WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
The Eagles must hope the bye week didn’t cool off Carson Wentz, who had 17 touchdown passes in his last five games. He’ll look for another big game against the NFL’s 14th-ranked pass defense, which allows 221.2 passing yards per game. The Eagles like to spread the ball around, and tight end Zach Ertz and slot receiver Nelson Agholor could be targets in the middle of the field. Alshon Jeffery has been bothered by an ankle injury, but he’s expected to play. The Cowboys secondary could miss safety Jeff Heath, who has a concussion. Sixth-round pick Xavier Woods could be forced into the lineup. Their top safety is Byron Jones, who will cover Ertz. Anthony Brown and Orlando Scandrick are the starting cornerbacks.
The big injury on the Cowboys defense is to top linebacker Sean Lee, a Penn State product whose expected absence leaves the Cowboys vulnerable on the second level. The Atlanta Falcons rushed effectively against the Cowboys after Lee was hurt. Eagles running back Jay Ajayi has a better grasp of the playbook entering his second game with the team and could take on a bigger role. Ajayi, who grew up in Frisco, Texas, will have a big cheering section at the game. LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement will likely be the other running backs in the rotation. The Eagles rank fourth in the NFL in rushing this season with 136.8 yards per game and are coming off of a big game against Denver.
The best defensive lineman on the Cowboys is Demarcus Lawrence, who leads the NFL with 11.5 sacks this season. He rushes from Lane Johnson’s side, so Lawrence vs. Johnson will be a key matchup. Defensive tackle David Irving is also a player to watch. He’ll be blocked by Stefen Wisniewski in the interior.
The Eagles will have the advantage on third downs and in the red zone. They are third in the NFL with a 46.8 percent conversion rate on third downs, and the Cowboys rank 26th in the NFL by allowing first downs on 43.5 percent of the third downs they encounter. They rank 24th in the NFL in red zone defense; the Eagles are first in the NFL in that category, scoring touchdowns on 72.4 percent of their trips.
WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL
The Cowboys are trying to recover from an ugly performance last week, when quarterback Dak Prescott was sacked eight time with Tyron Smith sidelined. Smith is expected to be pit again, and the Cowboys will turn to Byron Bell to replace him. Vinny Curry and Derek Barnett rush from that side and could be in line for big games. But don’t forget the rest of the Eagles’ defensive line, which is the strength of the team. The Cowboys are known to have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan must win the matchups in the interior.
Prescott is proving to be one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, and he’ll need to carry an offense that is playing its second game without suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott. Alfred Morris and Rod Smith will be the top running backs for Dallas; that’s a drop-off from Elliott. Even with Elliott, the Eagles take pride in their top-ranked rush defense and forcing opponents to be one-dimensional. Prescott is an efficient passer who is completing 63.3 percent of his attempts and has a 16-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz praised Prescott’s ability to throw while on the run, so the defensive line must be careful when Prescott buys time. Prescott also averages 7.4 yards per carry and has rushed for five touchdowns.
The Eagles defense will receive a boost with the return of cornerback Ronald Darby, who has been out since Week 1 with a dislocated ankle. Look for Darby to start at his outside cornerback spot, although there might be a rotation while he continues to return to game shape. The Eagles cornerbacks have played well in recent weeks, but they’ll be challenged by a receiving corps that has Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley. Jason Witten is one of the best tight ends in NFL history and has hurt the Eagles in past seasons. Malcolm Jenkins will likely cover Witten, with Patrick Robinson drawing the Beasley assignment. Darby and Jalen Mills will spend most of their time on the outside.
That’s how many games the 8-1 Eagles are ahead of the 5-4 Cowboys in the NFC East. Washington is 4-5 and the Giants are 1-8, so both teams are trailing the Eagles and Cowboys. If the Eagles win Sunday, they’ll have a four-game division lead. It would be hard for the Eagles to fail to win the NFC East at that point. The Pittsburgh Steelers are the only other team with as big a division lead entering this week’s games.
Zach Berman: Eagles 27, Cowboys 21
Jeff McLane: Eagles 31, Cowboys 23
Les Bowen: Eagles 27, Cowboys 17
Paul Domowitch: Eagles 30, Cowboys 22