DALLAS — Week 18 against the Philadelphia Eagles marks the last game of the regular season for the Dallas Cowboys. Playoff seeding is still vaguely up in the air but it appears as though Dallas is set as the No. 4 seed in the NFC, barring a major outbreak of upsets this weekend. So, it’s fair to wonder just how much playing time the Cowboys starters will get in Philadelphia.
Dallas can use the game to make sure they stay healthy for the postseason, or they can play their stars most of the game to work on things and try to keep everyone locked in. For a team that started the season on fire but is heading into the playoffs with major question marks, Week 18 could show a lot about their thought process.
No matter which way head coach Mike McCarthy lands, here are some of the keys to sweeping the rival Eagles on Saturday night:
Contain the running game
In today’s NFL, it’s all about the passing game, unless it’s the Eagles. Philadelphia has the league’s top rushing attack at over 160 yards per game. They also routinely employ four running backs in the backfield, although two are hurt and one is in COVID protocol, to keep legs fresh, and have one of the best rushing quarterbacks in the game with Jalen Hurts.
Hurts leads the Eagles with 784 rushing yards and has 10 rushing touchdowns, the same number of scores as Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Dallas defense not only needs to account for whichever RB is carrying the ball, but also for Hurts. It will take a huge effort to slow down one of the more diverse running games in the league.
Attack the secondary
The wild-card bound Eagles have a solid secondary, but they can be thrown on. Cornerback Darius Slay earned himself a spot on the Pro Bowl team with a good year, but the rest of the group is vulnerable, especially on intermediate and deep passes. Philadelphia’s pass defense has surrendered 23 touchdowns on the year.
Among the offenses that have been successful against the Eagles’ pass defense include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Las Vegas Raiders, and the Kansas City Chiefs. All these teams attacked the Eagles vertically and had no issues moving the ball.
The Cowboys haven’t been leaning on these types of plays recently, but they have the weapons to do it. Tight end Dalton Schultz had a strong game the first time around and some of his six catches were in the middle of the field. Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb hauled in a 44-yard pass in the first meeting, as well.
Dallas needs to be aggressive in throwing the ball down the field instead of throwing too many passes horizontally, as they have done in recent weeks.
Cover Dallas Goedert
The Eagles have been getting the tight end more and more involved over the last month of the season, and Goedert has responded with three games of at least six receptions, including two 100-yard outings. In his first 11 games of the season, Goedert only had a game with six or more catches once and surpassed 70 yards receiving twice.
The fourth-year TE has well surpassed his career high in yardage and yards per catch as he has developed into a top target.
Goedert is one of 12 Eagles currently in COVID protocol, so his status is up in the air, but if he plays, the Cowboys will need to slow down the Eagles’ hottest receiving option.
The Cowboys are tied for the NFL Lead with 33 takeaways on the year. The Eagles are among the top five teams in the league at protecting the ball with just 15 turnovers on the season.
During their current four game winning streak, the Eagles have turned it over just two times.
In the first meeting, the Eagles had two giveaways, one was a Trevon Diggs pick-6, that helped propel the Cowboys to a blowout win.
Creating turnovers might be more difficult without star rookie Micah Parsons, who will miss the game due to COVID protocol, but Dallas is a team that thrives off turnovers. When they get them, they usually win the game.
Taking the ball away gets their offense back onto the field, helps put up points, and forces offenses to play catchup. That’s when mistakes happen and the Cowboys have taken advantage of this all year.
Do you think the Cowboys will close out the regular season with a win? Share your predictions with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.