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December 07, 2023

Eagles vs. Cowboys: Five matchups to watch

How will the Eagles defense handle Dak Prescott and the Cowboys passing game?

Eagles NFL
120723CeeDeeLamb Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Sean Desai would be wise to not leave Eli Ricks one-on-one with CeeDee Lamb, like he often did Week 9.

The Philadelphia Eagles suffered their second loss of the season in a game of high importance against the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday. They'll look to flush that performance and rebound against the Dallas Cowboys, who are threatening the Eagles' spot atop the NFC East. Here are our five matchups to watch.

1) The Eagles' cornerbacks vs. CeeDee Lamb (duh) and Brandin Cooks

Before we get to the receivers, we should probably note that Dak Prescott is meritoriously being mentioned as an MVP candidate this season. In the Cowboys' embarrassing 42-10 Week 5 loss in primetime to the 49ers, Prescott was intercepted 3 times and Dallas had just 8 first downs. But in the Cowboys' 7 games since, Prescott has thrown 21 TDs vs. 2 INTs, he's completing 70.5 percent of his passes, he has a passer rating during that span of 121.5, and he has started to become a threat as a runner once again, rushing 29 times for 129 yards and 2 TDs. He's crushing it.

Against the Eagles Week 9, Prescott was 29 of 44 for 374 yards, 3 TDs, and 0 INTs. 

Lamb went off for 11 catches for 191 yards in that game. The Eagles had a bad gameplan for defending Lamb, as he often had an undrafted rookie in Eli Ricks covering him man-to-man in important moments. No hindsight needed there. That simply shouldn't have happened. Sean Desai would eventually adjust and allow Darius Slay to cover Lamb in the slot, and he did a better job.

"We've got to do a better job of getting around him," Desai said on Tuesday. "He had a lot of catch and run yards on us, underneath stuff and catch and run stuff. Make sure there's bodies underneath that can help us. We did a good job overall in terms of limiting them in the red zone and keeping points off the board, but we've got to do a better job earlier and just get around him a little bit more."

Through 12 games, Lamb has 90 catches for 1,182 yards and 7 TDs. He's on pace for 128 catches for 1,675 yards and 10 TDs.

He's probably even more dangerous in this matchup than he was in the last one because the Cowboys are now also getting significant contributions from WR2 Brandin Cooks, who has 20 catches 332 yards and 3 TDs over the Cowboys' last 4 games.

2) The Eagles' linebackers and safeties vs. Jake Ferguson

In case anyone hadn't already noticed that the Eagles have a very tenuous situation at linebacker, the 49ers exposed that to an extreme degree on Sunday, as they picked on Nicholas Morrow all evening. In that game, PFF had Morrow down for 6 receptions allowed on 8 targets for 151 yards and 2 TDs. It was a performance that rivaled Nate Gerry's against the Steelers in 2020 or Levon Kirkland's against the Buccaneers in 2002.

The Cowboys had success getting the ball to Jake Ferguson against the Eagles Week 9, when Ferguson had wins against Morrow, Zach Cunningham, Reed Blankenship, and Kevin Byard.

He had 7 catches on 10 targets for 91 yards and a TD against the Eagles, plus he drew a pass interference call.

The Eagles should have Cunningham back for this game, and they'll be unwrapping newcomer Shaq Leonard, but opposing offenses are going to continue to attack the middle of the field until the Eagles can stop the bleeding there.

3) Where might the Eagles go feastin'™️? 🍗

Against all odds, the Cowboys' offensive line has stayed healthy this season, and still looks like this:

Tyron Smith Tyler Smith Tyler Biadasz Zack Martin Terence Steele 

In the Eagles' Week 9 win, the guards and Tyron Smith were all very good, however, Steele had a nightmare performance. He gave up 4 sacks — 1 to Haason Reddick, 2 to Brandon Graham, and 1 to Josh Sweat, which was a biggest play of the game.

Spoiler: The Cowboys aren't going to be stupid enough to leave Steele on an island again. He'll get help in this game.

#FeastinMeter™️: 4/10 turkey legs 🍗🍗🍗🍗

4) RUN THE BALL (better)

In their loss to the 49ers, the Eagles only gave it to their backs 9 times, because (a) those plays were completely ineffective and the offense was being put in long downs/distances, and (b) you know, they got blown the eff out and (a Brotherly Shove aside) called 25 straight pass plays to end the game. They understandably got away from it in that game.

The Eagles are not running it well right now. Jalen Hurts injured his knee against the Dolphins Week 7 and then again later against the Cowboys Week 9. While Hurts appeared to be running around fine against the Niners, the run game hasn't been the same because opposing defenses aren't paying as much attention to Hurts, negating the Eagles' numbers advantage on gives to the running backs. Since that Dolphins game, the Eagles are averaging just 3.7 yards per rush attempt.

Here were those nine runs on Sunday:

There are a lot of little mistakes happening in that video that are not allowing the Eagles to maximize their runs, as noted by my friend Brent.

• 0:26 mark: Unacceptable effort by A.J. Brown.

• 0:36 mark: Olamide Zaccheaus doesn't get a block at all on the corner.

• 0:43 mark: Whiff by Jason Kelce that we don't normally see.

The Eagles have five more regular season games to figure things out in the run game before the playoffs, and it starts this week against Dallas.

5) Jalen Hurts vs. himself

In the Eagles' loss to the 49ers, Hurts wasn't seeing the field as well as he normally does, as we pointed out on Tuesday. The quarterback film guys have since published their analyses of Hurts, with more or less the same findings. This one is better than mine, so go check this out if you have a half hour to kill and are a glutton for punishment:

There's some weird, "dog whistly" commentary surrounding Hurts this week. You've probably seen it. I'm not acknowledging it. But certainly, Hurts needs a bounce back performance in this game, or the Eagles are likely going to find themselves in a tie atop the NFC East and behind the 49ers in the chase for the 1 seed.

The Eagles would probably be smart to get Hurts going with some easy stuff out of the gate to get his confidence up, and then get back to some of the more complex concepts once he has seen some positive completions.

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