The Dallas Cowboys will look to hold onto their first place lead in the NFC East, coming off of the bye week to host the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football. In doing so, they will get a chance to display to a national audience a defense that lacks name-recognition, but one that has got the job done.
Rod Marinelli will look for any advantage he can get against an Eagles offense that has struggled to protect their rookie QB in Carson Wentz. Here are five of his players to keep an eye on:
DeMarcus Lawrence will be playing in his third game off of a season-opening suspension, and the extra week of rest should carry some loftier expectations for the Cowboys’ best edge rusher.
Lawrence was active in his season debut against the Bengals, but did not look polished in Green Bay. As mentioned, the Eagles have struggled to keep Carson Wentz upright, particularly getting poor play from their tackles.
Lawrence is going to have opportunities to make a big impact on this game.
Whether or not he does will tell us a lot about the state of the Dallas defensive line moving forward.
CB Morris Claiborne
With a team full of surprising success stories right now, there may be no better example than corner back Morris Claiborne. Claiborne has earned every penny of the one-year deal that brought him back to the Cowboys for 2016 after his performance under his first contract never came close to his drafted expectation.
A true shutdown corner for a solid Cowboys’ secondary, Claiborne will be just one pivotal piece of the Dallas defense in this game. All around, this Cowboys’ secondary should have an overwhelming advantage against the likes of Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews.
Will Claiborne be able to put together another solid performance, and help Marinelli’s unit continue to force turnovers?
DT Terrell McClain
An afterthought during training camp, Terrell McClain has emerged from a crowded depth chart at defensive tackle to be the best defensive linemen on this team thus far. A force in the middle of the field against the run and the pass, the finally-healthy McClain has also excelled at getting down the line to make tackles in key situations all over the field.
The Eagles know that they will not be able to get into a shootout with a Cowboys offense that will dictate this entire game. To avoid this, and help protect Wentz, except a heavy dose of Ryan Matthews out of the backfield often and early – where McClain will always be waiting for him.
Recording a sack and three forced fumbles against the Packers on 19 snaps, it is unclear exactly how much of a workload Irving will see coming off this performance. With the ability to line up both on the inside and outside at defensive end, Irving is a versatile and high-motor defensive linemen that could become the Cowboys’ “secret weapon” down the stretch.
Not many casual fans will know about Irving before Sunday Night Football begins, but in just a few snaps he’ll be out to make his introduction.
LB Sean Lee
There weren’t many individual performances from the 2015 Cowboys season that are worthy of being remembered, but Sean Lee in Week 2 at Philadelphia might have been the best linebacker play this team has seen in a long time.
Playing against a familiar face in DeMarco Murray, Chip Kelly’s (I miss these Eagles) offense could do nothing to get past the one-man-wrecking-crew that was Lee.
Now, going up against a more traditional offense, there is little doubt that Lee will be fired up and ready to go as always. Whether it is coming on the rare blitz, filling against the run, or giving Wentz nobody to throw to in pass coverage, #50 will turn in another stellar performance against the Eagles this Sunday.