Eagles at Cowboys Game Preview: 5 Q&A with Enemy of Week 16

The Philadelphia Eagles are on the road for the third straight week to take on the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Christmas Eve. In order to preview this big match in Week 16, I’ve reached out to our foes at blogging boys. dashing Dave Halperin He took the time to answer my questions about this upcoming fight. Let’s take a look at the answers. [For my answers to Dave’s questions about the Eagles, check out BTB.]

Our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook All odds for this week’s matches.

1) The Cowboys nearly lost at home to the Texans and then were beaten by the Jaguars (Shout out Doug Pederson). What went wrong? What should the Eagles look to exploit?

There have been a few things going wrong lately, some new and some lingering problems. On defense, the Cowboys lost two starters, Anthony Brown on the outfield and Jordan Lewis in the slot. DaRon Bland has done a good job filling the slot, but the Cowboys don’t have an outside corner eligible for the Browns’ spot just yet. So teams are definitely looking in that direction for big plays. In addition, the Cowboys’ pass rush had knocked them down the last two games, making the pass defense even more vulnerable. Teams get the ball out faster because corners aren’t good at closing things down, which leads to a chain effect. To top it off, an injury to Johan Hankins opened up the opponent’s running game again, just as the Cowboys were beginning to tackle it.

Offensively, turnovers, particularly interceptions, are the big issue. I will discuss this in more detail for your second question. In addition, the Cowboys lost the right to tackle Terence Steele who was a monster at blocking a run. The Cowboys offensive line is definitely prone to pass rushing, and Dak Prescott has been good at keeping sack numbers down with quick releases and hopping. One issue that became more significant was that Dallas was counting on Michael Gallup to have a viable WR2 for CeeDee Lamb’s WR1. It didn’t really happen because his recovery from his ACL injury last year seems slow. This is why the Cowboys are going after guys like TY Hilton (who should make his debut on Saturday), Odell Beckham Jr., and Odell Beckham Jr. Which apparently won’t happen.

In short, injuries have revealed that the Cowboys lack depth in certain positions, and teams are learning how to exploit Dallas’ weaknesses. Defense has been the Cowboys’ saving grace whenever they’ve been in trouble this season, but that has faltered lately.

2) How much is Duck Prescott to blame for the Cowboys’ struggles? Why is he throwing so many interceptions this season?

This is probably the hottest question right now. Let’s get the good out of the way. If you remove the objections from the equation, Prescott is having a very good season. Since returning from injury, the Cowboys have been among the league leaders in points scored and his numbers are close to the lead in most categories. The Cowboys offense moves and scores, so turnovers happen. So Prescott is really playing at a high level in many ways, until you nail his interception rate.

So how much is that in Prescott? It depends on how you analyze it. For example, the pick-six that ended the Jaguars’ game in overtime last week was a pass that hit the receiver in his hands. It was a very basic catch, which Noah Brown missed and caused the interception. That you really have to put it on the receiver. But there have been other cases where it is more subtle. Prescott has had times when a secondary receiver has run the wrong lane and brought another defender into his goal zone. So is that on the receiver, or is it on Prescott to pursue his intended goal only for another defender to jump inside and intercept the ball? He also had two interceptions as CeeDee Lamb appeared to either stop or go behind the safety, instead of crossing his face as Road called for, resulting in a turnover. Other times, Prescott was hit by a pass rush when throwing the ball, causing the ball to go off target and into the opponent’s hands.

It’s not like Prescott is distributing interceptions by throwing them directly at defenders. There were a lot of factors that go into this. Prescott obviously has some responsibility because he’s the guy who makes the decision on where and when to throw, but his high interception rate certainly has factors attributed to him from other players on offense. In the end, though, Prescott has to figure it out. He just has to take better care of the ball.

3) Is it unfair to say this week is a no-win situation for the Cowboys? If they beat Gardner Minshew, they catalyze the Eagles into starting in Week 17 to clinch the top seed and make the Saints’ pick owe even more to Philly. And it’s not like the Cowboys realistically have much to gain since they’re effectively locked in at the No. 5 seed. If they lose to Gardner Minshew, they lose to a backup QB at home to allow Philly to get the top seed at AT&T Stadium on Christmas Eve.

It’s weird for me to say, but as a Cowboys fan, I would have preferred Jalen Hurts to be healthy and playable this week. The Cowboys need a statement and a win to build confidence and will do nothing more than beat the best team in the NFL right now with their starting quarterback. There are still final game issues to consider for both teams, but more than anything the Cowboys need to get back to where they were a few weeks ago when they felt they could play anyone in the league. That feeling has faded, but it would have returned if they could beat the Eagles and Hurts.

Having said that, it’s not a losing situation for the Cowboys because if they lose at home to the Eagles with Minshew at quarterback, their confidence will likely be shot. Dallas is about to win this game or risk things falling apart even further. The Cowboys may not gain much in the eyes of the rest of the league by beating the Eagles unscathed, and I wouldn’t blame Eagles fans for turning them down if that happened. But for the Cowboys, they need this win. It is very important for their psyche.

4) Assuming the Cowboys get a No. 5 seed, they’ll play the winner of the NFC South game wide open in the wild card round. How would you rank the teams in that division from least desirable to most willing to take on them and why?

Certainly the least desirable game to play is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And yes, for one simple reason, Tom Brady. I know the Bucs aren’t a great team right now and Brady’s season isn’t quite up to his usual standards, but for one game, the old Brady magic could come back. He’s a major league quarterback and the best player in that division is Brady, so avoiding him would be best.

Next in order of least attractive will be the Saints. They seem to have more playmakers than the other two teams and they have at least one veteran quarterback who made the playoffs, and a variable pace quarterback who can be a weapon.

As for the Panthers and Falcons, it’s almost a throw-in even though the Panthers could be a slightly better overall team.

5) Who wins this game and why? With sports site DraftKings listing the Cowboys as a 5-point favorite, what is your prediction for the outcome? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Cowboys season?

I think I’ll take the Cowboys even though I don’t have a lot of confidence right now. And obviously this choice because I don’t think Galen Hurts will play. However, the Eagles have a very strong roster and Minshew isn’t the worst player to throw around out there. Heck, he’s better than many quarterbacks in this league. But getting rid of all the things Hurts can do must hurt some. So I’ll take the Cowboys a close up, maybe something like 27-24.

As for the outlook for the rest of the season, I have to say that’s TBD. And this isn’t just avoiding the question, this is real. The Cowboys have shown that they can be a very good team, capable of beating anyone. They’ve also shown to have issues, especially with depth after sustaining a few injuries. TY Hilton could be a great addition to the team if anything is left in the tank. They could really use someone for a CeeDee Lamb. But the Cowboys’ two biggest problems are finding an eligible outside cornerback somewhere on their roster to play against Trayvon Diggs, and stopping interceptions. If they could manage that, they’d be right back among the elite squads.

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