup for first place in the NFC East, I reached out to our mortal enemies over at Blogging The Boys. The dastardly Dave Halprin (just kidding, Dave is a nice guy) kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming game. Let’s take a look at his answers! Also, don’t forget to check out my side of the Q&A exchange over at BTB.
1 - The Cowboys were good enough to start 3-0 and bad enough to drop to 3-3. What’s the good and bad with this team?
The good is, at times, the offense has looked spectacular. Even in the games they lost, a couple of the second-half comebacks showed what the team is capable of on offense when it’s clicking. There have been times, especially early on, when the Cowboys were having no problem producing chunk plays and driving the field for touchdowns. The play-calling was varied and not so tied to running the ball as much as the Cowboys have in past years. The connection between Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup looked solid, and there wasn’t an over-reliance on Ezekiel Elliott to be the engine. So at times, the offense was producing just like you’d want it to if you are a Cowboys fan. The defense wasn’t playing spectacularly, but they were keeping the scoring down and allowing the Cowboys to weather some slow starts to games.
The bad is none of this is consistent. Even within games, Dallas can look terrible in the first half, then storm back in the second but sometimes run out of time. Making matters worse is that it’s not just one thing. The play-calling, which seemed so inventive and daring at the start of the season, has appeared to become more conservative and run-oriented now, especially the tendency to run on first down. The receivers have had trouble with drops, and Prescott has had some issues with ball placement. Critical penalties have wiped out big plays and the offensive line is not playing nearly as well as it should. Injuries have played their part, but all NFL teams have injuries so that isn’t a good excuse. On defense, the run defense has cratered at times and the defensive line and the linebackers are playing below average football. The Cowboys are all over the place right now, and many of their problems on offense are self-induced, while the defense has lost the ability to keep gap integrity and they are not rushing the passer very well.
2 - Seems like the Cowboys will be without some key players in this game. Who’s expected to be in/out and what’s the impact?
This is a tough call right now. Amari Cooper tried to go in the last game but only lasted a few plays. He didn’t practice on Wednesday and there is a real possibility he won’t go. As you can imagine, that’s a huge impact because he’s been on fire this year. Randall Cobb missed last week with a back issue but I’m guessing, with nothing to really back it up, that he will go on Sunday. They say he was close to playing last week. Tyron Smith worked out before last week’s game to see if he could go but was unable to, I think he might be able to go this week. La’el Collins I’m less sure of, he might need to sit out through the bye week. Cornerbacks Byron Jones and Anthony Brown are both dealing with hamstrings picked up in the last game. Trying to pick up clues from Jason Garrett’s press conferences, it sounds like Anthony Brown’s injury is more serious and he probably won’t play.
If Cooper, Tyron Smith and La’el Collins can’t go, that’s big time for Dallas. The Jets were able to get a solid pass rush against our backup tackles and our run game was not as effective without the two starting tackles. Cooper is the main man in the attack, he is the veteran route-runner who gets open. He needs to stop dropping occasional passes but he is a beast to cover. If Byron Jones is unable to play, the pass defense suffers because he’s the best cover guy back there. The Cowboys can absorb one corner missing because Jourdan Lewis is a capable backup, some think he should be starting, but missing two corners will probably open things up in the passing game for the Eagles.
3 - What’s the confidence level in Jason Garrett? Is there concern that Garrett could perform well enough to get another new contract but not well enough to actually get the Cowboys over the hump?
I don’t think the scenario of “performing well enough to get a contract but not getting the team over the hump” exists anymore. This feels very much like a do-or-die season for Garrett. If he is unable to get the Cowboys deep into the playoffs, like NFC Championship Game/Super Bowl, they will probably go in a different direction. Jerry Jones is letting Garrett work on the last year of his deal without an extension for a reason, and that reason is produce big or move on. At this point, I don’t think the confidence level from the fanbase is very high in Garrett. When the team was 3-0, there was the ability to picture Garrett really turning the corner and doing big things this season. With the three-game losing streak, there is obviously a lot more pessimism. Personally, I think he needs to go unless he does produce a huge year. After so long as a coach of a team, if it doesn’t happen then the team usually needs a new face and a new routine to shake things up.
4 - Are the Cowboys making the right decision to wait to pay Dak Prescott? What do you think his new contract will look like in terms of annual value? And, as with Garrett, is there concern Dak could perform well enough to get a new contract but not well enough to actually get the Cowboys over the hump?
I think the Cowboys are sold on Prescott as their franchise quarterback and they are going to pay him accordingly. I don’t think it’s Dallas that is making the decision to wait to pay Dak, I really think it’s Dak’s camp that is holding out to see just how much they can extract from the team. In some ways, they are betting on Dak having a great year and forcing the Cowboys to pay up before free agency/franchise tags come into play in the offseason. That seemed like a very good bet at the start of the year as Prescott was killing it early, and while he’s not really the cause of their losing streak, his play has come back to earth somewhat. In the end, though, I think the Cowboys are going to pay Dak top dollar unless he absolutely tanks the rest of the year; they are convinced he’s their guy. I’m sure his contract will be in the $35 million+ range annual value. Of course, the details of how it is structured, the guaranteed money etc. is open for debate, but I think it’s clear they going to pay him at the top of the QB value chart.
5 - If you were building a game plan for the Cowboys, how would you attack them on both offense and defense.
If Tyron Smith and La’el Collins don’t play, then I would continually attack their replacements with a variety of stunts, blitzes, disguised pass rushers, basically anything that could unsettle their replacements. Communication is always an issue with new lineman and picking up stunts or sliding the protection one way or the other can get lost along the way. While the Jets only got one sack, they were getting constant pressure on Prescott forcing him into quick or awkward throws. The Eagles already stifle the run, so going after those guys in the pass rush makes sense. If Smith and Collins can play, you still want to get pressure on Prescott so don’t let the Cowboys rely on their run game. If that is working they can play-action your linebackers and secondary to death, but if you can shut the run down without committing guys to the box and not taking false steps forward by the linebackers, you can really slow down what the Cowboys are trying to accomplish.
Against the Cowboys defense, try to establish the run. I know in today’s NFL you’re analytically better off relying more on the passing game, but teams have had success with running on the Cowboys. A lot of that success comes on north-south runs and using counters or traps to isolate a portion of the Cowboys interior and trying to seal off the linebackers. You want to attack the Cowboys interior instead of trying to go wide. If you can get that working, the Cowboys defense seems to wilt. Additionally, the Cowboys pass rush is not very effective right now, they can get around the edges but quarterbacks have had success stepping up in the pocket and throwing. So hit them up the gut on runs, then have your quarterback stay calm, don’t bail out early and step up in the pocket to avoid trouble.
6 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Cowboys season?
I guess I’m not ready to punt on the Cowboys season just yet, so I’m going to pick them to barely win. They are at home so that will help, and I feel like the have the capability of playing quality football if they can just get out of their own way. Everybody on this side of things is hoping that the embarrassing Jets loss is some kind of wake up call, not only for the players but for the coaches. They need to open their offense back up and let the passing game attack the Eagles vulnerable secondary. If they try to run the ball regularly against that defense, they’ll lose. Let’s say Cowboys 27 - Eagles 24. As for my season expectations, I don’t really have any because it all really depends on Sunday night. Win that and there is hope. Lose it and things look pretty dark.