The Eagles head into their most important game of the season so far tomorrow, facing their biggest rivals the Dallas Cowboys in a Sunday Night Football clash. Coming off of an impactful win against the Vikings, Doug Pederson will need some big performances from some of his most important players if they’re to overthrow the leaders of the NFC East.
11 receptions and 131 yards don’t sound like incredibly impressive numbers after playing in four games of the NFL season..especially for a franchise tight end. After battling injury, Ertz has been extremely quiet. With just a single reception in each of his last two games, the former Stanford tight end has battled with drops and being ignored on open looks in what’s been an extremely developmental season for the Eagles Offense..but if they are to topple the Cowboys..Ertz will be needed.
The Cowboys Defense hasn’t been overly prolific this season and the team allowed Jordan Reed to run rampant for 70 yards on 5 receptions in their week 2 win. The Eagles will need a similar level of production from Ertz if the Offense is to find ways to convert on third down..something they’ve struggled with all year.
The Eagles DE is having an incredible season so far. 19 tackles, 4 sacks and 2 forced fumbles simply don’t do his play justice..but this week he will be needed more than ever against an offensive line that has allowed sacks on just 1.06% of plays when at home this season…as staggering as that sounds, it’s easily the lowest in the league.
Prescott is an incredibly mobile quarterback who can do damage from just about anywhere on the field. From extending plays to impressive pocket awareness, it’s rare to see Prescott take a big hit..which means if the Eagles can somehow get behind the Dallas O-Line and get in the quarterbacks face often..they could force errors just as they have all season.
The Sacks and QB Hits may not be the most glamorous stats on Sunday night due to just how consistent the Dallas O-Line is, but if they can collapse the pocket and force Prescott to get the ball out quickly, then they have every chance of forcing turnovers..and a large part of that will rely on the success of the ever explosive Brandon Graham.
The second candidate for Eagles Defensive MVP is also having a stellar season. A constant presence around the ball and a tendency to come up with huge plays, make big hits and lead his team in tackles..the Safety has done nothing but stun since his arrival in the City of Brotherly Love..something he will need to do again on Sunday night.
The Cowboys Offense may not be as aggressive as it seems, but there are some versatile deep threats that the team have to still account for. From Jason Witten to the likes of Butler, (a questionable) Bryant and Beasley, the Eagles cornerbacks and coverage linebackers will have their hands full, without the mention of a certain rookie running back.
McLeod’s ability to always be around the ball will be crucial under the Primetime lights, especially with Malcolm Jenkins taking on slot duties in the absence of Ron Brooks. Now flying the flag along with Jalen Watkins, the former Ram will need a big showing to help stop the Dak attack.
The Eagles backfield hasn’t exactly been exhilarating this year, although it has flashed pure potential at times. A 4th quarter fumbling problem for Ryan Mathews has cost the team in key situations and his production hasn’t really represented the amount of snaps he’s been taking.
Doug Pederson is more than aware of the situation..and there’s another rookie running back (not by the name of Ezekiel Elliott) who could make an impact on Sunday, Wendell Smallwood.
The fifth round pick has averaged 4.1 yards per carry in his 28 attempts for the Eagles, including a touchdown. Not only that, but his incredible acceleration earned him a kick return TD just two weeks ago..so it’s clear he’s in hot form.
Depending on how Pederson handles the situation, Smallwood could be in line for a few more snaps than expected against the Cowboys..but will he shine under the Sunday Night Lights?
As aforementioned, it’s likely that Jenkins sees a bulk of time as a slot corner on Sunday. He may not spend the entire game there and the birds are likely to rotate depending on situation..but this is poised to be a big game for the Eagles Safety.
Jenkins has had a relatively quiet season in comparison to McLeod, but came up with a big interception when it mattered against the Redskins. With 23 tackles already this season, the veteran will be expected to lead a young and hungry Defense out onto the field and show his dominance against receivers he knows all too well.
Guys like Jason Witten are no stranger to Malcolm Jenkins..but if there is ever a time for the Eagles Safety to avenge the touchdown that never was, against the Vikings, it’s against the team’s biggest rivals where the matchups are beyond pivotal.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports