Birds’ pri­or­ity has to be at­tack Dak

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - SPORTS - Bob Grotz Colum­nist

PHILADEL­PHIA » Let’s see if we’ve got this right.

The Ea­gles drop 51 points on the Bron­cos and their toprated de­fense, heal over the bye week and emerge as — get this — only three­p­oint road fa­vorites against the Cow­boys, who likely will be with­out three of their top four play­ers for the sec­ond straight week.

Ea­gles de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jim Schwartz, in his 16th year in the NFL, doesn’t cal­cu­late point spreads. But he in­ti­mated this one might have some­thing to do with the skills of Cow­boys quar­ter­back Dak Prescott, who “can threaten the whole field.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a bet­ter thrower on the run than Dak Prescott,” Schwartz said Tues­day. “He can throw scram­bling to his left. He can throw scram­bling to his right. There are not many quar­ter­backs that can do that. He can threaten the whole field on the run. He doesn’t have to re­set the throw, and he’s very ac­cu­rate on the run. There are a lot of mo­bile quar­ter­backs and a lot of guys that can throw from the pocket. There are a lot of guys that can run read op­tion. But I think what re­ally makes him stand out is that he can throw on the run. And for a young player, he makes very few mis­takes, and that’s im­pres­sive.”

The Cow­boys (5-4) are on the verge of be­com­ing ir­rel­e­vant. A loss to the Ea­gles, who own a league­lead­ing 8-1 record, and Cow­poke fans will want to sue Jerry Jones, who has threat­ened to sue the league.

Prescott at least gives the Cow­boys a smidgen of hope. He is 18-7 quar­ter­back­ing the Cow­boys, which puts him in the rar­i­fied com­pany of Roger Staubach, a fran­chise-best 20-5 in his first 25 starts. For the sake of com­par­i­son, Ea­gles quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz is 15-10 in the same stretch.

Prescott is among just four play­ers since the NFL-AFL merger to ac­count for at least 50 touch­downs in their first 25 ca­reer NFL games, hav­ing thrown for 39 touch­downs and rushed for 11.

The 6-2, 229-pound Prescott has used his run­ning back size and wheels this year to rank sec­ond on the Cow­boys in rush­ing yards and rush­ing touch­downs, the lat­ter with five.

It was Prescott’s JUGSpow­ered arm that first got the at­ten­tion of Ea­gles of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Frank Re­ich, who dur­ing a pre­draft trip to Philly, mar­veled about the Xs and Os show put on by the prospect.

“I had very, very high grades on Dak in every as­pect,” Re­ich said. “I thought his col­lege tape was re­ally, re­ally good. I re­ally liked the way he threw the ball, his tim­ing and an­tic­i­pa­tion. When he came in here and we sat down and in­ter­viewed him, it was re­ally high in all ar­eas. Then you could just tell he had that X-fac­tor as far as nat­u­ral lead­er­ship abil­ity. So I en­joyed get­ting to know him a lit­tle bit.”

The Cow­boys (5-4) have won three of their last four games largely due to the spark pro­vided by Prescott. He threw for five touch­downs and rushed for two to help make it hap­pen. And he didn’t com­mit a turnover.

Last Sun­day Prescott gave the Cow­boys, who played with­out sus­pended run­ning back Zeke El­liott and All-Pro left tackle Ty­ron Smith, a 7-0 lead over the Fal­cons with an 11yard run. Prescott then was sacked eight times, los­ing two fum­bles as the Fal­cons scored 27 straight points.

Adrian Clay­burn dropped Prescott six times, killing Smith re­place­ments Chaz Green and By­ron Bell. It was the most sacks by one player in a game since Osi Umenyiora dropped six on Win­ston Jus­tice of the Ea­gles in 2007.

Three of those sacks of Prescott came on thir­dand-eight or more, one on fourth down and another on sec­ond down late in the game.

Schwartz ex­plained the sacks re­sulted from the same for­mula pre­ferred by the Ea­gles: Stop the run, cre­at­ing pass sit­u­a­tions, beat the blocker, hold pass cov­er­age long enough for the rush to get there and fin­ish the pass rush.

“All those things go hand in hand for us to have a good day at rush­ing,” Schwartz said. “You can’t just as­sume we’ll have a good day rush­ing based on what (the Fal­cons) did last week. I’m sure they’ll work re­ally hard to shore up some of their spots. They know us pretty well. We know them pretty well.”

This week marks the sec­ond game of a six-game sus­pen­sion for El­liott, who leads the Cow­boys with 793 rush­ing yards and nine to­tal TDs.

Smith is iffy, at best, to play against the Ea­gles due to a groin is­sue.

Line­backer Sean Lee, the Cow­boys’ best de­fen­sive player, will miss this week with a ham­string strain suf­fered early in the last game.

Wentz leads the NFL with 23 TD passes and his 104.1 passer rat­ing is the best in the NFC. He’s thrown four or more touch­downs in three games this sea­son, most re­cently in the 51-23 hum­bling of the Bron­cos. Did we men­tion the Ea­gles traded for Jay Ajayi, the every-down run­ning back who would help any team travel well on the road?

And yet the Ea­gles are just three-point fa­vorites.

It must be the Dak Prescott fac­tor.

“Some guys will scram­ble and you have time to chase a guy in cov­er­age or to plas­ter your cov­er­age or chase him and get an ex­tra guy to him,” Schwartz said. “With Prescott, he doesn’t give you that op­por­tu­nity. The ball could come out at any time, and you have to be ready for it at any time.”

Contact Bob Grotz at bgrotz@21stcen­tu­ry­; fol­low him on Twit­ter @BobGrotz


Dal­las Cow­boys quar­ter­back Dak Prescott, right, runs for a first down, away from former Ea­gles de­fen­sive end Mar­cus Smith dur­ing a game be­tween the teams last sea­son at AT&T Sta­dium in Ar­ling­ton, Texas.

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