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Scouting NFC East: Cowboys hoping Hurts will do no harm with Eagles in 2021

Only the Philadelphia Eagles kept the Dallas Cowboys out of the basement in the NFC East in 2020 as they continue their transition to a new era with QB Jalen Hurts.
Credit: AP
during an NFL Football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

DALLAS — The NFC East is full of storied rivalries, ones that cycle through which is the most heated depending on the year. Whichever team is on the top of the division one year usually gets the brunt of the hate.

However, the common enemy for all the teams in the division seems to be the Dallas Cowboys. America’s Team seems to garner the most animosity from the group of four. Everyone wants to beat Dallas.

If you ask Cowboys fans, though, no team since the early 2000s has caught their ire more than the Philadelphia Eagles. The rivalry has been there for decades, but the hatred intensified after the city of brotherly love cheered as former Cowboys WR Michael Irvin was lying on the turf hurt with a career-ending spine injury.

Then came the arguments about who was the better quarterback, Donovan McNabb or Tony Romo? That conversation then morphed into Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott. Good luck getting either fanbase to change their opinion on any Philly vs Dallas topic, but the one thing they agree on is that there isn’t any love lost between the two.

The 2021 Eagles have the most intrigue surrounding them among the NFC East squads. They’re a team going through a transition from Wentz to Jalen Hurts at quarterback, along with a new head coach tasked with trying to right the ship in Nick Sirianni. 

After an offseason that included turnover and turmoil, the Eagles are a bit of a mystery. Intrigue and mystery sounds exciting but usually, in the NFL, they just mean growing pains.

Nevertheless, the offense has weapons. Sirianni is a former offensive coordinator now tasked with putting it all together. How well Hurts develops will likely be a determining factor. Hurts provided a boost midseason before tapering off late in 2020, so he still needs to show improvement to take the offense to another level.

Though he didn’t grade out highly in his limited action, Hurts has the benefit of heading into a new season under a new coach and with new weapons. He also comes in with the organization in his corner and the experience of starting in the NFL under his belt. If Hurts is the real deal, the Eagles have the potential for a very good offense with solid playmakers at all three skill positions.

Hurts is a dual threat QB who can extend plays and win with his arm and his legs. The backfield is stacked with a stable of running backs that include Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and Kerryon Johnson. That’s as deep a group of runners as you will find in the league, with Sanders and Scott also being proficient in the passing game.

The receiver group was also upgraded when the Eagles selected DeVonta Smith in the first-round of the draft after, ironically, trading sports with the Cowboys to land the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner. 

Dallas will now have to face the player that their rival selected with the pick that they traded to them. The Cowboys will be hoping that Smith isn’t as effective in the NFL as he was in college.

Adding Smith to a WR room that had Jalen Reagor and Travis Fulgham as the main options was a smart move. 

Of course, the Eagles also like to count on the tight end position in the passing game and Dallas Goedert is one of the league’s best. The Cowboys have struggled to stop tight ends in recent years and Goedert could potentially be a thorn in their sides again this season.

The offense is going to be coordinated by Shane Steichen, who has just one season as an OC under his belt. Being a coordinator in Philadelphia is a difficult job, but Steichen’s work in 2020 with Los Angeles Chargers’ rookie QB Justin Hebert likely instills confidence.

In the end, however, Hurts remains the question, and the key, to their offense.

Defensively, the Eagles still have a good unit. However, they’ll be coached up by first time defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon so that adds an element of the unknown. Under former DC Jim Schwartz, the Eagles were known for bringing pressure. 

The defense finished 3rd in the league with 49 sacks last season and they return all of their top six sack masters, led by defensive end Brandon Graham and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. 

In addition, the Eagles signed former Washington Football Team DE Ryan Kerrigan to boost the pass rush. Kerrigan has been a notoriously difficult opponent for the Cowboys to stop throughout the years so they’re likely not happy to see him stay in the division. In total, Philly sports a strong defensive front that can make a quarterback’s life miserable.

The linebacking corps in Philadelphia looks to be in flux and could be considered the weakness for the defense, but the Eagles do have a good secondary. Cornerback Darius Slay has been a solid player for a long time and the safety tandem of Anthony Harris and Rodney McLeod is an enviable duo. 

The Eagles have been one of the better teams at creating pressure for a long time. That has been their defensive calling card throughout the years. They have been an aggressive defense, but, with a new coordinator who lacks experience, the unit might look different.

There’s a lot of uncertainty about the Eagles in 2021. They have an unproven QB, and their coaches are an inexperienced group trying to compete in the NFC East. It feels like a longshot for the Eagles to come away with the division title as soon as this season, but strange things have been known to happen with this quartet. 

Do you think the mysterious Eagles will take strides and cause problems for the Cowboys in 2021? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.