Eagles at Cowboys: Three matchups that will determine the Week 16 contest on Christmas Eve
This is the game we’ve all been waiting for, Eagles fans.
Maybe the game has lost some of its luster now that Gardner Minshew will be under center and the Eagles are comfortably ahead of Dallas in the standings. Nevertheless, whenever the Eagles and Cowboys meetup, it’s must watch television. It won’t be any different this time around.
Here are three matchups that could determine the outcome of the newest installment in this heated rivalry.
Gardner Minshew vs. Cowboys depleted secondary
The Eagles may have their backup quarterback under center for this one, but it’s really not that lopsided of a matchup when you look at who the Cowboys are working with at corner.
Dallas has suffered two major injuries in their cornerback room. Anthony Brown (Achilles) and Jourdan Lewis (foot) are both out for the season, leaving DaRon Bland and Kelvin Joseph to pick up the slack. Bland has played primarily in the nickel for Dallas and has actually done pretty well. He leads the team in interceptions with four and is the highest graded CB (72.8) in the Cowboys secondary, per Pro Football Focus.
As for Joseph, he’s struggled ever since taking on a starting role. He’s played a total of 165 defensive snaps for Dallas this season. On those reps, he’s surrendering a 66.7 completion percentage and a 149.3 passer rating when targeted. Joseph has also allowed a team-high four touchdowns in coverage.
As a unit, Dallas has one of the pass defenses in the league, ranking third in terms of total passing yards allowed. They’ve been able to mask some of their injuries thus far, but now that Joseph is the full-time starter in the slot, Dan Quinn can only do so much.
Trevon Diggs is great in his own right, but he’s just one corner. The Eagles have the weapons to spread the wealth around and avoid throwing in his direction. Expect a lot of quick hitting passes targeted in the middle of the field, either to Dallas Goedert or Quez Watkins out of the slot.
Eagles pass rush vs. Cowboys offensive line
For years, the strength of the Dallas offense has been their offensive line. That hasn’t been the case this season, as they rank 18th in pass blocking grade per PFF at 64.4. Their 49 percent pass block win rate ranks 29th in the NFL.
With starting right tackle Terence Steele on the IR with a torn ACL, Dallas’ offensive line will be a huge question mark heading into this contest. Tyron Smith returned last week against Jacksonville, but Dallas opted to rotate him and Jason Peters at right tackle throughout the game, leaving rookie Tyler Smith to man the blind side.
In his first game back, Tyron Smith posted a 40.1 pass blocking grade. Peters has earned a 57.0 pass blocking mark for the year.
Despite their lackluster pass protection, Dallas has only surrendered 19 sacks on the season, tied for the fewest in the league. In their first matchup with the Eagles, Jonathan Gannon’s group didn’t tally a single sack on Cooper Rush. Now that Dallas’ offensive line is a bit depleted and the Eagles pass rush is on a hot streak, expect that to change this time around.
Per PFF, the Eagles are the best pass rushing team in the NFL, posting an overall pass rushing grade of 84.7. Whether it’s Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, or Brandon Graham coming off the edge, or the interior duo of Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox, the Eagles have more than enough pass rushing firepower to get home against this Cowboys front.
Shane Steichen/Nick Sirianni vs. Micah Parsons
The last time these two teams met, Micah Parsons was a non-factor. Shane Steichen and Nick Sirianni did a marvelous job formulating a game plan to neutralize Parsons by forcing him to make reads on the fly. He ended the game with seven combined tackles, but didn’t record a single sack or QB hit.
Jalen Hurts’ mobility and the RPO game kept Parsons at bay all night. With Minshew under center this time around, the Eagles offensive coaching staff will need to come up with different ways to isolate Parsons.
Minshew simply doesn’t have the running ability of Hurts, making the RPO game less viable. Plus, the Cowboys have had months to adjust their defensive game plan to counteract the Eagles RPO attack. Honestly, I’m not smart enough to share any kind of template for how the Eagles may attack Parsons. That’s Stechen and Sirianni’s job, and I do have full confidence in whatever they come up with.
Lane Johnson did a great job against Parsons in the first matchup. After he went down with an injury in the second half, Parsons’ presence was much more noticeable. If Johnson manages to stay on the field for the entire game on Saturday, he certainly has the ability to shut Parsons down on his own.
Listen to the most recent episode of Grease the Poles
Cowboys Fan Felipe Fontes of the Caps Off Podcast Joins to talk Christmas Eve Matchup, Playoff Outlook for Eagles and Cowboys, Score Predictions, Eagles Pro Bowl Snubs – Grease the Poles
Mandatory Credit: Getty Images