With the Dallas Cowboys set to take on the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, we are getting ready for yet another big game in the Dallas Cowboys plans for the 2018 playoffs. Like we've discussed every week for the last four weeks, this game is a must win as well.
If the Cowboys, who are only a game up on their biggest rival, can pull out the win, they'll be two games up on the Eagles with three games to play. And having the tie breaker over Philadelphia would essentially give the Cowboys a three game lead in the division. That's how big this game is for both teams. The Eagles win and they're still in the thick of the NFC East race. The Cowboys win and they have all but clinched the division. Dallas would need just one more win in their final three games after Sunday to clinch the division.
With the way they're playing right now, that seems like a foregone conclusion.
With that, here are some final thoughts on the game. Make sure to leave us your predictions for the game in the comment section.
Defensive Back Disaster
The Philadelphia Eagles, like they did in week 10 continue to struggle in the secondary due to injuries to a lot of their defensive backs. Corner Back Jalen Mills is questionable for Sunday's game with a knee injury, but they are already missing starting corner Ronald Darby who left the week 10 matchup with a knee injury as well.
From week 10 to week 12 against the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, and the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles allowed an average of 310 passing yards per game. They were better in week 13 against Washington, but the Redskins were trotting out a combination of Colt McCoy and Mark Sanchez in the Eagles win this past Sunday.
Dak Prescott threw for 270 yards on 26 of 36 passing with a passer rating of 102.8. Prescott was only sacked four times as he threw for a touchdown and ran for a touchdown in their previous meeting.
With Amari Cooper better acclimated than he was in his second game with the Cowboys and Michael Gallup coming on strong, it should be a good day for the Dallas Cowboys passing attack on Sunday.
Ezekiel Elliott Dominating the Buffet Table
In their previous matchup with the Eagles in week 10, Ezekiel Elliott feasted like it was Thanksgiving Day.
Elliott carried the ball 19 times for 151 yards and a touchdown and caught six passes for 36 yards and another score. Since Amari Cooper came to the Cowboys, Elliott is the second leading receiver on the team and the running game has been awesome.
Since the Dallas Cowboys trades for Amari Cooper and promoted Marc Colombo to offensive line coach five weeks ago, Elliott is averaging 106.2 yards per game rushing on 21.6 carries a game with three rushing TDs. He's added an average of 5.6 receptions per game for 49.6 yards and has another two receiving touchdowns. Prior to the by week moves, Elliott was averaging 88.4 rushing yards per game and 25 receiving yards and had only scored four total touchdowns in those seven games.
The Dallas Cowboys formula is a simple one. Get the running game going and then be efficient in the passing game. They've been both of those things over the four game winning streak and I see another big day for Elliott coming in this one. The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t have an answer for Ezekiel Elliott then and won’t have an answer on Sunday.
Defensive Dominance Remains Key
I don't think there were many Cowboys analysts or fans who saw the Cowboys defensive dominance of the Saints coming on Thursday Night Football. It was the definition of cautious optimism. Even if you thought the Cowboys could beat them, there wasn't much certainty. During the game as the defense was painting a masterpiece, I kept waiting for Drew Brees to perform a miracle like he's done so many times and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The Cowboys defense just didn't allow it.
They've been getting good games out of Byron Jones all year and Anthony Brown has shown up a lot as well, but this was by far the best game of the season for Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis.
Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch continue to put on a show in the middle of the Cowboys defense and the defensive line is figuring out how to get pressure with just four rushers.
Getting pressure with four will be another key this week as the Eagles trot out some serious weapons in the passing game with Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffrey, Golden Tate, and Nelson Agohlor. The Cowboys linebackers and secondary will have a tough task covering those guys for an extended length of time if they’re unable to get consistent and significant pressure on Quarterback Carson Wentz.
Troy Aikman on the FOX postgame: You look at this game and what Dallas has been able to do... they're a better team right now than they were when they beat Philadelphia a few weeks ago.
