Even if the Eagles and Cowboys weren’t among the best teams in the entire NFC, Sunday night’s nationally televised game (NBC, 8:30) would be circled on every calendar among fan bases for both teams.
The two top dogs — barely, as the Redskins and Giants are also above the .500 mark — will do battle in Big D and whoever comes out on top will own the NFC East lead for at least one week.
After Philly’s impressive defensive display at home against Minnesota in Week 7 and a continued offensive prowess from Dallas and its run-dominant attack, something will need to give as two of the best units will do battle in Week 8.
Here are three things the Eagles must do to succeed:
The Cowboys average an NFL-best 161.2 yards per game on the ground and lead the league with 11 rushing touchdowns. Rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott is not only the leader for Rookie of the year — he’s a contender for NFL MVP.
Philly’s No. 1 priority will be slowing down Elliott and the Dallas offensive line which has sprung him forward.
“He can run outside, he can run inside. He’s a one-cut runner. He fits their offense really well,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “There are some guys that you say, ‘Okay, we take their inside away and they can’t go outside.’ Other guys, you say, ‘Hey, if you make them run inside the darkness, they are not going to be as effective.’ Their scheme gives him the ability to make the cut as he sees it. So it turns into, it’s not just a single man. Everybody on defense has to do the job; if one guy is out of place or one guy misses a tackle, he can make a big play.”
When Dallas runs the ball, they keep the ball. When they keep the ball they score points. And when they get ahead, they make their opponents one-dimensional. The Eagles must find a way to get their defense off the field.
Keep Beasley,Witten under wraps
Gone — at least temporarily (but perhaps permanently) are the days of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant torching Eagles defenses. Instead, a new era offensively seems to be fueling the Cowboys, led by rookie Dak Prescott.
Prescott’s favorite weapons have been Cole Beasley and Jason Witten. If the Eagles can handle the run game, those two will be the next biggest threats.
“He’s their leading third down-receiver,” Schwartz said of the 5-foot-8 Beasley.”He finds a way to get open. He’s slippery in there. He’s very, very quick and you know, they do a good job scheming to get him open. I mean, he’s a good run after the catch [guy] also.”
Witten, according to Schwartz, is an future hall of famer, and making sure he doesn’t find himself in a favorable mismatch.
“Witten is a great blocker and he is really a tough matchup when it comes to option routes. He’s very strong and he’s incredibly durable.”
Where’s the big play?
Over the last three weeks, the Eagles have posted just one play of 30 yards or more on offense. With the Cowboys likely to run the ball ferociously, the Eagles need to take advantage of their chances when they have the ball.
“I think when we look back on the film from the last few weeks, there are a few plays – just a little something here or maybe we missed something here,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “There were opportunities. I just say this: There have been opportunities that we just missed for one reason or another.”
One way they’ve squandered chances is by committing 54 penalties, costing them 457 yards. Dallas has been flagged for only 36 for 284 yards. The Eagles must win the penalties battle,