There is no truth to the rumor that the Eagles needed a sump pump to remove all the drool from the defensive-line meeting room this week after they watched the film of the Cowboys’ 27-7 loss to the Falcons
The Falcons’ pass rush had an early Thanksgiving feast Sunday, sacking Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott eight times. Most of them came through left tackle, where poor Chaz Green subbed for injured four-time Pro Bowler Tyron Smith and had a bad-awful Winston Justice kind of day.
Smith won’t play Sunday night, either, though the Cowboys have wisely decided to go in another blocking direction, giving six-year veteran Byron Bell the start at left tackle rather than Green.
Without Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys are expected to have considerable difficulty running the ball against an Eagles defense ranked first in the league against the run. Which could mean a lot of second- and third-and-longs for Prescott. Which could mean a lot of sack opportunities for the Eagles.
But Prescott, like the Eagles’ Carson Wentz, is elusive. And as defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz pointed out earlier this week, he throws on the run as well as any quarterback in the league.
“I’ve been around the NFL for a pretty long time now,’’ Schwartz said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better thrower on the run than Dak Prescott. He can throw scrambling to his left. He can throw scrambling to his right. There are not too many quarterbacks that can do that.
“He can threaten the whole field on the run. He doesn’t have to reset to throw. There are a lot of mobile quarterbacks, a lot of guys that can throw from the pocket. He can do both of those.
“He also can run the read-option. But what really makes him stand out is that he can throw on the run and is accurate throwing on the run.’’
Prescott attributes his throwing-on-the-run prowess to playing backyard football as a kid. Seriously.
“When I get in trouble or something breaks down, my instincts kick in,’’ he said. “Once I’m out of the pocket, it kind of goes back to being a little kid again. The play is scratched at that point and people are running and you have to find somebody in a scramble drill, like in backyard ball.’’
So while the Eagles need to get pressure on Prescott on Sunday night, they also need to try to keep him bottled up in the pocket, which generally means sacrificing some pass-rushing aggressiveness.
“It’s definitely a different challenge than a normal week,’’ Eagles defensive end Chris Long said. “You have to be cognizant of things like [staying in] your rush lanes and balancing [the rush] and those kinds of things.
“You’re kind of walking a fine line between slowing your rush down to deal with the things he’s able to do as far as getting out of the pocket, and being able to play fast.’’
Despite being under siege last week, Prescott still completed 20 of 30 passes, though his yards-per-attempt average (5.87) was the second lowest of the season. He also rushed for 42 yards on six carries. Four of those carries produced first downs.
“He’s grown a lot from last year,’’ Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said. “He has the confidence to extend plays. He can make every throw. Doesn’t matter whether you take him to the left side or right. He can throw across his body. He can do a lot of things. We just have to make sure we don’t give him any confidence.’’
But for two drives, the Eagles did a good job against Prescott last year in their 29-23 overtime loss to the Cowboys in Week 8. He completed five of eight passes, including a 22-yard touchdown to Dez Bryant, on the Cowboys’ game-tying drive in the fourth quarter.
Then, he completed all five of his passes on the only possession of overtime, including a game-winning 5-yard touchdown to tight end Jason Witten. On the Cowboys’ other 11 possessions that night, Prescott was 9-for-23 for 152 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
While most of Prescott’s numbers are down this season – lower passer rating, lower completion percentage, lower yards-per-attempt average – he said he’s a much better quarterback than he was as a rookie.
“I feel better as a quarterback and as a player just from the experience standpoint,’’ he said. “I’m getting through reads faster. I’m just better with the ball than I was last year.’’
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett agreed.
“He played really well from the outset as a rookie, and played consistently well throughout the season,’’ he said. “His growth has continued.’’
The difference Sunday night is he won’t have Elliott and he won’t have Tyron Smith protecting his blind side and he’ll be going against an Eagles defense that is much better, and much more confident, than the edition he faced in Week 8 last year.
“They’re a different team,’’ Prescott said. “We’ve seen some of the changes in the secondary. They’re playing off of their offense. Their offense is scoring points and getting them leads, and they’re able to use that to their advantage.’’
The Eagles have outscored their opponents in the first quarter, 64-12. Fifty of those 64 points have come on their first two possessions. They have had the lead going into the fourth quarter in eight of their nine games.
During their seven-game win streak, they have outscored their opponents in the first three quarters, 180-66. As a result, teams have been forced to abandon the run early.
Not that they’ve had much success when they have run. Still, Eagles opponents have averaged just 18.4 rushing attempts per game, far and away the lowest average in the league.
The Cowboys averaged 30.7 rushing attempts in their first eight games. Without Elliott last week, they ran the ball just 21 times, including Prescott’s six carries.
“We’re an offense that we believe in what we do, regardless of the personnel or the individual personnel that we might be missing,’’ Prescott said.
“So, we’re still going to run the ball. We trust our offense. We trust our line. Our offense is going to stay the same. We’re a balanced team that is going to stay aggressive.’’