The Eagles playoff hopes are all hedged on tomorrow’s grudge-match against the Dallas Cowboys. If the Birds are to keep those dreams alive, they’ll need huge performances from some key players on the team. Here are five names who simply have to step up in what could be a season defining game.
The danger of Amari Cooper looms large, but Rasul Douglas is coming off of arguably the best game of his career. Showing increased aggression and a willingness to tackle, Douglas made some huge plays on Monday night and we all know the ballhawking tendencies he possesses. It’s going to take all of that and more to ensure Cooper doesn’t run riot in the most important game of the season.
It took a little while to settle in, but after putting up 75 yards on the Eagles, Cooper notably broke out two weeks later on Thanksgiving in a 180 yard, 2-TD showing to embarrass the Redskins. Catching all 8 passes thrown his way against the Saints didn’t exactly take the heat off of that performance either. His crisp route-running and exceptional burst will make him a challenge and it was one the Eagles struggled to smother last time around.
Douglas will likely be named CB1 on Sunday and of there’s ever a time for him to prove his belonging in what is usually a densely populated secondary, it’s in the team’s most important game where they need to him the most.
Wentz was very impressive last game, regardless of what anyone says. Completing 7/7 passes on the run and completing all of his targets to Golden Tate, Wentz was surgical when it counted, helping to set a season-high in first downs (28). The Cowboys linebackers sought to frustrate Wentz last time out and were able to do so to some degree. Leighton Vander-Esch had an incredible game and read a Wentz pass to Ertz from the moment the ball was snapped, picking off the quarterback.
Wentz has some notable faults he’s working through right now. His footwork is static in the pocket, the balls are coming out lower due to the throwing motion hampered by his rigid lower body and he’s still staring down his primary read (which is usually Ertz), making it easier for defenders to key in on.
The NDSU product has done well to silence the ‘clutch’ argument for now, but if he can lead a big drive against the Cowboys, he may put it to bed once and for all.
Our man Morgan Burkett posted this article last weekend detailing the decline of Alshon Jeffery since the Golden Tate trade.
Jeffery received for 31 yards on Monday night, as the trend continued. What’s interesting is that if Golden Tate continues to become a more prominent target (at least 7 targets in his last 3 games), it’s only going to draw more attention this way, which will naturally open up one of Wentz’s favorite 2017 targets, Alshon Jeffery.
No team has scored more than 30 points against the Cowboys this season, which doesn’t bode well for a hot/cold Eagles offense. They were able to silence the Saints with relative ease (somehow) and they’ll try to tempt you into taking a shot down the sideline. Jeffery was a 50/50 machine last year and that play (A fade or simple go-route) seems to have vanished from the playbook.
At some point or another, the Eagles are going to have to challenge that strong Dallas secondary and there may be no more dangerous receiver than Jeffery to do so, especially if he’s not being given the respect he deserves.
Zeke put up over 150 rushing yards on the Eagles last time out, his highest rushing total of the season. What was once an elite run defense has come crashing back down to earth and will once again be without Timmy Jernigan. It will be down to Fletcher Cox to put the interior pass-rush on his back and try to force him outside and into the (hopefully) safe hands of the Eagles linebackers and secondary.
If the Birds can marginalize the offense or even better, get pressure to Dak Prescott and force him into the errors we all know he makes in big situations, then there’s every chance of this game being a very winnable one for the Eagles. To do that, they’ll need a big showing from their franchise defensive tackle against an offensive line that’s rediscovering its prowess.
He talked the talk, but can he walk the walk? Well, as the starting outside linebacker who will be responsible for mopping up the mess that the pass-rush intends on making, he’d better. As mentioned earlier, Ezekiel Elliott isn’t the type of back who enables defensive coordinators to sleep easy at night and although ‘KGH’ is a tackling specialist (having led the team in special teams tackles one year ago), this will be a tough challenge, not to mention controlling all air-traffic flying in his direction.
What he does have in his favor is tremendous sideline-to-sideline speed which will be invaluable in this game. His ability to recover and save a defensive breakdown will be indispensable, but are the Cowboys going to punish the confidence of the young linebacker?
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