Birds face reeling Cowboys; Look to extend division lead
The opportunity to post a subpar 2-4-1 record through seven games and still have sole ownership of first place in an NFL division is surely a rare one. Yet that is precisely the position the 2020 Philadelphia Eagles find themselves in as they prepare for a week 8 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys. The Birds needed some late game magic to propel them to victory last week, but look to have a favorable matchup at home for this primetime contest. Below, I’ll provide a brief injury update before diving into the most relevant storylines ahead of Sunday night’s showdown.
The Injury Dip
There is both good and bad news on the injury front, but we’ll start with some optimism. The big scoop is that the Eagles have recently chosen to activate 21-day practice windows for several key players including tackle Jason Peters, safety Rudy Ford, linebacker T.J. Edwards, tight end Dallas Goedert, and rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor.
The impending return of Dallas Goedert and Jalen Reagor should provide badly needed playmakers for an offense that has been ravaged by injuries all year. I don’t expect Goedert to be ready to suit up on Sunday, but there is hope around the team that Reagor could see his first game action since week 2 as he was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice.
Meanwhile, both wide receiver DeSean Jackson and defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway have been placed on injured reserve. This news is particularly discouraging for Jackson (fractured ankle) who had just returned from injury and didn’t last one complete game before being once again sidelined for a lengthy tenure.
The availability of Miles Sanders is also in question for Sunday. It is widely believed that there is a possibility that Sanders makes his return. However, that chance is less than likely and I would expect the Eagles to continue rolling backup, Boston Scott.
The Eagle’s chance at success this season will ultimately boil down to the play of Carson Wentz. It helps immensely to have a surrounding offense that is intact and healthy but the primary determinant of any game’s outcome will always rest firmly on Wentz’s shoulders. Is that a lot of pressure? Maybe, but Wentz can handle it, especially coming off his best performance of the season.
Wentz connected on 25 of 43 attempts for 359 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception last game. He added another score with his legs, accounting for every single Birds’ touchdown on the day. There’s still room for improvement, as his lone interception resulted from a bone-headed decision to force a throw in the red zone instead of calmly tossing the ball away. If Wentz corrects such mistakes, and mitigates the opportunity for turnovers at all costs, he should continue to lead the Eagles to success.
Wentz has the perfect circumstance to build off his recent success when he takes on the Cowboys defense in week 8. They’ve notoriously been unable to stop anyone this season, allowing a league high 34.7 points per game. I’m predicting a huge game from number 11.
Juicy Matchup for Birds D
The Cowboys offense looked downright frightening to begin the year. While Ezekiel Elliott pounded the rock on the ground, Dak Prescott was on pace to set historic passing yardage marks and was spreading the ball at will to the likes of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup.
But oh how much has changed. Not only did the Cowboys lose Prescott to a season-ending ankle injury in week 5, their backup quarterback Andy Dalton is currently in the NFL’s concussion protocol and will almost certainly not be active for week 8. That leaves the job of steering the Cowboys sinking ship of an offense on the shoulders of third stringer Ben DiNucci.
The Birds defense came alive last week to the tune of three turnovers and a crucial stop late in the fourth quarter. The pass rush has been the strength of the unit all year and I expect blitzes to be employed early and often against a woefully inexperienced quarterback in Ben DiNucci. Stopping the run will likely need to be the first priority, as the Cowboys try to chew up the clock and lean on Zeke. However, dialing up the blitz will be a recipe towards creating havoc and forcing turnovers to take some pressure off of Wentz and the offense.
Which Offensive Weapon Steps Up?
Speaking of the offense, a combination of players will need to patch together production to take down the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. The three players on my radar all play different roles in wide receiver Travis Fulgham, tight end Richard Rodgers, and running back Boston Scott.
Fulgham has proved himself week in and week out to be the Eagles clear number one receiving option. He’s received double digit targets each of the past three weeks and gone over 70 yards in each of those games. While his touchdown streak came to an end against the New York Giants, this matchup gives him a great opportunity once again to find paydirt.
Wentz loves throwing to tight ends and Richard Rodgers is what he has available after the injuries to both Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. Good news is, Richard Rodgers is no slouch. He came through last week with six catches for 85 yards. I expect him to once again have solid receiving yardage as the Cowboys defense ranks as the worst in the league at defending the tight end position.
Boston Scott only figures to be a major part of the offense if Miles Sanders sits out. He flashed his full potential as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield against the New York Giants. If Sanders misses this contest too, the backfield will belong to Scott and he could pop in a big way.
I’m taking the Eagles to down the struggling Cowboys and extend their lead in the NFC East. Eagles-30, Cowboys 17.