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Eight things to watch when the Eagles host the Cowboys

Key factors to Sunday’s huge NFC East matchup.

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Eagles got their butts kicked by the Dallas Cowboys when these two teams last met back in Week 7. The Eagles will now be looking to redeem themselves and avoid being eliminated from the playoff picture as they host the Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.

Let’s run through some of the most important things to watch in this incredibly important NFC East battle.

1 - Carson Wentz vs. Dak Prescott

Prescott is 5-2 in seven career starts against Philly. If you take out two meaningless Week 17 games where starters rested, though, his record is really 4-1. One might take these #QBwinz to believe Prescott has regularly outplayed Wentz and dominated the Eagles but that’s not truly the case.

Prescott against the Eagles: 147/225 (65.3% completion), 1,612 passing yards (7.2 yards per attempt), 8 TD, 7 INT, 85.3 passer rating — 27 rushing attempts for 114 yards, 3 rushing TD, 5 fumbles

Wentz against the Cowboys: 143/215 (66.5% completion), 1,394 passing yards (6.5 yards per attempt), 11 TD, 2 INT, 97.7 passer rating — 18 rushing attempts for 39 yards, 0 rushing TD, 5 fumbles

Two of the Eagles’ losses to the Cowboys since 2016 have come in overtime where Dallas won the coin toss and Wentz didn’t get to touch the ball. Had the Eagles been on the luckier side of a 50/50 chance, perhaps the narrative about Wentz versus Prescott would be different.

The last two Eagles wins have certainly evidenced Wentz’s ability to come up in the clutch. Wentz needs to come up big yet again for the Eagles in this spot. It won’t be easy considering what little he’s working with at wide receiver but the team needs him to find a way.

One wrinkle the Eagles should look to incorporate in this game is having Wentz run the ball more often. Josh Allen (10 attempts, 43 yards, 1 rushing TD) and Mitchell Trubisky (10 attempts, 63 yards, 1 TD) were able to use their legs effectively against the Dallas defense. There should be rushing opportunities for Wentz as well. And it’s not like he should be extra conservative when it comes to taking hits; this is an elimination game.

It’ll be interesting to see if Prescott is truly impacted by his shoulder injury at all. We know he’ll be starting but to what extent will his accuracy and/or throwing power be affected? We’ll just have to wait and see.

2 - Can the Eagles finally beat Zeke?

The Eagles are 0-5 in five games when Ezekiel Elliott has played for Dallas.

That’s not just a coincide, either. Zeke is key to the Cowboys’ offensive identity; they want to run the ball. Dominating on the ground takes pressure off Prescott and keeps the Cowboys’ defense on the sideline.

Elliott’s career numbers against the Eagles:

118 carries for 574 yards (4.9 average), 2 rushing TD

36 targets for 31 receptions, 241 yards (7.8 average), 1 receiving TD

163 total yards from scrimmage per game

The Eagles haven’t been able to stop Zeke despite the fact Jim Schwartz’s defense is prided on stopping the run. I don’t think this is about a schematic adjustment as much as it is just executing. The Eagles can’t be sloppy with their tackling like they were in Washington last Sunday. They need to find a way to limit Zeke’s damage. Easier said than done for this team.

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

3 - Amari Cooper’s game-wrecking ability

Dallas hasn’t lost to an NFC East opponent since acquiring Cooper. The Cowboys’ No. 1 receiver has obviously done a lot of damage against the Eagles in particular.

Career numbers in four games against Philly’s defense:

32 targets for 24 receptions, 464 yards (19.3 average), 4 TD

Unless Prescott is truly hampered by his shoulder, it’s hard to feel great about the Eagles’ chances of suddenly stopping limiting Cooper. Philly’s secondary has been shredded all season and most recently by the likes of DeVante Parker, Darius Slayton, and Terry McLaurin. And now the Eagles are entering this week’s game with Ronald Darby and Avonte Maddox less than 100%.

4 - Vulnerable Cowboys defense

The Cowboys’ 2018 defense was much more formidable than this year’s version.

Dallas has allowed 27.7 points per game over the last six weeks. They rank 22nd in defensive DVOA; 23rd against the pass and 18th against the run.

The Eagles’ offense was able to put up 31 points and 415 yards against a 19th-ranked Washington DVOA defense last weekend. It could be tough to replicate such a performance when the Eagles are operating with — at best — one competent wide receiver. It’ll be up to Doug Pederson and his staff to find a way to scheme around that minor inconvenience once again.

5 - Fletcher Cox takeover?

Cox’s Pro Bowl election this year feels based more on reputation than merit. He only has 3.5 sacks in 14 games. Cox’s impact often goes beyond the stat sheet, sure, but this is a guy with the biggest cap hit on the team. He can’t just be merely good in this Cowboys game. The Eagles need him to be an absolute beast out there. He needs to take over the game.

The Eagles had zero sacks and zero quarterback hits on Dwayne Haskins last weekend prior to the final play of the game. Just not good enough. Fortunately, there is some hope when it comes to getting to Prescott:

It must also be noted how the Eagles’ home defense (16.9 points per game) is much better than their road defense (29 points per game). One can hope the crowd noise will assist Philly’s ability to generate pressure.

6 - Big test for Big V

Lane Johnson is out so it’ll be Halapoulivaati Vaitai starting at right tackle. The Eagles are just 4-10 in the Wentz era when Johnson can’t play.

Johnson had his worst game of the season when he went up against Demarcus Lawrence back in Week 7. He allowed one sack (forced fumble), two hurries, and also got called for one penalty. PFF also graded Johnson out poorly as a run blocker. It was a surprising performance because Lawrence previously never had a sack against Johnson.

Vaitai is obviously a lesser player than Johnson so there’s obvious concern about how he’ll hold up. But there is some reason for hope? Vaitai ranks 24th out of 200 offensive tackles (minimum 20% snaps) graded by PFF this year.

7 - More Miles Sanders

Sanders only had nine total touches for 32 yards against Dallas back in Week 7. He’s since grown as a player, though, so maybe he can be more of a weapon for the Eagles this time around. The team needs to make the effort to give him the ball since he’s their biggest big play threat.

The Eagles typically want to control the clock; they rank second in the league in average time of possession. Running the ball effectively would take pressure off the Eagles’ undermanned passing attack and hide a vulnerable defense.

NFL: OCT 20 Eagles at Cowboys Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

8 - Special teams might matter

Dallas ranks dead last in special teams DVOA.

The Cowboys might have some kicking issues. Dating back to 2016, Kai Forbath is just 55/62 (88.7%) on field goal attempts and 54/63 (85.7%) on extra point attempts. Forbath missed an extra point earlier this month and he also kicked the opening kickoff out of bounds in Week 15.

In a game that could come down to the wire, a kicking miscue could be the difference.