Eagles-Cowboys scouting report | Paul Domowitch

Eagles running back Wendell Smallwood runs with the football against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, October 1, 2017 in Carson, CA. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer

When Eagles run the ball

For much of the season, the Eagles offense has been very balanced. In games 3 through 11, they had a 51.5 run-play percent. In their last four games, however, it’s been just 37.1. They ran the ball just eight times for 18 yards in the second half Monday night. That said, they’re still second in the league in rushing (136.3 yards per game) and sixth in rush average (4.5). The Eagles use a running-back-by-committee approach, with Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and rookie Corey Clement sharing snaps and carries. They’ve had a back with 15 carries just four times this season. With home-field advantage already secured, the Eagles likely won’t use Ajayi, Blount or Clement much, if at all, Sunday. Look for Wendell Smallwood, who has been inactive for seven of the last 10 games, to get the lion’s share of carries, along with Kenjon Barner. The Cowboys are 11th against the run (106.3 yards per game). But the Eagles had a season-high 215 rushing yards against them in Week 11.

EDGE: Eagles

When Eagles throw the ball

After playing well against the Giants in his first start as Carson Wentz’s replacement, Nick Foles struggled Monday night against the Raiders, completing just 19 of 38 passes and averaging 4.3 yards per attempt. He was 1 for 11 for 10 yards on third down. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who leads the team in touchdown catches (9) and had 28 receptions in the previous six games, including 24 for first downs, was shut out for the first time since his rookie season. If Carson Wentz was healthy, Doug Pederson likely would rest him and Jeffery on Sunday, since the Eagles already have secured home-field advantage. But Foles needs as many reps with his wideouts as possible heading into the playoffs. With Orlando Scandrick sidelined with a back injury, the Cowboys’ top three corners – Jourdan Lewis, Anthony Brown and Chidobe Awuzie – are rookies. DE DeMarcus Lawrence is tied for second in the NFL in sacks with 14 ½, but was effectively neutralized by Eagles RT Lane Johnson in Week 11.

EDGE: Eagles

Poll

What was the biggest surprise in Philadelphia sports this year?

Camera icon Ron Jenkins / AP
The Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott , running behind a block by center Travis Frederick (72) against the Seahawks on Sunday.

When Cowboys run the ball

Ezekiel Elliott returned from his six-game suspension last week and rushed for 97 yards on 24 carries in the Cowboys’ 21-12 loss to Seattle. Despite missing six games, Elliott still is 11th in the NFL in rushing with 880 yards. He didn’t play against the Eagles in Week 11. While the Cowboys have been eliminated from the playoffs, Elliott is expected to play Sunday, particularly with another 1,000-yard season within his grasp. The Cowboys have averaged 145.9 rushing yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry in nine games with Elliott and 121.3 and 4.2 in the six without him. The Eagles own the league’s No. 1-ranked run defense. They’ve held teams to 75.9 rushing yards per game, though they also have been run on less than any other team in the league (just 20.3 attempts per game). Marshawn Lynch and the Raiders rushed for 137 yards on 33 carries Monday night. Both were season highs. But the Eagles shut them down in the second half, holding them to 32 yards on 16 carries.

EDGE: Eagles

When Cowboys throw the ball

Dak Prescott hasn’t come anywhere close to duplicating his magnificent rookie season. He’s 18th in the NFL in passing with a rating – 86.7 – that’s more than 18 points lower than last year’s. He’s 27th in interception percentage, 21st in yards per attempt and 16th in third-down passing. He had a plus-19 touchdowns-to-interceptions differential last year. This year: plus-8. Slot receiver Cole Beasley, who had 75 catches last season, has vanished from the Cowboys offense. He has just 36 catches and is averaging 8.7 yards per catch, his lowest catch average since his rookie season. He has just eight third-down catches for first downs. Last year, he had 22. Dez Bryant is a shell of the unstoppable receiver he was in 2012-14, when he had 41 touchdown catches. He’s averaging a career-low 12.3 yards per catch. The Eagles’ 19 interceptions are the third most in the league. Nine have come on third down, where the Eagles really have excelled. They have a 61.5 opponent passer rating on third down.

EDGE: Eagles

Camera icon YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Jake Elliott kicking a field goal out of the hold of Donnie Jones against the Rams.

Special teams

Eagles PK Jake Elliott has made 26 of 31 FGs, including 24 of his last 27. He hit a 48-yard game-winner with 22 seconds left Monday against Oakland, and kick-started the Eagles’ successful regular season with a franchise-record 61-yarder with no time left to beat the Giants in Week 3. Cowboys PK Dan Bailey owns the second-best FG accuracy rate (88.6) in league history, but had back-to-back 34- and 48-yard misses in the fourth quarter last week in the Cowboys’ 21-12 loss to Seattle, which eliminated them from playoff contention. Cowboys returner Ryan Switzer had a 61-yard kickoff return against the Eagles in Week 11. He followed that up two weeks later with an 83-yard punt return for a TD against the Redskins. The signing of Bryan Braman two weeks ago right after the Eagles had a punt blocked against the Rams seems to have stabilized their special teams. They blocked three kicks against the Giants and have held their last two opponents to 18.8 yards per kickoff return.

EDGE: Eagles

Domowitch’s prediction

Cowboys 24, Eagles 20

Key matchups

–Eagles RT Lane Johnson vs. Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence is tied for second in the league in sacks with 14 ½. Johnson shut him out in their first meeting in Week 11. But it’s uncertain how much Johnson will play in this game. ADVANTAGE: Eagles

–Eagles MLB Dannell Ellerbe vs. Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott. Ellerbe, signed by the Eagles in mid-November, is expected to be the team’s third linebacker in their base package. He played 27 snaps Monday night against Oakland and provided a physical presence inside. ADVANTAGE: Cowboys

–Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery vs. Cowboys CBs Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie. For just the second time in his career and the first time since his rookie year, Jeffery had no catches Monday against the Raiders. As with Johnson, it’s uncertain how much Jeffery will play. ADVANTAGE: Eagles

Camera icon CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Eagles defensive end Chris Long celebrating a play against the Raiders.

Hot and Not

Hot

Eagles: DE Chris Long. Has two sacks and 14 total quarterback pressures in the last three games.

Cowboys: DE DeMarcus Lawrence. Is tied for second in the league in sacks with 14 ½.

Not

Eagles: RB LeGarrette Blount. Has averaged just 3.4 yards per carry in the last four games.

Cowboys: QB Dak Prescott. Has a 54.9 passer rating, no TDs and four interceptions in the last two games.