COWBOYS // EAGLES OVERVIEW
You know that feeling when a band is no longer making good music, or an actor is no longer making good movies, but everyone is so caught up in past performance that they fail to really notice?
In the last 18 seasons, the Cowboys have made the playoffs only six times, and they have won only two playoff games. Jerry Jones continually ambushes his team with poor football decisions and then meddles in coaching decisions. The salary cap was introduced in 1994, and since the effects began to take hold, the Cowboys have been largely irrelevant in the NFL landscape — and yet, this team gets more press time and more air time than probably 25 to 30 other teams. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the start of the year when ESPN and NBC were given so many “Cowboys in primetime” games, but with another season of Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan, this offense has been practically unwatchable. On the field, this is currently one of the most boring teams in football.
Enough with the rant. The 3-5 Cowboys will be squaring off with the 4-4 Eagles on Sunday Night Football. This game has been awarded an unappealing early-week Over/Under of 43.0, with the Eagles installed as touchdown favorites. Each defense is above-average, with Philly ranking fifth in points allowed per game and Dallas ranking third, and with the Cowboys also allowing the fourth fewest yards per game (Philly ranks 17th). Both teams prefer to slow down the pace (Dallas ranks 28th; Philly ranks 26th), and each team does their best to control the game by controlling the clock (the Cowboys have struggled in this area in 2018, ranking 25th in time of possession, but the Eagles rank first in the league).
COWBOYS PASS OFFENSE
The Cowboys’ run-leaning approach (25th in pass play rate) will be put to the test this week against a Philly team that is facing the highest pass play rate (and the fewest rush attempts) in the league for the second year running. Because the Cowboys are coached by Garrett and Linehan, this team banged Ezekiel Elliott into the line 27 times in this matchup last year, while throwing only 30 times. Zeke amassed only 103 yards (3.8 YPC) in that game, and the Eagles scored zero points with Nick Foles and Nate Sudfeld under center. The likeliest setup for the Cowboys is that they will continue to lean on the run for as long as this game stays close, in spite of the difficult matchup.
All criticisms aside: Dak Prescott has quietly played well across the Cowboys’ last four games, completing 64.5% of his pass attempts while piling up 240+ yards in two of those three games and throwing five touchdowns to only one interceptions. Baby steps, sure — but “baby steps” are big right now after an ugly start to the season. Dak has also mixed in 19 carries for 126 yards during this stretch. The Eagles have allowed the fourth most quarterback rushing yards in the league.
Targets last week for the Cowboys in their first game with Amari Cooper looked like this (snap count in parentheses)
:: Amari Cooper — 8 || (50)
:: Michael Gallup — 6 || (47)
:: Cole Beasley — 4 || (44)
:: Allen Hurns — 1 || (18)
:: Deonte Thompson — 2 || (3)
Disappointingly, the Cowboys used Amari in the slot on only seven of his 50 snaps — limiting the impact he will be able to have in this offense — but they did proactively scheme the ball into his hands. This may have been a one-week Coach Jerry mandate, but after Dallas confusingly gave up a first round pick for their new “number one receiver,” it won’t be surprising if he continues to see heavy usage. Eight-plus targets is a reasonable projection once again.
Gallup has an aDOT on the year of 14.8 and will have a shot at providing upside if the targets are there. He has seen five or more targets in three of his last five games, though he and Dak have connected on only 13 of 28 targets on the year (46.4%).
Beasley is going to have a more difficult time coming across upside with Amari in the fold, though he remains a vital cog in this attack and will continue to see a few targets each game on underneath routes — likely with a random spike in usage from time to time. Beasley does have seven red zone targets and two red zone touchdowns this year, if you need to dig deep on the Showdown.
The tight ends continue to provide next to nothing in this offense. Outside of the wide receivers, passes go to Zeke.
COWBOYS RUN OFFENSE
The Eagles are allowing only 3.75 yards per carry to running backs, and as noted above, they have faced the fewest running back rush attempts in the league (by far). Philly has also allowed only two total touchdowns to running backs — though they have allowed the seventh most catches and 10th most receiving yards to the position.
Zeke has 15 or more carries in every game this year (with three games of 20+ carries), and he has at least three catches in all but two games. He has struggled to produce at an efficient clip lately (2.7 yards per carry against Houston, 2.2 yards per carry against Washington, 3.6 yards per carry against Tennessee), and he has only four touchdowns on the year in this offense that ranks 26th in points per game. But on the Showdown, there does remain value in simply taking a talented running back with a locked-in workload.
