The Philadelphia Eagles (4-9-1) and the Dallas Cowboys (5-9) are set to play this Sunday at AT&T Stadium. In order to preview this big Week 16 matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Blogging The Boys. The diplomatic Dave Halprin kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming tilt. Let’s take a look at his answers. (Check out my side of the exchange coming up at BTB.)
1) If you had to give Mike McCarthy a letter grade for his first season on the job, what does he deserve?
I would probably give him a C-minus. And that’s a huge improvement over what I would have given him about a month ago. The Cowboys looked like a broken team heading into the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. They were 2-6 at that point after just losing to the Eagles, and things looked really bleak. Effort was being questioned on the field, there was dissension in the locker room over the direction of the team. It just had a disaster feel to it. At that point, McCarthy would have gotten big fat F.
But then the Cowboys played the Steelers, who were undefeated at the time, and hung in the game and only lost at the end on a Pittsburgh comeback. Even with the loss, the Cowboys played hard and competitively, and things started to look a little brighter. Since that game, the team is 3-2 even though the wins have come against lesser competition. It’s obvious the team didn’t quit on McCarthy, and the things they were trying to install on defense were starting to take hold. They still aren’t a good team, but they are a competitive team that looks fundamentally different from the team from the first half of the season.
I have to give credit to McCarthy for keeping the team together and not letting it splinter apart. Nobody has packed it in and they are fighting hard for a playoff spot. He also kept Kellen Moore as his offensive coordinator and let him call the plays. That was a smart move because the offense was crushing it when they had Dak Prescott at QB. Not everything he’s done has been great. He’s had some real questionable in-game decisions and he tried, along with defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, to completely change the defensive scheme in the COVID-era with no pre-season and a limited offseason. That turned out to be a disaster. Given the big staff changeover in a challenging offseason and the injuries etc., he probably deserves an incomplete grade for 2020 and we’ll see what he’s got next year.
2) Which Eagles quarterback would Cowboys fans prefer to be Philly’s starter in 2021: Carson Wentz or Jalen Hurts?
That’s super easy. We’d much rather face Carson Wentz. Given his issues with turnovers and sacks, along with his poor completion percentage, he’s much easier to game-plan for and you don’t feel like he’s going to take over the game. From an outsider’s view, it feels like Wentz is holding the Eagles offense back instead of propelling it forward. Hurts, on the other hand, provides that true dual-threat as a QB that gives the Cowboys fits. He’s exactly the kind of quarterback who regularly befuddles the Cowboys defense. We’ve only seen him in a few games, but the Eagles offense looks so much better with him under center rather than with Wentz. We’ll have to see how it plays out once Hurts has to face teams that have tape on him and are game-panning to shut him down, but he looks like a better QB than Wentz right now.
3) What’s the Cowboys’ biggest strength right now?
The Cowboys biggest strength right now is their receiving corps. Specifically Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb, plus tight end Dalton Schultz. That is where the talent is and when they can get opportunities the Dallas offense looks pretty good. Of course, it looked a whole lot better when Dak Prescott was playing, but Andy Dalton is starting to utilize them better, even though it’s a much shorter passing game than it was under Prescott. The issue is the Cowboys offensive line which has been battered by injury (you guys know a lot about that). Providing protection for Dalton has been shaky, thus the need to get the ball out of his hands much quicker. Still, if he can get the ball into their hands, they can make plays.
While that receiving corps is the strength, the one problem area they have is drops. If they could clean that up, they could make this patched together offense look pretty competent. Of course, they’ve been getting help lately with the sudden bevy of turnovers that has been creating short fields. The Cowboys are not going to run the ball well in all likelihood, and Dalton is only okay as QB, so it’s down to the recievers to keep the offense humming.
4) What’s the Cowboys’ biggest weakness right now?
The run defense. It’s abysmal. Teams run on the Dallas defense at will. In some games, you have to sit and wonder why an opposing offense would ever even call a pass play. I will say they have gotten somewhat better in this area over the last month or so, but it is still a big problem. They are playing inexperienced, young guys at defensive tackle, and the linebacker duo of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have really disappointed with their play. And now Vander Esch will be out on Sunday. They also have had trouble at safety. Inserting Donovan Wilson into the lineup at safety has helped, and the defense is starting to understand and implement Mike Nolan’s defensive scheme much better than earlier in the season. There has been improvement, but they have always had trouble handling mobile quarterbacks who can pick up yards with their legs. I wouldn’t expect that to change this week and Jalen Hurts should put up big numbers.
5) Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are some of your expectations for this Cowboys offseason? Any coaching changes? What happens with Dak Prescott?
This game feels like a real toss up to me. It could go either way. The Cowboys are improved and are starting to get some consistency out of Andy Dalton and the offensive line, while they have also found the ability to create turnovers. But they still give up a lot of yards and points on defense, and their run game isn’t strong. I think the real key is the Cowboys defense won’t be able to get the Eagles offense off the field because Hurts will consistently pick up key first downs with his legs. We’ve seen it happen so many times when the Cowboys try to contain mobile quarterbacks. Eagles 27-Cowboys 24.
The Cowboys have to improve their defense this offseason. If the Cowboys get their injured offensive line back in 2021, and they get their QB back (I’ll address that momentarily), then they should have a potent offense once again. But their defense needs an infusion of talent. That is my big expectation for the Cowboys in the offseason, add to the defense in free agency and in the draft.
As for coaches, the big question is keeping Mike Nolan as the defensive coordinator. I’d lean to bringing in someone new, but Mike McCarthy wanted Nolan so he might push for him to get one more year to prove his scheme.
As for Dak Prescott, it should be obvious to the Jones family that they need to get him signed. The first five games of the year before he got hurt, the Cowboys were elite on offense. His numbers were astounding. Once he was gone, the offense fell apart. He is that valuable to the Cowboys. They have to get him signed to a long-term deal and I’m guessing they will. They made a mistake by not getting it done last offseason, and they certainly don’t want to resort to a franchise tag again. I’m around 95% sure Cowboys ownership will give in this year and meet Prescott’s contractual demands.