The Eagles are preparing for what may be their most pivotal matchup of the year. Coming off of a well deserved by week, a clash with Dallas could either cement their NFC East crown or throw a spanner into the works of an 8-1 season. The Cowboys aren’t the same team that they were at the start of the year but for the Eagles to reap the rewards, they will still have to be at their best. Here are five things to keep an eye on.
Stopping the non-existent run:
Losing a starting running back hurts. Losing one of the most dominant runners in the league after a rollercoaster year of suspensions and appeals that have shrouded Dallas in controversy? That could kill any well-oiled machine. The Falcons were able to hold Alfred Morris to just 53 rushing yards…not exactly a horrific night, but one week later that absolutely could be.
Stunningly, the Eagles have not allowed a single running back to amass more than 40 yards against them since Kareem hunt broke out in week 2. Allowing just 2.25 yards per carry over the last five weeks, the Eagles un defense has been absolutely phenomenal this season…and if they can really capitalize on the loss of Elliott and marginalize Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense, then controlling the tempo should be a breeze.
The beast that feasts in the East:
While we’re on the topic of a marginalized Cowboys offense, discussing the loss of Tyron Smith and the six sacks given up by his replacement last week was a must. The Falcons pounded the left-hand side of the line in order to collapse the pocket and contain Prescott and it worked wonders. This week? Dallas face an Eagles team that has done nothing but tear through offensive fronts all season long.
Timmy Jernigan’s extension signifies a desire to build from the ball out on both sides, but it’s the development of players such as Derek Barnett and Vinny Curry that have enabled a deep defensive line rotation to be completely dominant from the moment the season began. If Dallas struggle to keep their offensive ship from wobbling, there is a sack storm at sea that refuses to show mercy.
It’s been nine long weeks for Ronald Darby, who has been sidelined since week one with an ankle injury. His return is scheduled for Sunday Night after a week of full practice participation and although it’s unclear just how much he’s going to play against the Cowboys, he will certainly factor into the Eagles defensive gameplan.
Hungry to get back out on the field, Darby looked impressive during his limited snaps for the Eagles in week one and this will be the only the second time since being acquired in the heart of preseason that Darby will be suiting up for the Birds.
The secondary has been emphatic this season. An interception churning machine (With eight between the trio so far) that now features an NFC Defensive player of the week in Jalen Mills, the cornerback position’s development has just been incredible to watch. The confidence exuded by rookie Rasul Douglas and veteran Patrick Robinson have helped the Eagles turn their “bend but don’t break” mentality into reliability.
With Darby back, the Eagles may once again begin confident pressing at the line of scrimmage and getting in the face of players such as Dez Bryant. There is a lot of anticipation surrounding Darby’s return and ending his return to the Linc with an interception would almost be poetic.
Leader of the back pack
Jay Ajayi exploded in his debut for the Eagles, leading the team in rushing yards with 77 yards on 8 carries and scoring a thunderous touchdown that sent the Linc into a huge cheer. The fact that Ajayi Was only handed a package of “15-20 plays” after just joining the team, yet was still able to put in an eyebrow-raising showing is a true testament to how talented he really is.
Now, under the Sunday night lights, Ajayi may receive the Lion’s share of carries. it all comes down to how the Eagles view his development…but if Frank Reich and Doug Peterson are to be believed, it won’t be long until Ajayi is the bell-cow back that the Eagles have been craving.
Coming out hot:
The Eagles have scored on five of their opening nine possessions this season and five of their nine second possessions. It’s simply difficult to stop this team from building momentum…which on a nationally televised, primetime game at home, is a very daunting tough for the Cowboys. If Wentz and the Eagles can come out swinging and light up the scoreboard early and often, then there is every chance that the Eagles finally get revenge for the heartbreaking overtime loss dealt to then last season.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports