EAGLES // COWBOYS OVERVIEW
When these teams met in Week 10, the Cowboys pulled out a 27-20 victory that sent the Eagles to 4-5 with a game against the Saints on tap, while the Cowboys kicked off a four-game win streak that has sent them from barely alive to 7-5, where they sit atop the NFC East. The Eagles are 6-6, and a loss in this game would make their path to the playoffs far less clear. This game is suddenly a lot more exciting than seemed possible a month ago. Eagles // Cowboys has been awarded a cautious Over/Under of 42.0. The Cowboys have been installed as 3.5 point favorites.
EAGLES PASS OFFENSE
Last week, the Cowboys dominated their game against the Saints by absolutely owning the clock (New Orleans — who still ranks third in the league in time of possession — had the ball for a stunning 23:07), and by shutting down the Saints on the ground, allowing Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram to pile up only 63 yards on 18 carries. The Saints were only able to run 49 plays — and while Drew Brees still completed a steady 64.3% of his passes, he was able to pick up only 127 yards on these throws. The Saints suffered from some key moments of lapses in execution, but ultimately it was a game that played out about as perfectly as the Cowboys can script things :: Stop the run // force short throws // control the clock. Only three teams in the NFL are allowing a higher catch rate than the Cowboys, but they keep the ball in front of them and tackle well, which forces teams to march the field on them; and with the Cowboys’ ability to make teams one-dimensional through stout run D, it becomes tough to march the whole field, one first down at a time. The Cowboys have recently allowed 23 and 28 points to the poor offenses of Washington and Tennessee, but their 10-point stomp-out of the Saints’ dangerous attack serves as a reminder of what this team can do when everything goes right.
With the Cowboys allowing the second fewest pass plays of 20+ yards, it will be up to the short throws to keep the Eagles’ offense moving — and lately, the king of these short throws among wide receivers has been Golden Tate, who has seen target counts the last three weeks of 8 // 8 // 7, in spite of continuing to play just half the team’s snaps. Tate has turned these 23 targets into only 163 yards (7.1 yards per target), with only one target in the last two weeks that came more than 13 yards downfield. He will need a broken play in order to hit for a big game in this spot (against a defense that capitalizes on not allowing broken plays). Helping his cause in this department is his YAC ability and his knack for getting open when the quarterback has to scramble — each of which can lead to broken plays.
Wide receiver viability on the Eagles thins out behind Tate, with Alshon Jeffery seeing target counts across the last three weeks of 5 // 3 // 5 (failing to top 40 yards in that stretch, and failing to top 50 yards in any of his last five games), and with Nelson Agholor seeing bounce-around target counts in his last four games of 8 // 2 // 1 // 8 (while managing to top 56 yards only three times all year). Both guys continue to play a full complement of snaps, so it’s not impossible for one of them to hit; but neither could be counted on for consistent production in this spot if we played out this slate a hundred times.
The top dog in this passing attack has been Zach Ertz — who is appropriately priced on FanDuel for his production, but who is priced about $1k too cheap on DraftKings when you compare his point-per-game production (19.9) to high-priced wide receivers; (19 to 20 points per game at wide receiver has earned price tags ranging from $7.3k to $8.3k; Ertz is $6.4k this week). The matchup is nonthreatening against a Dallas team that has allowed the third most catches in the league to tight ends — a stat aided heavily by Ertz’ 14-145-2 demolition of them in Week 10.
EAGLES RUN OFFENSE
The Eagles’ backfield will face one of the tougher tests in the NFL this week against a Dallas defense that has allowed the second fewest yards per carry in the NFL, while holding enemy running backs to the fourth fewest rushing yards and the third fewest touchdowns. The Cowboys are allowing only 3.63 yards per carry to running backs — an awesome-low mark that has finally started to push teams to the air against them.
The setup in this spot is further complicated by the Eagles turning to a three-way timeshare in the backfield last week, giving 20 touches to Josh Adams, eight touches to Corey Clement, and four touches to Darren Sproles. Adams played 41 of a possible 75 snaps. Clement played 23 snaps. Sproles played nine.
