The Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) are hosting the Dallas Cowboys (11-5) at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday evening. In order to preview this (not particularly meaningful) Week 18 matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Blogging The Boys. Dave Halprin kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming tilt. Let’s take a look at his answers.
1 - It appears that the Eagles will be sitting their starters in this game. Mike McCarthy indicated the Cowboys are NOT going to rest their guys. Do you believe him? And is risking injury the right move for Dallas? What’s the realistic upside?
Hard to say because Mike McCarthy likes to keep his secrets and there have been times throughout the season where the Cowboys have said one thing during the week and done another. Of course, that usually gets blown up by Jerry Jones talking to the media before the week is out so I tend to pay more attention to what he says, not because he makes the decisions, it’s McCarthy’s team, but because once he knows what the plan is he can’t help but tell the media.
I think the Cowboys will try to win it, but I can see them being selective in who they play and for how long. A guy like Ezekiel Elliott could use a rest as he’s been playing with a banged up knee for half the season. They could also rest a guy like Tyron Smith who has been battling an ankle issue. I don’t think they will go all out because it’s a very narrow window where they can move to third or second in the seeding. But I do think that if players are fully healthy they will play, although I could see heavy substitutions and guys getting moved to the bench depending on the score and flow of the game.
2 - What is the Cowboys’ biggest strength entering the playoffs?
Right now, based on recent play, it’s the front seven of the defense. That excludes Trevon Diggs who has all those turnovers, but it’s the guys up front on the defense who have been doing the job since everyone got back to health. Everyone has heard about the season Micah Parsons is having, and he deserves all the accolades being thrown his way. He is so versatile and everything he does he does well. But it is his pass-rushing ability that really sets him apart. He is so quick but can also turn speed into power. He is now playing with DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory in the pass rush, and both of them are healthy since missing time in the middle of the season.
Throw in guys like tackles Neville Gallimore and rookie Osa Odighizuwa, and defensive end Dorance Armstrong, plus linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Keanu Neal, and you have a front seven that is dangerous. When they are on their game they can totally disrupt an offense.
3 - What is the Cowboys’ biggest weakness entering the playoffs?
It’s the offense, and that is crazy to say considering how many stars the Cowboys have on that side of the ball and their current rankings in volume stats on that side of the ball. But ever since the Cowboys bye week, that offense has been very hit or miss and can spend large portions of games spinning their wheels. We know they can be dominating like they were earlier in the year and on occasion like games against Atlanta and Washington, but their inconsistency lately is driving everyone mad.
I say the whole offense because there are multiple offenders. Dak Prescott has not looked right for much of the second half of this season. His accuracy has taken a hit, and his ability to hit the deep ball, something he used to do very well, has evaporated. He’s also not getting much help from wunderkind offensive coordinator Kelln Moore. His creative play-calling seems to have stalled somewhere along the way. We only see it in bits and spurts. And the offensive line struggles in pass protection and they are not getting much done on the ground either in recent games. Receivers drop balls, and Elliott is battling injury. We have spent much of the second half of the season trying to figure out what is going wrong there. Some of the recent games where the Cowboys are scoring a lot have come in catch-up mode or garbage time.
4 - How would you rank the Cowboys’ potential wild card opponents in terms of most threatening to least threatening? (Arizona, San Francisco, Philadelphia)
The Cardinals are the top-tier threat for multiple reasons. One is they just handed the Cowboys a loss at the Cowboys stadium. And they weren’t even playing at close to full strength in terms of health and COVID. So it is frightening that we might have to run it back with them to open the playoffs. Also, Kyler Murray just dominates us and it’s very frustrating.
After that, I think the Eagles and the 49ers are on similar levels, although I would probably rank Philly ahead of the 49ers right now because of the QB situation in San Fran. Having an unsettled QB position, and possibly starting a rookie with little game experience at QB in the playoffs is a very risky thing. So the Eagles would be the second-most threatening, followed by the 49ers.
5 - What’s your prediction for the rest of this Cowboys season? Do they get back to the NFC Championship Game for the first time since the 1995 season?
If you had asked me this last week after the team obliterated Washington, I would have had a lot of confidence they could get to the NFC Championship game. They were the #2 seed, and would have had home field except for the Packers, it was all lining up. It looked like they had figured out their offensive woes. Then they looked pitiful against the Cardinals until the fourth quarter. Not exactly inspiring confidence.
Still, they are absolutely talented enough of a roster to make a run, the question is can the offense regain its swagger. I’ll stand by them and say yes, they make the NFC Championship.