Once the clock wound down to 0:00 marking the end of the Dallas Cowboys game against the Los Angeles Rams and the team's fourth victory this season, the excitement over this year's first matchup between the Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles became palpable. There is so much at stake in regards to both ranking and reputation, and the argument over which team's defense is best equipped to best which team's offense seems to logically favor either team depending on who you ask and which player or stat on which they choose to focus.
The NFL's Next Gen Stats recently released statistical validation for anyone who may have been experiencing some inner turmoil over an inability to confidently predict the outcome of the upcoming game between the two teams atop the NFC East. In their video breaking down the top three biggest mismatches of week 6, two of the three were matchups that fans will see in this game.
The first big mismatch analyzed by Next Gen Stats was the Eagles' defensive line vs Cowboys quarterback Cooper Rush. They showed that the d-line alone should cause trouble for Rush especially if they choose not to blitz. Rush's NGS passing score drops from 7th in the NFL when facing five or more pass rushers down to 29th in the NFL for non-blitzes. Not blitzing also allows the Eagles to play more cover 4 defense, which according to NGS, has led to a 64% defensive success rate for the Eagles and 14 quarterback pressures.
The second big mismatch NGS broke down was Micah Parsons against the Eagles' offensive line. Although different sources seem to record quarterback pressures differently, almost every source lists Micah Parsons as either first or second in quarterback pressures so far this season. NGS lists Parsons with a league-high 24 quarterback pressures this season and 13 blitz pressures from the linebacker position since 2021, 2nd most in the NFL during that time period.
On blitzes, the Cowboys use cover one defense fourth-most often in the NFL and with a 66.1% defensive success rate. NGS attributes that success rate specifically to pressures by Micah Parsons.
In a nutshell, NGS says that the Cowboys defense is a mismatch for the Eagles offense, and the Eagles defense is a mismatch for the Cowboys offense.
This all begs the question: which of those mismatches is the biggest mismatch? Based on what's presented by Next Gen Stats, a 64% success rate vs a 66.1% success rate, these mismatches seem to offset one another too well to make a prediction based on that information.
A higher-level overview of each team's performance leads to similar offsets and questions. In the games the Cowboys have won this season, they have held their opponents to less than 20 points. The Eagles have not scored less than 20 points in a game all season. The Cowboys defense holds opponents to 5.95 points below what their average is with their game against the Cowboys removed from the data set. For the Eagles, that number is 5.8. What about common opponents? So far, that would only be the Washington Commanders who the Cowboys bested with a score of 25-10. The Eagles defeated them 24-8.
With all these offsetting mismatches and closely aligned stats, how can one determine what to expect during this game? We could all just stop speculating, watch the game, appreciate what will surely be a hard-fought competition, and move on, supporting our respective favorite teams regardless of the result. Based on the behavior of many fans it seems that there may be something in the Cowboys Nation citizenry handbook preventing such an even-tempered approach.
Honestly, the most glaring difference between these two teams is one that would allow the Eagles to take advantage of the most important rule in the NFL Official Rulebook. Rule 11, Section 1, Article 1 states, “The team that scores the greater number of points during the entire game is the winner.”
That should be the biggest difference.
The Eagles have a proven ability to score more points than what the Cowboys have been able to score. The Eagles score an average of 27 points per game while the Cowboys' average sits at 18.6. Even adjusting for the Cowboys' ability to keep teams below what they usually score would still put the expectation for the Eagles at around 21 points.
There is hope, however. Removing the outlier of Week 1 when the Eagles scored 38 points against the Lions paints a different picture. Removing that game drops their average points per game down to 24.25. If the Cowboys defense performs as they typically do against what seems to be the recent trend for the Eagles, it can reasonably be expected for the Eagles to score as few as 18 points.
A couple of weeks ago, Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb said, “We know we need to get in the end zone more.” Hopefully, that knowledge will translate into action, especially for CeeDee himself. The Cowboys' three highest-scoring games this year are the three games when CeeDee Lamb had the most receiving yards.
For this game, two things are certain for the Cowboys:
- Against the higher-scoring Eagles, it will be imperative for the Cowboys to put points on the board as early and as often as possible. Micah Parsons himself said that the defense plays better when the Cowboys are in the lead and the opposing team becomes desperate to score.
- The other certainty is that there will be little room for error on either side.
NFL fans everywhere should look forward to an engaging Sunday night game with some of the biggest stars in the league giving the best performances possible.