EAGLES PASS OFFENSE
The Dallas pass defense has built a big reputation this year, but they have allowed the fourth highest catch rate in the NFL, while ranking middle of the pack in yards allowed per pass attempt. The biggest thing Dallas has done is hold quarterbacks out of the end zone, with only 10 passing touchdowns allowed all year, but on the Showdown, this is not enough to knock this Eagles attack out of consideration.
Wentz has been spectacular over his last four games — notching 10 touchdowns to only one interception, notching at least 278 passing yards in all four games, with pass attempt totals of only 35 // 36 // 37 // 30, and completing an eye-popping 73.2% of his passes. One of those games came against Minnesota and another came against Jacksonville. Wentz has also added 73 yards on the ground during this stretch.
Targets across this stretch for the Eagles have looked like this:
:: Alshon Jeffery — 8 // 12 // 10 // 5
:: Zach Ertz — 11 // 9 // 11 // 6
:: Nelson Agholor — 4 // 5 // 7 // 6
:: Jordan Matthews — 1 // 3 // 0 // 5
(Note: the drop in targets for Alshon/Ertz came against the Jaguars.)
It will be interesting to see exactly how the Eagles incorporate Golden Tate this week, as each of Agholor, Matthews, and Tate is best suited to the slot. Obviously, Matthews can be considered the odd man out, and it seems likely that the Eagles’ prize acquisition will be put in the best possible position for success. This would mean Tate sliding into the slot, with Agholor kicking to the outside where he is less well-suited. Agholor also shapes up as the fourth option at this point, behind Alshon, Ertz, and Tate. Ultimately, Alshon and Ertz should stick to around eight to 10 targets, while Tate should land in a seven to eight target range — though it would not be surprising if Tate sees a spike in usage in his first game with the team. Humorously, Tate has already pasted Dallas for an 8-132-2 line this year with the Lions.
In spite of missing the first three games of the season, Alshon has nine red zone targets and four red zone touchdowns. Dallas can be hit for passes up the sidelines, where Alshon does most of his damage, giving him Showdown-worthy upside in this spot.
Ertz is on pace for an incredible 122 catches this season, and he has scored three touchdowns in his last four games. Nothing in this matchup should scare you away.
EAGLES RUN OFFENSE
In the Eagles’ last game, their backfield turned into a three-way committee, with Wendell Smallwood playing 31 snaps, Josh Adams playing 18 snaps, and Corey Clement playing 13 snaps. This week, Darren Sproles is finally expected to return to the field as well, which would create further confusion. If this game were on the full-weekend slate, we would obviously be comfortable leaving it at that. On the Showdown, there are better plays, though Clement appears to be on his way out of the rotation (15 touches for 30 total yards across the Eagles’ last two games), while Adams looked strong in turning nine carries into 61 yards against the Jags. Smallwood has shown some upside through the air, and will be a more appealing piece if Sproles misses — with modest opportunity even if Sproles plays. Sproles himself will be a wildcard if active, as it will be difficult to know in advance how much the Eagles plan to use him. The safest bet is on a limited role — but this team is just unpredictable enough that Sproles could be worth a Showdown shot on the off chance he steps into several receptions right away.
There is not a piece from this game I would prioritize on the Main Slate, though Wentz, Tate, Ertz, and Alshon would at least be worthy of consideration.
On the Showdown: Zeke should see a respectable workload, giving him a chance to hit (with a solid floor even if he doesn’t), while the Cowboys’ passing attack is likeliest to flow through Amari, with some opportunity for upside on Gallup, and with thin, deep-diving appeal on Beasley. Dak is also in play, as Dallas should eventually be forced to the air in this spot — and even if this only leads to short passes to Zeke and Beasley, this will likely be enough to make Dak relevant.
On the other side of the ball, I like Wentz quite a bit for the one-game slate, as he has already posted strong box scores in tougher matchups than this, and he is playing at home in a primetime game with a shiny new weapon and two weeks to prepare.
Tate, Ertz, and Alshon are all appealing on the Showdown, with Ertz providing the highest floor/ceiling combo, and with Tate requiring some guesswork but standing out as an interesting way to go. He sets up well in this matchup, and the Eagles have incentive to get him involved. I probably like Alshon the least of these three, but I like him more than any of the receivers on the Cowboys. He should still see his eight to 10 looks, and he’ll post a nice score if he finds the end zone.
The Eagles’ backfield is obviously a tough sell, but you could mix and match guesses across various rosters if you wanted. Ultimately, Philly is likely to feature at least three backs, and we probably won’t see any of them post the sort of score that will make you wish you had them.
As always, the kickers remain in play on the Showdown.
The Eagles’ defense is far likelier to post a usable score than the Cowboys’ defense — but hey, it’s defense. Anything can happen.
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