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Three numbers that matter for Week 8: Eagles vs. Cowboys

IT’S (a very weird) DALLAS WEEK

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

In definitely the most consequential and anticipated primetime game in Eagles/Cowboys history, here are the three numbers that I think matter in the Eagles’ Thursday Night Game against the Giants.

392 - that’s how many days it’s been since the Eagles were favorites of at least 11 points

That’s where the Eagles find themselves now: 11 point favorites over the Dallas Cowboys.

This is insane, frankly. The Eagles have two wins by a combined total of six points this year, and even against a team as depleted and derelict as Dallas, should not be considered trustworthy on any spread of double-digit points. To win by multiple scores implies the offensive competency to score multiple times, and the defensive fortitude to create multiple stops — it has hard to argue the Eagles emphatically have either.

With that said, the last time the Eagles were favored by 11 points — October 6th, 2019, against the 0-3 New York Jets — they won handily, 31-6. The Jets were also on their third-string quarterback in that game — Luke Falk, who had replaced Trevor Siemian, who had replaced Sam Darnold — and were also absolutely atrocious on the offensive line. The Eagles sacked Falk nine times, forced two interceptions, and scored twice on defense.

The big difference today: the Cowboys receivers are not the Jets receivers of 2019. Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb pose a far greater threat against the Eagles’ subpar secondary than Demaryius Thomas, Robby Anderson, and Jamison Crowder did then, even against a defensive backfield featuring Orlando Scandrick.

It is jarring to see the 2-4-1 Eagles so heavily favored, though the quarterback situation does good work to explain it. However, the last time the Eagles were double-digit favorites? That was a 10.5 point line against the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Miami Dolphins in 2019. Ask me how that game went.

47 - that’s how many yards Ezekiel Elliott gained on the ground against the Eagles last year

Elliott has historically been an Eagles’ killer. Before the Week 16 game to all but seal the division last season, Elliott had rushed for 100 yards in four straight games against Philadelphia, all of them wins. The Eagles under Jim Schwartz have prioritized denying opposing running games, but the dominant Cowboys offensive line and Elliott’s aggressive, bruising style always seem to break Philly’s wall for an explosive run or two.

But not last year. With an injured Prescott at quarterback, the Eagles poured resources into stopping the run, sending five of Elliott’s thirteen carries for a negative gain.

We should expect a similar script against Elliott this week, especially with his feeble offensive line considered. Elliott hasn’t broken 100 yards in a game yet this season and has only cleared 60 yards in one of his last five contests, as the Cowboys’ injured front has limited Elliott’s game like never before. That lack of volume can be largely attributed to game script, but Elliot’s 4.2 yards/carry would be his second-lowest single-season mark, if it holds for the remainder of the year. He’s simply been less effective.

Unfortunately for Elliott, he’s still not much of a factor in passing game, and Tony Pollard has begun to infringe on his volume as the Cowboys hunt some juice. Pollard saw 9 touches to Elliott’s 13 last week, and 12 to Elliott’s 20 the week before that. This is starting to look more like a 1A/1B committee backfield than it is a solely Elliott show, which is a stark change from years past.

If you’re dreading another dominant Elliott performance against the Eagles, rest easy. It isn’t coming.

22 - that’s the number of explosive passing plays Dallas has allowed this year. That rate (9% of all passes) is 7th-worst in the league, per Sharp Football Stats

This is an important note considering the return of Jalen Reagor to the Eagles’ active roster, and to a lesser extent, the emergence of Travis Fulgham and return of Dallas Goedert.

Fulgham has been the most explosive receiver for the Eagles this season — John Hightower isn’t so much explosive as he is volatile — with four of his 23 receptions (17.3%) going for at least 20 yards; nine going for at least 18. As a tight end, Goedert isn’t the ideal explosive reception threat, but his presence fills more some of the short and intermediate routes that Fulgham would find on his plate, opening him up to more of the deep-breaking routes for which he showed such an aptitude against the Steelers.

And Reagor? With the emergence of Fulgham, I’m expecting the Eagles to use Reagor much as they did in Week 1 against the Football Team, when he led the NFL in air yards/target as a deep ball specialist. I wrote in depth about the balance of Fulgham and Reagor’s respective usages here, but suffice to say, the Eagles will look to one of their reinforcements to improve on their explosive pass rate — 6th-worst in the league at 6% of all passes — and Reagor makes the most sense there.

So this is a weakness v. weakness situation: the Eagles certainly don’t want to be a nickel-and-dime offense, but have been for the sake of their injured offensive line and depleted WR corps. The Cowboys certainly don’t want to be a defense susceptible to big plays, but with no outside corners with true long speed and ball skills, coupled with poor safety plays, they are. Their hope is that the return of Chidobe Awuzie to the starting lineup opposite rookie CB Trevon Diggs, but he’s not been the solution for multiple years now.

The advantage should belong to the Eagles, who are getting stronger both at WR and at offensive line. But if they can’t generate chunk passing gains against Dallas — whether for Wentz inaccuracy, poor WR play, protection, or something else — I imagine they won’t generate chunk passing gains against anyone.