Game preview: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ron Jenkins/AP/Shutterstock (12763357o) Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) runs against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game in Arlington, Texas 49ers Cowboys Football, Arlington, United States – 16 Jan 2022

Game preview: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles


Dallas Cowboys (4-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-0)

Game time: Sunday, 7:20 p.m. CST

TV/radio: NBC / SiriusXM 226, 105.3 The Fan, KVMK 107.5 La Grande

What’s at stake: First place in the NFC East. That should be enough to get the best from both teams on Sunday night’s national broadcast. This will probably be the last week without starting quarterback Dak Prescott, who threw in practice this week for the first time since injuring the thumb on his throwing hand in the Cowboys’ Week 1 loss to Tampa Bay, so another win means a perfect 5-0 record for Cooper Rush as the starter.

When the Cowboys have the ball: The game plan is to run the ball as long as the score is close. The Cowboys were very effective last week in their usage of running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. They will need more of the same against a tough Philadelphia defensive front led by defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave and linebackers Kyzir White and T.J. Edwards. The Eagles, boasting a top-10 defense, are allowing opposing ground attacks 4.95 yards per carry this season while cashing in for 105 yards per game. That plays into a Cowboys running game that is averaging over four yards a run and 115 yards per game.

When the Eagles have the ball: Currently the best offense in the NFC, the Eagles are averaging just under 420 yards a game on the legs, and right arm of quarterback Jalen Hurts. Hurts has thrown for 1,359 yards (271.8 per game) and run for another 266 yards (53.2 per game), which is almost two-thirds of the 2,099 yards (419.8 yards per game) the Eagles have gained this season. When Hurts throws it, he has the option of big and physical in A.J. Brown or speed to burn in DeVonta Smith. Brown and Smith have combined for almost 75 percent of the catches made for the Eagles this season. On the ground, the Cowboys will have to stop Miles Sanders, who is averaging 4.7 yards every time he touches this ball this season.

Key Cowboys to watch:

OG Zach Martin – The best thing you can say about the Cowboys’ 5-time All-Pro, and 7-time pro bowl guard is that you never hear his name. Martin, who has not been flagged this season, has quietly played all but two offensive snaps this season. The anchor of the right side of the line has helped the Cowboys inside run game come to life. His play in the passing game has been stellar, and he has yet to give up a sack this season.

LB Anthony Barr – The Cowboys signed Barr, a four-time pro bowler, during the preseason, but it didn’t take the veteran long to become a key component of the Cowboys’ defense. Barr’s addition to the linebacker corps has given defensive coordinator Dan Quinn the ability to move all-everything defender Micah Parsons between linebacker and the defensive line. Barr has 20 tackles this season, which includes one tackle for loss and one forced fumble. His play count has also increased as the season has progressed, going from playing on 56 percent of the snaps in the opener to between 75 and 87 percent of the snaps since.

CB Anthony Brown – While playing every snap on defense this season, Brown has quietly been almost unbeatable. With Trevon Diggs on the opposite side, Brown has been able to win most of his matchups so far this season. Brown is third on the team in tackles with 32 this season, 10 of those coming on run plays. He is credited with one tackle for loss, one for a forced fumble, and two passes defended in the 343 snaps played this season.

RB Tony Pollard – Pollard is the perfect complement to Cowboys’ starting running back, Ezekiel Elliott. A flash of lightning in the open field, Pollard is the home-run hitter the Cowboys’ offensive desperately needs. And that doesn’t mean he should be limited to outside runs and reverses. No, Pollard has the wheels to run away from defense on every handoff or pass reception, even when those involve cutting through the teeth of the defense, as he showed on a 57-yard TD run against the Rams.

The bottom line: If the Cowboys are real contenders for the NFC East title, much less an NFC championship or Super Bowl victory, it will start with a win over the Eagles on Sunday night in Philadelphia. Both sides of the ball will be tested, probably more than they have at any point in the season. If the defense shows up like they have in the first five games and can find a way to limit the effectiveness of Jalen Hurts, then a Cooper Rush-led offense should be able to do just enough again for the Cowboys to get the win. And a win in Philly late on Sunday night means a lead in the NFC East come Monday morning.

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