Troy Aikman really hits the nail on the head with this one. The Dallas Cowboys are playing really good football on both sides of the football.
The offense is trending in the right direction, even if they only scored 13 against the Saints, they moved the football. The defense was downright dominant in their 13-10 win and has begun to create turnovers with greater regularity.
The Eagles are still a decent offensive team but are struggling on defense. They’re giving up a lot of yards in the ground and through the air and that doesn’t bode well when taking on a team that’s as good as it gets running the ball and is finding more explosive plays through the air.
Divisional games are always a bit strange, but I don’t see the Eagles hanging with the Cowboys this week.
Cowboys 27 - Eagles 17
Who you got?
LB Justin Phillips Making a Case to Become a Roster Lock With Cowboys
In Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, the Dallas Cowboys arguably have the best linebacker duo in the entire NFL. They also have some pretty solid backups in Sean Lee and Joe Thomas, but the depth behind those four is completely up in the air. That is excellent news for an undrafted LB like Justin Phillips.
The former Oklahoma State Cowboy LB signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent after the completion of the 2019 NFL Draft. To go from being an Oklahoma State Cowboy to a Dallas Cowboy must've been a dream come true, especially for a kid from Pearland, Texas who rooted for America's Team growing up. The dream probably won't be complete though unless a roster spot comes with it.
Surprisingly, Justin Phillips has put himself into contention to earn one of those coveted roster spots. The way he has played in the first two preseason games has caught the attention of quite a few people, which should make it extremely difficult for the Cowboys coaching staff when it comes to making roster cut decisions. Dallas Cowboys Staff Writer and former Scout Bryan Broaddus agrees…
"Justin Phillips is going to make it hard on this staff to put him on the street. Not only is his finish impressive, but the awareness he plays with in pass coverage is impressive. There is no way I thought he had a chance for that interception, especially with this initial step into the line, but his ability to turn and run to a spot saved him."
Here is the play/interception Broaddus is referring to:
The Dallas Cowboys have typically only carried six linebackers on their 53-man roster these past few years. With four spots already spoken for, Justin Phillips is doing his damnedest to lock down one of those final two up for grabs. That, of course, is easier said than done.
Phillips is likely competing with Justin March-Lillard, who led the team in tackles against the Los Angeles Rams last week and fellow undrafted rookie LB Luke Gifford. Gifford, of course, missed the game against the Rams with an ankle injury he sustained in Week 1 of the preseason against the 49ers. It was actually that injury that resulted in more playing time for Justin Phillips.
If you're doing the math here, that's three linebackers competing for two roster spots. March-Lillard probably has the upper hand right now over the two rookies, but I wouldn't say he's secured a job just yet. That leaves the door open for No. 44 (Phillips) and No. 57 (Gifford).
As much as I like Luke Gifford, and I do, I think the stars could be aligning for Justin Phillips to make it through roster cuts. He's playing really well right now, while all Gifford can do is watch from the sideline until he can get back on the field. Regardless though, it's a position battle worth keeping an eye on.
Do you think LB Justin Phillips has done enough to secure a roster spot?
How Kris Richard May Help CB Michael Jackson Make Cowboys Roster
Cornerback Michael Jackson, one of the Dallas Cowboys' 5th-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, has not been standing out so far in training camp or preseason. But despite the slow start, the influence of Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard could help keep Jackson on the 53-man roster this year.
While no team likes parting with their drafted rookies, it certainly happens. That's especially true for Day 3 players, even 5th rounders, and particularly when a team is as deep with talent right now as the 2019 Cowboys.
The cornerback position is one of Dallas' most loaded. They go four-deep with starting talent in Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis, which leaves just one or two roster spots for the remaining prospects.
Michael Jackson is in competition with veteran C.J. Goodwin and the intriguing Donovan Olumba. Both were with the team last year; Goodwin was a special teams contributor and Olumba was a valuable developmental asset on the practice squad.
