Dal­las has chance to stick a fork in Philly

Win would put NFC East ti­tle within reach

San Antonio Express-News - - NFL - By Ste­fan Steven­son 3:25 p.m. Sun­day, Fox

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.

Matt Slocum / Associated Press

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.

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