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Eagles enter important Cowboys game with more questions than answers

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And Dallas isn’t much different...

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NFL: DEC 09 Eagles at Cowboys Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Prime time. Bitter rivals. For the division lead. We’re headed for a big time tilt between two teams with their backs against the wall with the Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) and Dallas Cowboys (3-3).

The wonderful folk over at Football Outsiders view this showdown as the highest leverage game of Week 7. If the Eagles win, their model gives them a 79% chance to make the playoffs. With a loss, it drops to 41%. For the Cowboys, their chances can swing from 63% with a win to a 25% chance if they lose. Those are significant swings, especially for the Cowboys, who are facing a four-game losing streak if they falter on Sunday night.

The slump for the Cowboys is occurring due to issues on both sides of the ball. The defense ranks 25th in DVOA despite playing the 31st ranked combined offenses. Seen as a strength entering the season, they’ve given up 58 combined points in the last two games to the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets.

On the offensive side of the ball, nearly every metric you look at shows a serious dip from Weeks 1-3 to Weeks 4-6. For example, when comparing those two splits the picture is dire.

However it’s not like the Eagles’ defense has been offering much resistance lately. They’ve been the worst team at the league at giving up outside wide receiver production and rank 23rd in points allowed per game. Jim Schwartz’s “disestablish the run” theory of stacking the box more than any team in the league while giving up unfathomable separation and experiencing an astonishing amount of coverage busts from players young and old alike has led to serious questions about the defense’s ability to hang in games.

The Eagles can only hope the Cowboys continue their shift to being a run heavy team again and that Amari Cooper either doesn’t play or isn’t at 100%. When Cooper is out, the Cowboys go from producing 10.4 yards per pass attempt to an abysmal 6.7 (per The Quant Edge).

The other hope is that the Eagles can feast on a banged up Cowboys’ offensive line and that the Cowboys continue to shift away from play-action. To these points, play-action has been down in the past three weeks (39% > 17%) and pressure rates have been way up (21% > 44%).

We detailed the issues and question marks when the Cowboys are on offense on The Kist & Solak Show #133, which you can listen to on the media player below (or click here).

With the recent report from Josina Anderson that has a current Eagles’ player criticizing the offense and Carson Wentz, it’s an important game for them to get back on track after missed opportunities and execution errors plagued them against the Minnesota Vikings. We detail that on The Kist & Solak Show #134, including taking on the takes included in the anonymous players’ quote.

First, citing all-time great Peyton Manning as a guy that checked down is a weird one. He went through heavily criticized spells of his career where he was all about the check down life. That aside, asking for a simpler offense doesn’t make sense either.

We’ve seen a much more condensed style of offense from the Eagles lately, which has been well documented by many that cover the team. One example of that is in Next Gen Stats intended air yards metric, where Wentz saw a heavy dip for two weeks before a 24-3 Vikings’ lead forced the offense to return to more vertical concepts (8.6 > 9.6 > 11.0 > 7.1 > 7.0 > 9.2). Some portions of Philadelphia media went so far as to label Carson Wentz a “game manager” for a stretch, which doesn’t fit at all into this narrative.

The context provided by Josina Anderson also lacks the proper context. Completion percentage doesn’t account for drops, which is an area where the Eagles lead the league (17). The frequency and accuracy of those deep balls are both slightly above average, as Pro Football Focus analytics show.

To put it plainly, the quote and context provided just doesn’t make sense to me. Still, it’s not ideal that the Eagles yet again seem to have a locker room problem that needs to be addressed. It’s also awful timing that this distraction is happening before such an important game. Perhaps an all-players’ meeting is in order, or perhaps winning cures all.

Overall, it’s not surprising that there are frustrations emanating from a .500 team through six weeks after such lofty expectations entering the season.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I have no idea how this game will go, but it’s hard to understate it’s importance. Can Kellen Moore shake off the struggle bus and recapture his early season tomato can crushing magic? Can Jim Schwartz just not be Jim Schwartz for a week? Can Carson Wentz shake off the criticism and record another signature win to go along with beating the Packers? With so many questions and so much on the line, we’re in for a doozy of a game.