Adams remains the top play in this group, and he is the only running back on the Eagles who has seen 20 carries in a game (which he has now done in back-to-back contests); though with only 15 pass routes run last week (to 14 for other backs), he’ll be at risk of slowing down if the Eagles choose to attack through the air. He is best viewed as a yardage-and-touchdown back in this difficult draw, with any pass game work a bonus. No other back in this backfield is seeing enough usage to be considered a reliable piece.
COWBOYS RUN OFFENSE
The Eagles’ run defense continues to get exposed (they currently rank 29th in the NFL in yards allowed per carry, at 5.0) — and yet, they continue to face the fewest rush attempts in the NFL. Part of this is their attackable secondary, and part of this is their heavy fronts, but the good news for Ezekiel Elliott is that this team runs the ball regardless of opponent. Over the Cowboys’ last four games (starting with their game in Week 10 against Philly), Zeke has carry counts of 19 // 23 // 26 // 23. He has added target counts in this stretch of 7 // 8 // 6 // 6, with this offense even adding in some misdirection screen plays designed to get Zeke into space with the ball in his hands. In this four game stretch, he has yards-from-scrimmage totals of 187 // 201 // 143 // 135. This compares favorably to CMC (138 // 110 // 237 // 161) and Saquon (100 // 152 // 142 // 146) at the higher ends of the price range. The Cowboys will heavily ride their lead back once again in this spot.
COWBOYS PASS OFFENSE
Part of the reason things have opened up so nicely for Zeke lately has been the addition of Amari Cooper. Amari has not only freed up extra room for Zeke, but he has also freed up room for Michael Gallup, who is no longer having to deal with the attention shown to a number one receiver. This is still an offensive scheme that does little to get players open, and these players are still attached to a quarterback in Dak Prescott who is not a true playmaker through the air, but the matchup is decent against a Philly pass defense that ranks 16th in yards allowed per pass attempt. The injuries in this Philly secondary have not shown up in the stats nearly as much as most were expecting (Philly still forces a below-average aDOT and allows an average catch rate, while continuing to tackle well after the catch — a testament to Jim Schwartz’ adaptability as a defensive coordinator), but this is an average matchup at worst.
While the Cowboys are a run-heavy team (27th in pass play rate // 27th in pass attempts per game), this team has a narrow enough target distribution to create viable DFS opportunities. With Dak throwing 28 to 36 times in each of his last four games, Amari has been able to see target counts of 10 // 5 // 9 // 8, while Gallup has gone 3 // 5 // 6 // 7 and Cole Beasley has gone 5 // 7 // 3 // 3. Gallup and Beasley will need a couple touchdowns or a big spike in usage or efficiency in order to become viable on this slate, but Amari should see enough work to have an opportunity to matter. With only one of Amari’s 22 targets across the last three weeks coming more than 15 yards downfield, he’ll still need a broken play or a multi-touchdown day in order to truly pop, but there is some upside here.
Behind the wide receivers, the tight ends on this team continue to offer nothing.
Dak has not topped 273 passing yards or two passing touchdowns in a game this year, keeping his floor low — but he has added five touchdowns on the ground this year, giving him just enough ceiling to matter from time to time.
The pieces that really stand out to me in this game are Ertz on the Eagles and Zeke on the Cowboys. More than just about any other pieces in the NFL, the Eagles revolve around Ertz through the air, and the Cowboys revolve around Zeke in all phases of the game. This is not about these guys both posting a strong game in this matchup a few weeks ago; rather, it’s about these guys both posting a strong game week in and week out.
Behind these guys, this game is mostly low-floor dart throws, along with a guy in Amari who is a bit overpriced for the actual types of looks he is seeing (short throws that often leave little room for YAC). I like the upside on a few of these pieces (Amari included) enough that I will have at least some vague interest in this game away from Ertz and Zeke — but those two are the ones who are really catching my eye in this spot.