The team can’t afford to fall to 3-6 and 1-2 in the NFC East and still expect to earn a playoff berth.
A win is vital because the Cowboys’ best (and only) shot at the playoffs appears to be by winning the division. With a second-half resurgence, Dallas could still win the East and resurrect what, at the moment, feels like a lost season. That scenario would require wins against the Redskins on Thanksgiving, at the Giants in the season finale and of course, wins against the Eagles on Sunday and again at AT&T Stadium on Dec. 9.
Let’s dream for a second and say that happens. That would get the Cowboys to 7-5 overall and 5-1 record in the East, with four others against the Falcons, Bucs, Saints and Colts. If they could split those four, that would give them a 9-7 record and perhaps in contention for the division title. Let’s face it, though, that scenario is far fetched. It can only happen if they start with a win against the Eagles.
Five things to watch Sunday night:
1. Keeping it real
The offense has to show something. Now that Amari Cooper is in the fold and starting his second game, the excuses are running out. Yes, the starting left guard is out and the offensive line continues to be a concern. Cowboys’ coaches and players are fond of reminding the media that injuries happen to every team. That’s true. Look at the 2017 Eagles, who still won the Super Bowl. So it’s time, as they like to say, for the next man up to step up.
2. Zeke needs feeding
Ezekiel Elliott isn’t having a bad year, but he also hasn’t been as dominant, for example, as his rookie season. Why? The O-line’s struggles are partly to blame, but the play-calling and execution in early downs has been an issue. Too many 3rd and longs have taken the ball out of Elliott’s hands. After falling behind 21-14 with less than 6:00 left in the third quarter against Tennessee, Elliott touched the ball three times (two runs, one pass).
3. RPO or death for Dak
Dak Prescott has combined for 44 yards rushing on eight carries in the past two games, both losses. This comes after rushing a career-high 11 times for 82 yards in the 40-7 win against Jacksonville. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s game plan should include a dedication to Prescott keeping it on the ground with the run-pass option to help keep the Eagles’ defense guessing.
The Eagles have overcome a slow start to get back into the thick of the NFC East race. At 4-4, the Eagles still have both games remaining against the Redskins and Cowboys. Three of Philadelphia’s four losses are by a combined nine points. A few plays here or there and the Eagles are potentially bringing a 6-2 record into this showdown. Instead, their backs are also up against it, which doesn’t bode well for the Cowboys.
5. Defensive defense
For the first time this season, really, the Dallas defense was looking over its shoulder after allowing a season-high 28 points in the loss to the Titans. The biggest issue was third downs. The Titans converted 11 of 14, including nine of their last 11 third-down attempts to dominate the Cowboys’ defense like no few other offenses this season. The Texans’ 462 yards against Dallas on Oct. 7 is still the most allowed by the Cowboys, but Houston was just 5 of 15 on third downs and was held to four field goals.