Sunday Night Football: Deep Dive

Warren Sharp
·4 min read

Sportsbooks got this opening line wrong.

They chose to open this line on Sunday night, after Andy Dalton was KO’d from the Washington game, with a line of the Cowboys +7.5.

Hearing a few discuss their logic, they believed that the Cowboys would “sign another quarterback” to start instead of turning the team over to Ben DiNucci, a rookie from James Madison. But they were not thinking logically, as it’s nearly impossible bring on a brand new player from outside the team with one week between games.

And here’s the hard truth: +7.5 was a terrible line, because either way it’s wrong. If Dalton happened to recover and be able to play, that number is way too high. Philadelphia hasn’t won any game by more than 5 points all year. But if Ben DiNucci is the starter, +7.5 is way too low.

Here is why: the Cowboys have literally one edge over most every other roster in the league, and it’s their WR corps. They are healthy, and tremendous. Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup are all studs. But if there isn’t a way to reliably get it into their hands, what good is that matchup edge?

The Cowboys welcome the return of OL Zach Martin, but they still are down multiple offensive line starters and are facing the Eagles #3 pass rush unit. The strength of the Eagles roster right now is their defensive line. And they will be set up to record frequent pressure against the Cowboys rookie QB.

In part because the line stinks, in part due to game script because the defense stinks, there haven’t been many opportunities for Ezekiel Elliott to run the ball this season. Dallas ranks #22 in rush efficiency and will go up against the #12 run defense of the Eagles, which ranks #4 in success rate.

In the air, the problem for DiNucci will be that the Eagles play the NFL's 4th highest rate of man coverage in the NFL. The NFL average is 38% man, but the Eagles are around 10% above average. Typically, QBs are better vs zone than man. They average almost 1.0 more YPA zone, double the EPA/att and more success.

Take a look at Dak Prescott for example. Dak absolutely crushed zone.

Dak averaged 9.6 YPA, 60% success and +0.24 EPA against zone.

But against man, he was down at 7.1 YPA, 50% success and -0.06 EPA.

On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys Defense has really struggled to stop early down passes from 12 personnel.

From 11 personnel: 6.8 YPA, 48% success, 0.00 EPA
From 12 personnel: 8.9 YPA, 65% success, +0.46 EPA

The problem is the Eagles don’t have 12 personnel to utilize, given both their starting TEs are injured. So while they may roll out occasional 12, they won’t come close to living in it like they have in the past against the Cowboys Defense.

Additionally, the Eagles likely will be looking to go to a more pass-heavy approach given their lack of RB health. But the problem is, the Cowboys run defense has been terrible on first down:

First down runs vs Dallas: 5.4 YPC, 58% success, +0.13 EPA
Second down runs vs Dallas: 3.2 YPC, 39% success, -0.17 EPA

This is yet another glaring weakness of the Cowboys Defense that I don’t believe the Eagles will be able to take much advantage over.

Since 2016, the Eagles are 4-0 SU and ATS before their bye, but in no game were they favored by over 7.5 points, and two of the games they covered by a FG or less.

They’ve also struggled to win with margin in most every game they’ve played. If they want a shot to cover this number, they’ll have to play a clean game offensively and cover with defense.

By that I mean turnovers or 3-and-outs which set up great field position. Or outright scores defensively.

I would not be laying 9+ points with the current-form Eagles here, even against DiNucci, but I would look at the Eagles in a teaser if you could get them under the 3.