The Philadelphia Eagles are on the road to face the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Sunday Night Football. In order to preview this Week 14 NFC East matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Blogging The Boys. The dashing Dave Halprin kindly took the time to answer my questions about this upcoming battle. Let’s take a look at the answers. [For my answers to questions about the Eagles, check out BTB.]
1 - What’s gone into Dak Prescott’s success this season?
As much flak as Mike McCarthy gets from NFL fans, he has to get a lot of the credit for Prescott’s remarkable year. Over the offseason McCarthy added West Coast principles to the offense and had Dak working on specific 3- and 5-step drops and working on the timing of hitting that with his receivers. Dak looked more accurate and more settled in the pocket instead of having happy feet and it has seemingly helped with his footwork/mechanics. But early on, they were only utilizing the short passing game, and mostly outside the numbers. This was effective but wasn’t exactly explosive.
After the bye in Week 7, everything changed. They started using more pre-snap motion to give Prescott better reads and mismatches. They had Prescott start pushing the ball downfield more. This coincided with CeeDee Lamb going to Dak, and through Dak the coaches, and saying (paraphrased) ’trust me more, give me the ball and good things will happen’. And they did. Dak seems more comfortable in the pocket, he’s being smart about when to break the pocket, his accuracy is on point, and he’s not throwing into coverage as often, cutting the interceptions way down. It may sound strange, but McCarthy might be just the OC Dak was waiting for.
Full disclosure - after early season injuries the offensive line has been remarkably consistent and that always helps immensely. The defense has provided short fields and sometimes even leads, so that makes things easier. Plus he has a lot of weapons to utilize. So it’s not just Dak or McCarthy, this is a well-constructed offense.
2 - What’s the biggest concern with the Cowboys right now?
Outside of the daunting gauntlet of upcoming games similar to the ones you guys just went through, it has to be the recent play of the defense. For most of the year, the defense was crushing it. Turnovers, scoring touchdowns, sacks - they were doing all that, but they were also shutting down explosive plays and stopping third downs. Doing those two things are so key to a great defense. But two games ago the Commanders and Sam Howell were carving us up although they failed to convert that to points. The Seahawks did the same but they converted theirs to points. The Cowboys defense finally rose up in the fourth quarter of that game, but these past two games have definitely been out of character defensively. DaRon Bland keeps intercepting the ball, but his coverage on most downs has slipped the past few games, he needs a rebound. Right now, it’s just a little bit of a worry, but if it happens again on Sunday, a flashing red light will go off.
3 - To what extent do Cowboys fans care that Shaq Leonard signed with the Eagles instead of Dallas?
I think most Cowboys fans wanted Leonard to sign with us, and probably would have liked to see him sign anywhere else (save maybe San Francisco) than with you guys. At the same time, I don’t think it’s really bothering Cowboys fans to a large extent. We didn’t like to lose the competition, but it’s hard to know how good Leonard will be. Obviously he’s not the All-Pro he once was or he wouldn’t be available in the middle of a season in the manner he is, but once a player shows he can do it at a high level, teams will take chances on them. That’s what the Cowboys and Eagles were doing, hoping for a somewhat return to form. I think right now the Cowboys are pretty comfortable with their starting two linebackers (see below), and they added Rashaan Evans, so things are okay there. But certainly it would have been nice to have added Leonard. You guys won out on that one.
4 - Who’s an under-the-radar player who you think could have a bigger impact than expected in this game?
I’ll give you two, although they will be doing the same job. Starting linebackers Damone Clark and Markquese Bell are going to be essential this week. Both are second-year players and have been forced to step up since Leighton Vander Esch went down. They have done a fantastic job of settling the middle of the field. Linebacker has been a thin spot on the team since training camp, but mostly because we weren’t sure what we had behind Vander Esch. Both Clark and Bell are ascending players.
In this game, they will need to make sure the Eagles don’t run all over Dallas. They have to make Jalen Hurts work the passing game, and give the pass rush a chance to disrupt him and force mistakes. If Hurts can just hand the ball to D’Andre Swift and company, or take off on RPOs etc., then we will have a hard time winning.
5 - Who wins this game and why? With DraftKings Sportsbook listing the Eagles as 3.5-point road underdogs, what’s your score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Cowboys season?
I think the Cowboys will win, but I think it is going to be a very close affair just like in Week 9. I give the Cowboys the advantage because they are at home, and they are a much better team at home than on the road. They have won 14 straight games at home. Their offense regularly hits 40 points at home, so they are hard to beat. I don’t think Dallas will hit 40 this week, but I have them winning 31-27.
As for the rest of the season, based on our upcoming schedule and your upcoming schedule, it’s very hard to see the Cowboys overtaking Philly in the NFC East. So I’m guessing we will win more than we will lose the rest of the way and will end up as the #5 seed as a wild card.