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The Dallas Cowboys are heading into the regular season finale with a record of 11-5 and made the postseason when they wrapped up the NFC East with three games left to play. After what the Cowboys went through in 2020, that’s remarkable achievement.
However, heading into Week 18, there’s a sense of uneasiness. It could just be the opponent on the schedule, the hated Philadelphia Eagles, but more that, it probably stems from the way the Cowboys performed their last time out.
The loss to the Arizona Cardinals wasn’t Dallas’ best effort, and now they only have one game to try and get things headed in the right direction again. That’s never easy against a division rival, or on the road, yet the Cowboys do have a few things going for them. The Cowboys have won every NFC East game, 5-0 this year, and are 6-2 on the road in 2021, with their only losses coming at last year’s Super Bowl contestants. Sweeping the division and winning 12 games would be a great year for the Cowboys.
Now here’s six things to know about their Week 18 opponents, the Eagles.
They’re coming in hot
The Eagles have won four straight games, which has propelled them into the playoffs with a current record of 9-7. Their comeback victory over the Washington Football Team in Week 17, coupled with the San Francisco 49ers’ win punched their ticket to the postseason.
After a 3-6 start, Philadelphia has won six of seven to turn their season around, losing only on the road the New York Giants.
Before getting carried away, though, the Eagles have beaten just one team in those six wins with a .500 record. That was New Orleans Saints, at home, who were on their third quarterback at the time. Everyone kills the Cowboys for their wins against quality opponents, while the Eagles have made the playoffs despite not beating a team with a winning record.
The Eagles have clinched a playoff spot by going 0-6 against teams with a winning record. That's never happened since the merger.
The record could ultimately finish as bad as 0-7 (lose to DAL) and no better than 2-6 (beat DAL & NO gets a 9th win). https://t.co/nWZl6S2txO
— Scott Kacsmar (@ScottKacsmar) January 3, 2022
They’ve got COVID-19 issues
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The Eagles get the Cowboys at home to try to extend their winning streak to five games. An issue for them and possibly to Dallas’ benefit, is they have a COVID-19 outbreak. 12 players are on the reserved list.
Based on updated COVID protocols, they all have a chance to be cleared in time for Saturday’s game vs. the #Cowboys.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 3, 2022
That’s high number to be in league protocols, includes some of the best players on the roster and on both sides of the ball. The Eagles may get some of these players back since the NFL shortened protocol, but the Eagles might be missing some key pieces.
Center Jason Kelce has been cleared to return, but the Eagles are still waiting to find out if others can join him on the field.
They run the ball extremely well
James Lang-USA TODAY Sports
In the first matchup between these two teams, the Eagles were not attempting to run the ball enough. Their offense ran it 12 times, with nine coming from quarterback Jalen Hurts and had running backs carry it just three times against the Cowboys.
Times have changed as the Eagles now use the run as the bread and butter on offense. During their winning streak the Eagles have rushed for at least 118 yards in each contest and are averaging 167.75 yards on the ground. They are also the top rushing team in the NFL at over 160 yards a game and have the most rushing touchdowns in the league with 24.
Hurts adds an extra element to rushing game making it a more dangerous attack and difficult to defend. The Cowboys need to be prepared for the Eagles to try and run it right at them.
DeVonta Smith gets a short-handed secondary
(Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)
The Cowboys will be heading to Philadelphia short at cornerback, down starters Trevon Diggs (illness) and Anthony Brown (COVID-19). That’s not great news going up against one of the better young receivers in the game in Smith.
Diggs, Brown and company were able to slow down the rookie receiver in the first matchup, but Smith leads the Eagles in catches (61), receiving yards (875) and receiving scores (5). With tight end Dallas Goedert likely out due to COVID this week, Smith will be the top receiving option for the Eagles.
Ironically, Smith will be defended at times by Cowboys rookie cornerback Kelvin Joseph, whom Smith played against at Alabama when Joseph was at Kentucky.
Smith is the player the Eagles traded up with the Cowboys for and with a big game he can surpass 1,000 yards receiving on the season with a big game as the primary weapon.
Jalen Hurts continues to improve, especially when it counts
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
The Eagles saw enough in 2020 to turn this season’s keys over to the talented second-year QB. Hurts has rewarded the Eagles by playing smart football, especially in the red zone, where points are tougher to come by.
Jalen Hurts in the red zone this season:
• 13 TDs
• 1 INT
• 9 rushing TDs
• 102.7 rating (leads NFL)
— Victor Williams (@ThePhillyPod) January 4, 2022
He might not have the best numbers outside the 20-yard line, but Hurts is playing near flawless football when the offense has a chance to cash in on points. If the Eagles move the ball into the red zone, the Cowboys will have a difficult time stopping them from scoring points.
They struggle to get after the quarterback
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
A usual staple of any Eagles defense is harassing the quarterback. However, their defense hasn’t been racking up sacks at their usual clip this season.
With just 28 takedowns on the season, the Eagles rank No. 29 in the league, a far cry from last year’s 49, third in the NFL.
The Eagles can still pressure the quarterback, mostly from the inside with defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave combining for 11 sacks. It might not be the fearsome front four Cowboys fans are used to seeing in Philadelphia, but they do still make life difficult on the offensive line.