During the Dak Prescott era of Dallas Cowboys football, the Philadelphia Eagles have been the primary rival. The Eagles are the best team in the NFC, not just from the standpoint of them winning the NFC last season, but they have the NFL’s current best record at 7-1.
In Week 5, the Cowboys failed the test in San Francisco, losing 42-10 to the 49ers team that has eliminated them from the playoffs the last two seasons. Since then the 49ers have lost three straight, the Eagles have lost a game, and Dallas has beaten both Los Angeles teams. In a game of this magnitude, the Cowboys have to stop certain things Philadelphia is great at and also improve things they haven’t been successfully doing yet. Here is a look at some of those areas the Cowboys must win at to leave Lincoln Financial Field with a victory.
How they Win: Get big plays from Tony Pollard
Last season Tony Pollard was the best weapon on the field for the Cowboys. He could hit big plays not just in the running game, but the passing game as well. Pollard has been one of the most efficient rushers in the league the last couple of years. He was top five in 2021 and 2022, not just in efficiency, but in yards per carry as well. When he was hurt in the playoff game last season against the 49ers, it felt like any chance to hit a big play was gone with him.
Whether it is the new scheme, his injury, or a decline in the offensive line, Pollard hasn’t been the same this through these first eight weeks. Dallas has been a top half of the league rushing team in total yards, but they don’t stack up in yards per attempt. Pollard’s 3.9 yards-per-carry is tied for worst amongst the top 15 NFL rushers.
The Eagles are the best rush defense in football, allowing only 65.5 yards per game. The belief that the Cowboys will be able to rely on running the ball is naive. What they need to do is find some way to catch Philadelphia in a few looks where Pollard can hit big plays. If Dallas has no rush game to slow the pass rush of the Eagles, then Philly can attack Prescott much more aggressively. Hit a screen pass for a lot of yards, or bust a run or two for big plays, and it could soften up the Philadelphia defense.
How they Lose: Can't contain AJ Brown
The MVP award has become a quarterback award, but this season, receivers like Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown are legitimate candidates. Brown has been the main reason the Eagles have been able to survive a lot of close games with his unbelievable playmaking.
Over the last six games Brown has had at least 125 receiving yards in each contest.Last week he added another eight grabs and those went for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
That is incredibly impressive, but it wasn’t just his stats, but when they came. At clutch times, in close contests, Brown has been at his best. Those type of big plays are what kept Philadelphia close and eventually the better team ended up winning.
The Cowboys can give up some receptions and yards to Brown and survive, but not big, momentum changing, plays. Containing Brown will be something that Dan Quinn has to figure out how to do or they could lose this game.
How they win: Micah Parsons wrecks the game
The Philadelphia roster is loaded. They have an all-pro QB, a top-five tight end, and one of the best receiving duos in the league, but their force multiplier is the offensive line.
Their ability to open holes in the run game and protect the QB makes the offense lethal. If Hurts is a good quarterback, the OL allows him to be great, and a great TE or WR becomes elite because of the extra time they have to get open. This line can make any running back seem like a top-end back as well. To counteract that, the defense needs their own force multiplier, and that should be Micah Parsons.
Parsons’s play on defense gets so much attention that it opens up other players on that unit to make plays. If Parsons is double or triple-teamed, Demarcus Lawrence, Osa Odighizuwa, Dorance Armstrong, and the rest of that defensive line get one-on-one opportunities to make big plays. The Eagles have the type of OL to win one-on-one, so this matchup might need Parsons just to ruin everything himself.
Myles Garrett has these types of games often. In Indianapolis, Garrett had nine tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, and a pass deflection. The team needed every one of the plays he made to beat the Colts 39-38. This is the type of game-changing performance Parsons might need to come up with to pull off the upset. Having only one pressure like he did in the game against the 49ers won’t cut it. If Parsons can impact the game at such an outstanding level that it makes up for times when the defense can’t hold up to this talented offense, then the Cowboys could end up pulling out an upset.
How they lose: Get off to a slow start
If there is one clear factor in the Cowboys regular season so far, it’s that the team loses when it gets off to bad starts. In their wins, the team jumps on their opponent. In the opening game, the special teams unit scored a touchdown, the offense had a nine-play drive for a field goal, and the defense had an interception return for a TD. The New York Jets game started with a 12-play touchdown drive. Dallas scored a field goal on a ten-play drive to start the contest versus the New England Patriots and Last week was another ten-play touchdown drive on the Los Angeles Rams.
In their two loses Dallas allowed points on their opponent’s opening drive and then went three-and-out on offense afterwards. San Francisco was the team that eliminated the Cowboys from the playoffs last season and played in the NFC Championship game, but even the Arizona Cardinals, who only has the one victory against Dallas was able to bet them by setting the tone early, so they could dictate the game and play to their strengths.
The Eagles want to control the pass rush by running the ball. This allows their offense to control the pace of the game and keep their defense off the field. It will be key to their gameplan. If they get off to a quick start it increases their chances of doing so immensely. If Dallas wants to win this game, getting ahead and building some confidence early will be important. Get Philadelphia away from the run game, get the pass rush going, and get Jalen Hurts to turn the ball over. The start to this game could be why it eventually ends however it does.