So far this preseason, we've seen Goodwin shining on special teams and Olumba making plays at cornerback. Jackson hasn't stood out, unless you count jokes about thin he looks on the field.
In contrast, fellow 5th-round rookie Joe Jackson has been showing up at defensive end. Even if there were no suspension concerns with Robert Quinn and Randy Gregory, Joe Jackson has made himself very difficult to cut.
But despite not having that same momentum or energy around him yet, Michael Jackson may still find his way onto the 53-man roster. And that may have something to do with his position coach.
Since arriving in Dallas during the 2018 offseason, Kris Richard has quickly gained prominence beyond just his official role as the Defensive Backs Coach. He was working as the defensive play-caller last year and is expected to take over fully in 2020, assuming Rod Marinelli retires and Richard doesn't leave for a head coaching opportunity.
When Dallas selected Michael Jackson in the last draft, Jackson became the first cornerback or safety drafted by the Cowboys since Richard arrived. Given that it happened this year, with Richard's influence clearly high on the defense, one would assume that Kris had a big say in the decision to draft Jackson.
No, Richard certainly can't veto any decision made by the Joneses, Will McClay, Jason Garrett, or even Marinelli when it comes to roster management. But if he has any bias towards Jackson as his first draft pick in Dallas, Kris may fight for the rookie more than someone else.
We're all human; agendas come into play. Kris Richard may be more passionate about seeing Michael Jackson succeeding for a variety of reasons. He may pound the table for the team to keep Jackson louder than anyone else in the room.
That doesn't necessarily mean keeping Jackson over some other cornerback, either. The argument could be to go long at CB at the expense of another position; maybe only keeing two quarterbacks or eight offensive linemen to free up a roster spot.
This is purely speculative, of course. For all we know, Richard could be the first one who loses faith and votes to let Jackson go.
But given the situation and all factors involved, it's more likely that Kris Richard will be invested in seeing Michael Jackson succeed and sticking with the Cowboys in 2019. Hopefully, it's in the best interest of the team overall.
DL Kerry Hyder Impressive In Cowboys Week 2 Preseason Win
Kerry Hyder joined the Cowboys this offseason on a one year deal, and while the four-year NFL veteran has put up some solid tape in his time around the league, it was hard to project just what he could bring to the Cowboys defense.
Listed at 6'2" 270 pounds, Hyder is a bit of a tweener on the defensive line. Though the answer to "will he play tackle or end" seems to be "both" to this point in the preseason.
As he fights for his life on this deep defensive line, Kerry Hyder had himself a day in the Cowboys 14-10 victory over the Rams last weekend.
Hyder made an excellent play defending a screen pass in the first quarter, reading the play perfectly and reacting quickly to running back Darrell Henderson coming out of the backfield. Hyder also created some pressure on the quarterback, and finished with 3 combined tackles in very limited playing time.
Hyder's versatility is working well for him as he looks to make the final roster. Like a Tyrone Crawford type player, Hyder will be able to move inside and out depending on the situation. This allows the Cowboys to be flexible in how they structure their depth chart on defense, and in how they decide to rush the passer on third down.
A pass rushing package involving Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence on the edge with the combination of Hyder and Maliek Collins on the inside could turn out to be a very dangerous one for opposing offenses to deal with.
Rod Marinelli spoke to this versatility a couple of months ago, showing just how much he values what Kerry Hyder can bring to this team.
"Maybe you adjust him sometime, once in a while – in a one-on-one pass rush situation, stick him over a guard and start to get a feel for it.” - Rod Marinelli
Earlier this offseason, I wrote that Kerry Hyder could end up being Rod Marinelli's next great under-the-radar find on the defensive line. And if he continues to play with the hustle and awareness that he had on Saturday, he's going to make Rod look very smart in his evaluation.
Kerry Hyder is making it very difficult for the front office to let him go. And, at the end of the preseason, I do expect Kerry Hyder to find himself on the Cowboys' active roster. Especially considering how Mike White is playing at quarterback, and how his release could open up an extra spot at a different position group.
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