5 matchups to watch in Eagles-Cowboys on Sunday Night Football originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The Eagles (2-4-1) host the Cowboys (2-5) on Sunday Night Football at Lincoln Financial Field.
Yes, this game is for first place in the lowly NFC East.
Here are five matchups to watch:
Amari Cooper vs. Darius Slay
This is why the Eagles went out and got Slay this offseason. OK, it’s about more than just facing Cooper, but the Eagles traded for Slay and then signed him to a contract extension because of his ability to travel and (hopefully) lock down top receivers in the league. Cooper definitely qualifies.
Jim Schwartz didn’t want to divulge the Eagles’ plan on Sunday but it would be pretty surprising if Slay didn’t stick on Cooper all game. That’s why they got him.
“Well, yeah we are going to use him, I guess we will find out Sunday and so will the Cowboys,” Schwartz said. “So don’t want to delve too much into that.”
Cooper, 26, is a four-time Pro Bowler and on pace for a 1,300 yard season. He’s a tough test. But Slay has played well against him before.
"Oh, I love the challenge," Slay said about facing top targets this offseason. "I kind of ask for it a lot because of the fact that I want the game on me and I want to help win the game. If the best route to go about it is me traveling with a guy, then I'll do it."
When it comes to releasing at the line of scrimmage, Slay puts Cooper, Keenan Allen and Davante Adams in the same category. Slay has faced them all.
The problem with the Cowboys is that they’re three deep at receiver. Even if Slay is able to lock down Cooper, the matchups against Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb will be important too.
Ezekiel Elliott vs. Eagles’ defense
Now in Year 5, Elliott might be starting to show the signs of wear after such heavy workloads during his first four NFL seasons. He’s still a really good back but he has just 458 yards through seven games and his yards-per-carry average is down to 4.1. And this year, he’s fumbled five times in seven games. The Eagles haven’t been great at forcing turnovers, but there’s some opportunity this week.
And after years of having a great offensive line, the Cowboys’ have been really banged up there this year.
The Cowboys lost Travis Frederick to retirement and then lost tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins to injury for the season. They’ve already allowed 20 sacks this season after allowing just 23 in 2019. Dating back to the offseason, the Cowboys have already used 10 different OL combinations, according to the Dallas Morning News. That’s not great but it’s also pretty similar to the situation the Eagles have been in all year.
The good news for the Cowboys is All-Pro right guard Zack Martin is expected back this Sunday.
But the Eagles should still be able to win this matchup up front.
Boston Scott vs. Cowboys’ run defense
Miles Sanders (knee) missed the first two practices of the week and it looks like he’s going to miss this game against the Cowboys. That’s a shame for him because he would have had a chance to put up some huge numbers against an absolutely awful Cowboys run defense.
Through seven games, the Cowboys have already given up 1,248 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground this season. They have the NFL’s worst rushing defense, giving up an astounding 178.3 yards per game. The Cowboys have given up at least 200 yards on the ground in three of their last four games.
Last week, Washington entered their game against the Cowboys ranked as the NFL’s worst rushing offense and they still went off for 208 yards on the ground. Antonio Gibson, who was more of a receiver in college and is transitioning to a running back in the NFL, had a career-high 128 rushing yards on 20 carries.
He ran all over the Cowboys.
Lane Johnson/Jordan Mailata vs. DeMarcus Lawrence
Lane Johnson’s status is up in the air for Sunday’s game. If he can’t play, that would be a big loss, especially in this game.
Now, earlier this week, Pederson wasn’t ready to say Johnson wouldn’t play. So maybe there’s a chance.
“I’ll let you take that up with Lane because that guy doesn't want to come off the field,” Pederson said. “You know he's tough. He's tough and still – I will mention this too with [T] Jack Driscoll, he's getting close and we're going to see where he's at again. We have to be smart obviously as a medical staff and as coaches to not put a player in harm's way. If the player feels comfortable -- if Lane feels comfortable in playing and getting out there then listen, I'm not going to be the one that stands in his way. But it does give us some added firepower I think with the offensive line if somebody like Lane can go.”
But even if Johnson plays, he won’t be at 100 percent. And if Johnson doesn’t play, it’s likely that Jason Peters will return to play left tackle and Jordan Mailata will flip out to right tackle. Some may question the decision to move Mailata instead of Peters but Peters is a career left tackle and Mailata has actually taken many reps at right tackle the last couple of years.
But Sunday could be a big challenge for him. There’s a chance Mailata will be making his first career start at right tackle against a two-time Pro Bowler in DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence doesn’t have a high sack total this season — two through seven games — but he’s still a disruptive player. According to ProFootballFocus, Lawrence has 17 hurries this season; just six edge players have more.
Ben DiNucci vs. Jim Schwartz
With Andy Dalton still out because of a concussion, all signs point to the Eagles facing a seventh-round pick making his first NFL start on Sunday.
Under Jim Schwartz, the Eagles are 6-1-1 against rookie quarterbacks. The only loss came to Dak Prescott in his rookie year and that tie came to Joe Burrow earlier this season. So Schwartz, as a veteran defensive coach, has handled rookies fairly well.
The Cowboys were putting up impressive numbers offensively with Dak this year — they needed to because of their defensive struggles — but Dalton was unimpressive. And now they don’t even have him.
The Eagles don’t have a ton of tape to go off of as they prepare for DiNucci — he threw just three passes last week — but you can expect Schwartz to do everything in his power to confuse the rookie and face him into mistakes.