While Dak Prescott has only played in 25 regular season games in the NFL, he’s never had to come off a loss like the one he and his Dallas Cowboys team endured last week, at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons. Usually playing behind one of the very best offensive lines in the league, anchored by one of the very best left tackles in the game, he’s never had to spend most of his afternoon peeling himself off the turf like he did last Sunday.
Unfortunately for Prescott, and for Dallas, things aren’t going to get much easier on Sunday, when they host the Philadelphia Eagles, who own the NFL’s best record at 8-1.
By and large, the NFL is really all about match ups, and how each team matches up against the schemes of their opponent. Dallas won 19 of its past 25 games with a formula of running the football down their opponents’ throats, and letting the uber-poised Prescott make timely throws to a cadre of veteran receivers.
That game plan simply isn’t going to work this week. For one, Dallas will finally be without the services of running back Ezekiel Elliott, who will finally serve his full six-game suspension, effective as of last week. Elliott’s backup, Alfred Morris, isn’t anywhere near as dynamic a runner as Elliott is. And even if he was, he isn’t exactly going to find a lot of running room when playing the Eagles. Philadelphia has the #1 rushing defense in the NFL, holding entire teams to less than 67 yards rushing per game. In their nine games this year, they allow less than 32 yards per game to the opponent’s top running back, and have held their opponent’s top runner to less than 40 yards rushing in eight of their nine games.
The Cowboys reportedly will once again not have Tyron Smith’s services against Philadelphia, and plan to start journeyman Byron Bell at left tackle. That’s not going to bode well for Prescott, considering defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz – who continues to do a masterful job with the Eagles defense – will bring a steady rotation of pass rushers like Vinny Curry, rookie Derek Barnett (the Eagles top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft), and Brandon Graham (who usually plays over the opposite side) at Bell to try and keep him uncomfortable.
But we’d be remiss not to mention Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, who alongside Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, is at the top of the list of candidates for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award this year. His league-leading 23 touchdown passes is one thing, but the fact that he’s the best quarterback in the NFL on third-and-long situations (longer than seven yards to go) is absolutely demoralizing to opposing defenses. Wentz isn’t just playing the quarterback position as well as anyone in the NFL; he’s playing his position as well as any player is playing their position on the league.
Of course, it certainly helps that Wentz’s team just acquired a Pro Bowl running back who ran for 1,272 yards last season for an absolute bargain of a deal, and that he’s throwing to Zach Ertz (who’s become the best tight end in the NFC) and Alshon Jeffrey (who might become the first Eagles receiver to break 1,000 yards receiving in three years).
If the Eagles can keep the Cowboys’ underrated front four on defense at bay, Wentz could have a field day picking apart the back seven of Dallas defense. But more importantly, the Eagles defense has all the ability they need to completely take away what Dallas does best on offense, and force them to play in a way they’re not built for.
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