This wasn’t the matchup the schedule makers had in mind back in the spring. It’s the Eagles and the Cowboys in prime time on Sunday night, but the Dallas offense is missing star running back Ezekiel Elliott and could be without All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith.
Those are two key weapons for the Cowboys, who felt the impact of both players’ absence on Sunday when Dallas lost to Atlanta and the ground game was muted and the pass protection for quarterback Dak Prescott was shredded for eight sacks.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz noticed. Everyone did. What Sunday’s loss in Atlanta means for this week at AT&T Stadium isn’t exactly apples to apples, Schwartz says. He expects the Cowboys to make adjustments in this NFC East battle.
“It’s certainly not worse to play them without those guys,” Schwartz said on Tuesday during his weekly press conference at the NovaCare Complex. “They run the same runs and you have to defend the runs the same way, but Elliott is a strong back that has great vision. He’s good in the pass game as well as the run game and he’s a key part of their offense. They can plug the other guys in, and I speak for ourselves on defense, there’s nothing like having your starters in there. I’m referring to Ronald Darby. Other guys can fill in, you can accomplish the scheme, but it’s nothing like having the guys that you want out there.
“Tyron Smith gives them the ability to do so much with their pass protection. (They have) a guy who doesn’t require any help, that doesn’t require chips, there’s a lot of little nuances they play within their offensive line that he allows them to play because he can lock a guy down. He’s an outstanding player. So obviously it changes when he’s not in there. It affects their run blocking, it also affects their play-action, it affects their dropback, it affects their empty (backfield) packages. It filters through all that stuff.
“We’ll be ready for them if he (Smith) does get back and we’ll have a plan and be ready if he doesn’t.”
While Dallas was ravaged for eight sacks on Sunday, it’s important to note that the Cowboys had allowed only 10 total sacks of Prescott in the previous eight games. The rest of the line has played well this season and Prescott has a unique ability to avoid pressure in and out of the pocket.
In fact, Schwartz had high praise for the second-year quarterback whom the Eagles had rated highly entering the 2016 draft for Prescott’s ability to throw on the run, on both sides, to escape pressure, and get the football down the field.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen a better thrower on the run than Dak Prescott,” Schwartz said. “He can threaten the whole field on the run. He doesn’t have to reset to throw and he’s accurate on the run.”
The moral of the story is this, as the Eagles get back into action after their bye week: Just because Elliott won’t play, and with Smith very questionable to line up at left tackle because of a groin injury coupled with a back injury, the Cowboys have formidable weapons. The offensive line will be better than in Atlanta after making adjustments in protection. The running game will improve. Prescott can make every throw and is a very real threat when he’s scrambling to his left or right. The passing game still features tight end Jason Witten and a strong group of receivers that includes Dez Bryant and slot receiver Cole Beasley.
With Darby on the practice field and “trending” toward returning to the starting left side on Sunday, the Eagles’ defense should get a boost. But Schwartz knows the Cowboys are coming with their best on Sunday night.
This isn’t going to be anywhere close to an easy out for the Eagles.
It’s Eagles-Cowboys with a lot on the line for both teams in prime time and, as we know in this rivalry, pretty much anything can happen.