The Eagles’ rushing numbers are down significantly from last season. They are 18th in rushing (106.6 yards per game) and 22nd in rush average (4.1). They lost their best rusher, Jay Ajayi, to a season-ending knee injury in Week 5, and both of their All-Pro tackles are banged up.
Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement have struggled to fill the void left by Ajayi. In the last two games, they’ve averaged a combined 2.3 yards per carry. Undrafted rookie Josh Adams could be their best running threat heading into the second half. He had an impressive showing vs. the Jaguars, rushing for 61 yards on nine carries.
Without Ajayi, the Eagles are using screens, short passes, and jet sweeps as a run substitute. That doesn’t figure to change with the trade-deadline acquisition of wide receiver Golden Tate. The Cowboys are second in the league in opponent rush average (3.6). But their run defense suffered a big blow Monday night when linebacker Sean Lee injured his hamstring.
When Eagles throw the ball
Carson Wentz has had four straight games with a 115-plus passer rating and five straight with two or more TD passes. He has a career-high 70.7 completion percentage, but some of that has to do with the fact that he’s throwing more short passes. His percentage of throws behind the line of scrimmage has jumped from 12.4 last year to 16.5 this year.
The addition of Tate gives Wentz yet another outstanding pass-catching weapon to go with Alshon Jeffery and tight end Zach Ertz. Tate is one of the league’s best third-down receivers, an area the Eagles haven’t been as productive in as they were a year ago. The Eagles also haven’t been as good in the red zone. Wentz has completed just 50 percent of his red-zone attempts. Last year, he completed 64.9.
The Cowboys have allowed just 10 TD passes in eight games. But they have only two interceptions. The Titans’ Marcus Mariota averaged 8.3 yards per attempt against them Monday night.
When Cowboys run the ball
Ezekiel Elliott was held to 61 yards on 17 carries Monday by the Titans, and has averaged just 2.9 yards per carry the last two games, but he still is the league’s fourth-leading rusher with 680 yards. He had 30 yards on five carries on the Cowboys’ first drive vs. the Titans, but just 31 yards on 12 carries the rest of the game. The Eagles need to be concerned not only with Elliott in the run game, but also QB Dak Prescott, who is averaging 5.9 yards per carry and has 16 rushing first downs. The Cowboys are fifth in the league in first-down rush average (5.2), but were held to 3.3 yards per carry on first down by the Titans.
Elliott has faced the Eagles only twice in his young career, once as a rookie in 2016 (22-96), and in Week 17 last year (27-103). The Eagles are second in the league in run defense (83.8 yards per game), but a big reason for that is teams don’t run on them. Opponents are averaging just 18.7 rush attempts against the Eagles, who are 21st in opponent rush average (4.5).
When Cowboys throw the ball
The surprise retirement of Jason Witten and the decision to release Dez Bryant left Dak Prescott without two of his top three pass-catching weapons. Cole Beasley is a terrific slot receiver and third-down weapon, but he’s not going to take the top off a defense or give defensive coordinators matchup headaches. That’s why the Cowboys were willing to trade a first-round pick for Amari Cooper at the trade deadline. Cooper had five catches for 58 yards and a TD in Monday night’s loss to the Titans.
Prescott is near the bottom of the league in most passing categories. He’s 26th in completion percentage (62.9) and yards per attempt 7.0). He’s 28th in third-down passing (74.0 rating) and has completed just 47.2 percent of his red-zone attempts and thrown two of his five interceptions in the red zone. The Eagles have held opposing QBs to a 74.8 third-down passer rating, but their secondary is banged up and they have just four interceptions, only one in the last four games.
Jake Elliott has made 12 of 16 FG attempts, but has missed two of his last five, including a 36-yarder into the wind vs. Carolina. He has made just one FG longer than 37 yards this year (46 vs. Panthers). Elliott is seventh in the league in touchback percentage (76.3).
The Eagles had hoped to get PR Darren Sproles back this week, but he reinjured his hamstring. They waived DeAndre Carter, who had been averaging 10.3 yards per return as his fill-in, on Tuesday, and he was quickly picked up by Houston. Options include Corey Clement, Nelson Agholor and newcomer Golden Tate, who has punt return experience. P Cameron Johnston leads the league in gross (49.9) and net (43.7) average, but is 20th in percentage of punts inside the 20 (31.4).
The Cowboys dumped PK Dan Bailey, who has the fourth-best FG percentage in league history, and replaced him with Brett Maher. Maher made his first 10 FG attempts this season, but has missed his last two, including a 38-yarder vs. Tennessee last week. The Cowboys’ coverage teams have been inconsistent. They are 20th in punt coverage (7.9) and 25th in kickoff coverage (24.9).
The Eagles are coming off a bye and are well-rested. The Cowboys are coming off a tough Monday night loss to the Titans in which they lost their top defensive player, Lee. The Cowboys are 0-4 on the road. Prescott has a 74.9 passer rating on the road this season compared to 105.2 at home.
— Eagles RT Lane Johnson vs. Cowboys LDE Demarcus Lawrence: Lawrence had 14 ½ sacks last season, but was shut out by Johnson in their Week 11 matchup. Johnson’s status for Sunday is up in the air because of a knee injury, but it’s hard to fathom that he would miss an opportunity for a return faceoff with Lawrence, even if it’s on one leg. ADVANTAGE: Even
— Eagles CB Ronald Darby vs. Cowboys WR Amari Cooper: The Cowboys gave up a first-round pick to the Raiders for Cooper, who had five catches, including one for a touchdown, in Monday night’s loss to Titans. Darby has been up and down this season, but is coming off a solid performance against Jacksonville. ADVANTAGE: Cowboys
— Eagles WR Golden Tate vs. Cowboys NCB Anthony Brown: Tate faced Brown and the Cowboys earlier this season when he still was with Detroit. Lining up primarily in the slot, he had eight catches for 132 yards and 2 TDs. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
Eagles: QB Carson Wentz. Wentz has thrown two or more touchdown passes in five straight games and has recorded a 115-plus passer rating in four straight.
Cowboys: WR Amari Cooper. Had five catches for 58 yards and a TD in his Cowboys debut Monday night.
Eagles: RB Corey Clement. Has rushed for just 12 yards on 12 carries in the Eagles’ last two games.
Cowboys: RB Ezekiel Elliott. Is fourth in the NFL in rushing, but has just 94 yards on 32 carries in the last two games.