Dallas has chance to stick a fork in Philly
Win would put NFC East title within reach
FRISCO — The Dallas Cowboys’ season-changing, four-game win streak started over a month ago against the Philadelphia Eagles.
With their season teetering on the brink, the Cowboys pulled out a 27-20 win Nov. 11 that even their grandmas thought was impossible.
Now it’s Philly’s turn. The Eagles (6-6) will try to keep their postseason hopes alive against the Cowboys (7-5) at 3:25 p.m. Sunday at AT&T Stadium. Isn’t it fun how cyclical the NFL can be?
In fact, this entire monthlong stretch has broken perfectly for the Cowboys. But it wouldn’t have been possible without the gut-check win in Philly. If Dallas had lost that night, the concerns were deep and vast, at least among media and fans.
The Cowboys would have fallen to 3-6 with seemingly no chance at the playoffs. The growing chatter that coach Jason Garrett needed the boot would have exploded, and the looming questions about Dak Prescott’s long-term prospects as a foundational quarterback might have turned into a full-blown panic. But Dallas traded for Amari Cooper, and the Cowboys have gone 3-1 since his arrival. And all of those voices of discontent have at least been muted until further notice.
Five things to watch Sunday:
1. Here’s the deal: With a win here and a loss by the Redskins to the Giants, the Cowboys would increase their NFC East lead to two games with three games left. Barring a collapse against the Buccaneers, Colts and Giants down the stretch, that would all but wrap up the division title. Don’t doubt the Cowboys are aware of the game’s importance. Any notion of a letdown is ludicrous on the face of it, but let’s be honest, there’s a track record, at least in previous seasons. But this year’s Cowboys doesn’t seem to be letting their eyes to linger too far from the prize.
2. Zeke, Dak and the run game: Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 151 yards with a 7.95 average on 19 carries the last time the Cowboys played the Eagles. It was the first game where it became obvious that the addition of Cooper would indeed open things up a bit in the run game.
3. Elite defense? Rod Marinelli isn’t quite ready to call his defense elite. He wants to see more takeaways (and defensive touchdowns) before giving them that respect. But he does call it the best defense he’s had in Dallas. The Cowboys are second in the league in points allowed (18.6) and fourth in yards allowed (318.2 per game) despite forcing only 14 turnovers. But six of those takeaways have come during the fourgame win streak.
LB Jaylon Smith says the Cowboys defense is elite, but the mark of greatness is being consistent
4. The Wolf Hunter’s howl: Leighton Vander Esch debuted his wolf howl (along with AT&T Stadium howling sound effects) against the Saints. It quickly caught on and seems destined to become a fan favorite. Sean Lee won’t play for the fifth consecutive game, which means the rookie who leads the team in tackles will have plenty of chances to unleash the howl.
5. Tyron’s return: Left tackle Tyron Smith is listed as questionable to return to the starting lineup after missing the previous two games with a neck stinger and elbow injury. Smith said early in the week he expected to play. Jerry Jones said Friday morning he expected Smith to play. But that has been the case the past two games, and Smith wasn’t cleared to go. Although Cameron Fleming has done a fine job as his replacement, Smith’s All-Pro stature can’t be undervalued.
Ezekiel Elliott rambled for 151 yards in the Cowboys’ season-saving victory at Philadelphia on Nov. 11. Now it’s the Super Bowl champs who’ll try to pull off an upset on the road to keep their playoff hopes alive.