Eagles-Cowboys: No Jalen Hurts vs. Dak Prescott, plenty of anticipation ahead of rivals' Christmas Eve rematch
It's finally here: the rematch between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. Both teams have talked about this game for weeks, including Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons becoming "probably the most hated man in Philadelphia" for placing more credit for the Eagles' 13-1 start on the team's ecosystem rather than quarterback Jalen Hurts' singular efforts.
Philadelphia has won nine straight road games, the longest active streak in the NFL, but Dallas has won seven straight home games, the longest active streak in the NFL. Something has to give Saturday in Arlington, Texas, but what their Christmas Eve matchup won't provide for the second time this season is Hurts vs. Dak Prescott.
Hurts was ruled out Thursday with a sprained right shoulder that he suffered in Philadelphia's Week 15 win at the Chicago Bears. Backup Gardner Minshew will start in place of the NFL MVP frontrunner.
"Jalen did everything he possibly could to get his body ready to go. At the end of the day, he's just not going to be able to do it," Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said Thursday. "He tried like crazy, and I know he still wants to go. Jalen Hurts is the toughest player I've ever been around."
The reason Hurts made such an effort to play this week is because the Eagles are one win away from clinching the NFC East and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Now, it'll be Minshew leading the charge instead. He started one game in place of Hurts last season, throwing for 242 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 133.7 passer rating on 20-of-25 passing.
Minshew also started the Eagles' Week 18 finale against the Cowboys a year ago, but Philadelphia had a playoff spot clinched and rested its starters. Minshew has thrown 41 passing touchdowns and only 12 interceptions in his four-year career, compiling the third-best career touchdown-to-interception ratio in the NFL among active quarterbacks with a minimum of 500 pass attempts behind only the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers (472-103) and the Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes (186-48).
"Gardner has played a lot of football. He's a smart, competitive guy that understands the game," Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said this week. "If Gardner is out there, we have all the confidence in the world in him that he's going to go out and execute, and those conversations that myself and him have throughout the week leading up to the game, if he's the guy, then we'll be ready to go."
Prescott wasn't ready to go the first time these two teams played in Philadelphia in Week 6, when the Eagles won 26-17, since he was recovering from a fractured thumb on his right hand. Backup Cooper Rush threw three interceptions in the loss, much different numbers than Prescott had against the Cowboys' NFC East rival a year ago. He shredded the Eagles in 2021, tossing eight touchdowns and no interceptions with the Cowboys winning both games by a combined score of 92-47.
His 148.2 passer rating against Philadelphia in 2021 ranks as the third best against a team in a single season behind only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady's performances against two of their division rivals in MVP seasons.
While Prescott has had success against Philly, he doesn't believe it's guaranteed to carry over in his first start against the Eagles this season.
"Obviously playing twice a year helps, and we're familiar with this team. It's a division game, all the past stats, numbers, statistics up to this point in the season doesn't matter," Prescott said Wednesday. "It's about who comes up there, who's more physical, who's focused and who gets the job done better in those 60 minutes. Excited for it."
When the Cowboys have the ball
Despite the Cowboys having scored 27 points in seven straight games, which is tied for the longest streak in franchise history with a run from Prescott's rookie year in 2016 when the team went 13-3 and earned the NFC's top seed, the Eagles' opportunistic defense, which has the second-most takeaways (25) in the NFL this season, has to be drooling entering the Week 16 matchup. Why? Because Prescott leads the NFL in interceptions (10) since returning to action in Week 7.
"I'm not hesitant or scared to say I'm struggling a little bit," Prescott said. "When something like that is happening, it's about knowing who you are and continuing to double down on that, staying focused. Some things are out of your control, but I'm in charge of my attitude, the work ethic that I put in, and the way that I respond. … When you're in a rut, as you could call this, when one way or another the other team is getting their hands on the balls, I can't allow that to change the way I play this game.
"When you play this game and you're throwing the ball into tight windows, when you have the trust that I do with receivers, sometimes things happen," Prescott continued. "Sometimes a defensive lineman gets his hands up and tips the ball. As much as I can say we need to avoid these, some of them are just going to happen. For me, it's about controlling what I can and being in charge of the way I respond and show up each and every day. I'm not going to allow that to change the confidence that I have in myself or the guys that I'm throwing to."
One factor in the interceptions has been a lack of separation from Prescott's wide receivers other than CeeDee Lamb -- something that has been an issue since former Cowboys Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper is now a member of the Cleveland Browns following a salary dump in exchange for late-round draft picks this past offseason.
Running the football with Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott could be the cure-all for the Cowboys' turnover bug since Dallas ranks as the seventh-best rushing offense, averaging 145.1 yards per game on the ground. The Eagles, meanwhile, rank in the bottom half of the NFL against the run, allowing 121.1 rushing yards per game, 19th in the league. Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore's playsheet needs to simply read "More Pollard" since the fourth-year running back averages 6.1 yards per touch, the most in the NFL among players with at least 150 touches this season.
When the Eagles have the ball
Even though the Eagles are going up against the Cowboys with Minshew instead of Hurts, which means losing the element of incredibly effective quarterback runs that caused Dallas' defense to malfunction in Week 6, they're still facing a Cowboys defense that is on a downward spiral at the wrong time. This season, the Cowboys rank in the top 10 in scoring defense (19.2 points per game allowed), total defense (324.6 total yards per game allowed) and pass defense (191.6 passing yards per game allowed).
Since Week 14, the Cowboys defense has been porous: Dallas has allowed 31.5 points per game (29th in the NFL), 415 total yards per game (28th in the NFL) and 262 passing yards per game (25th in the NFL). Across the league, no team has allowed more than 26.6 points or 399.2 yards per game this season. Only three have allowed more than 262 passing yards. Part of that can be attributed to season-ending injuries to cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown, but the Cowboys aren't making any excuses.
"We talk about being one of the best defenses in the league, and the past two weeks, we haven't shown it at all," Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse said Tuesday. "You are what you put on tape. At this point, we haven't gotten the job done."
Dallas linebacker Micah Parsons, whose 13 sacks rank as the fourth-most in the NFL this season, has been getting the job done for most of the year, except against the Eagles. In Week 6, he was shut down by four-time Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson and the rest of the Eagles' top-ranked pass-blocking unit. Philadelphia's offensive line has an 82.3 pass-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus, the highest in the NFL. Both Johnson and six-time Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce have yet to allow a sack this season.
"We're not getting traditional looks, way more chips, ball is coming out way faster," Parsons said. "There's not a lot of dropbacks, more play-action. Boot passes are being thrown on us, there are quicker passes. It's a lot more quick game against us. If you look at any other game, there's more dropback … We're getting different game plans. We have to expect that and change our game plan…Everything can't be perfect, but you strive for that type of execution. I'm not the type of person to come here and make excuses. We just have to get better."
Saturday's matchup between the Eagles and Cowboys is one between two of the NFC's top teams as well as teams that both strongly dislike each other. Yet, there's also a sentiment of respect carried by both sides for what each has accomplished on the field in 2022.
"I think everyone in this locker room is looking forward to this rematch," Prescott said. "When you play a division rival and understand the long history that comes with these two teams, understanding that they're playing their asses off and having a hell of a season. For them to be in our division as I said, they control the destiny in winning the division right now [being 13-1], so you just want to get in and get another shot at putting your best foot forward." Read More