By Kevin McGuire
Despite not playing a down of football this past week, the Philadelphia Eagles managed to grow their lead on the entire NFC East. While the Eagles were on their bye week, the rest of the division—including the Dallas Cowboys—took a loss on the field. The Cowboys were no match for the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, and the absence of running back Ezekiel Elliott was just one of the reasons why. The Cowboys have a lot of issues to try and fix before Sunday night’s game when the Eagles come to town. If they can’t get it together, the Eagles can start making postseason plans while feeling quite comfortable atop the division before getting to Thanksgiving.
Here’s a look at the Cowboys as we head into Week 11.
The Dallas Cowboys have fallen to 5-4 after a road loss at Atlanta on Sunday. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak including three consecutive double-digit victories. One of those wins inspired Tamba Hali of the Kansas City Chiefs to proclaim the Cowboys to be the best team in the NFC. That had a short shelf-life.
The Eagles and Cowboys split the season series last season, although it is worth noting the Cowboys already had their playoff spot locked up when the Eagles beat the Cowboys 27-13 on New Year’s Day for the regular season finale. The Eagles had played well on the road in their meeting in Arlington, but Dak Prescott led the Cowboys to a rally to force overtime and then claimed victory in OT. That game left a bitter taste for the Eagles and will be used as motivation for Sunday night’s game.
Cowboys on Offense
The Cowboys were a completely different team on Sunday without running back Ezekiel Elliott, but the offense had more issues than his suspension should have caused. Dallas allowed eight sacks against the Atlanta Falcons, which took a toll on second-year quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott was sacked for a loss of 50 yards to negate 48 rushing yards in the game. With Elliott out, the Cowboys’ running game falls on Prescott’s ability to run and running back Alfred Morris. The Eagles should not be too concerned with either in this matchup. The Cowboys currently rank 20th in passing offense. Without Elliott to rely on, the pressure for Prescott could be rising to make something happen through the air. The loss of left tackle Tyron Smith may make that an uphill battle.
Cowboys on Defense
Simply put, the Cowboys are pretty beat up on defense coming into this game. The loss of linebacker Sean Lee to a hamstring injury will be a significant one for at least a few more weeks, which means the Eagles are unlikely to have to play against him Sunday night. That should open up space in the middle of the field to make some plays. Prior to Sunday’s game in Atlanta, the Cowboys had held three-straight opponents to 20 points or fewer, but before that the Cowboys allowed 30+ points to the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers. So which defense will show up on Sunday night against the Eagles? Given the track record this season for the Cowboys, the Eagles offense appears to have the right ingredients to take advantage of the Cowboys. Philadelphia has a reliable passing game gaining more and more confidence and a running game capable of spreading the ball around and sustaining drives.
Cowboys Players to Watch
Dez Bryant, Wide Receiver: The star receiver for the Cowboys has had an average year this season. He has yet to record a 100-yard game and he has only had one game with more than 75 receiving yards this season. Last week against Atlanta, Bryant had four catches for 39 yards. He is currently on track for his lowest catch percentage over a full season in his career.
Jaylon Smith, Linebacker: This is Smith’s first season on the field for the Cowboys after missing the 2016 season while recovering from an injury suffered in his final game at Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Smith has now found his role in the middle of the defense at middle linebacker. His impact will be more important this week with the loss of Sean Lee.
The Cowboys are getting desperate and the pressure to get a win is monumental for Dallas this week. With a short week ahead of them before hosting the Chargers on Thanksgiving, the Cowboys cannot afford to drop to 5-5 with time starting to dwindle in the NFC playoff picture. That makes them dangerous, if only because they could dig down and gut out one of their better games of the season—even without Elliott. How the Eagles come back after a week off will be key. A sluggish start on the road could lead to a fast start for the Cowboys, but if the Eagles look as though they haven’t lost a step since their last game, then Philadelphia should manage to come home after improving on the NFL’s best record this season.