Something about these prime-time divisional matches between the Eagles and Cowboys usually brings out an unexpected game-changing flow of events which sets the tone early for either team. It can be a busted play on offense which turns into a big gainer. It might be a turnover on a routine special teams sequence. Someone goes for the strip-fumble and whiffs on the tackle. False starts due to crowd noise coupled with anxiousness…a pass between the numbers clangs off a shoulder pad and into the hands of a defender. In other words, both teams come out so emotionally high and with their hair on fire, you often see an early mistake caused by over-exuberance— which then snowballs into a frenzy of catch-up compensation to atone for the points which were squandered.
This is when things can get crazy, and you must count on your prodigy QB to settle things down.
For the Eagles in this potential scenario, their early exuberance and determination to get to Dak Prescott on the pass-rush could be used against them.
That’s because Prescott has the footwork of a matador. He’s also going to have some play-call tricks up his sleeve to take advantage of an overly aggressive pass-rush.
Eagles DC Jim Schwartz preaches to his linemen to “play the run on their way to the quarterback.” This kind of discipline will be put to the test against Prescott, because he is possibly the Cowboys’ most dangerous runner if you lose containment on him.
Check out his rushing stats:
He’s run for 20 first-downs already this season.
We must not underestimate Dak Prescott’s mobility in and out of the pocket. Short of keeping a linebacker around to spy on him on every play, there has got to be a coordinated effort to limit his perimeter scrambling.
There’s also the fact of his physical and mental toughness. Prescott feeds off pressure schemes from opponents.
“When you play quarterback and things don’t go well again and again and again, it’s hard to get into rhythm,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said after Prescott led his team to a 28-17 victory over the Cardinals on MNF. “Sometimes you start forcing things and I just think his mental toughness is off the charts. … Throughout the ballgame, things didn’t come easily to us. He just kept battling. He kept making good decisions.”
“He came out there and made some big plays. Sometimes he has to use his feet to get out of the pocket to make those downfield throws, but he played amazing.”
Wade Phillips, the former Cowboys head coach and current Rams defensive coordinator, has been so impressed by Prescott that during a recent news conference, Phillips compared the Cowboys quarterback to two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger.
“He’s going into the Roethlisberger [territory] of a quarterback who comes in and really plays well early,” Phillips said. “I think Ben won a Super Bowl his [second] year. But this guy, he won 13 games last year and it wasn’t just him obviously, but everybody knows the quarterback is a big, big part of it, maybe the biggest in most situations.
“He’s really playing well. He doesn’t throw interceptions. He makes big plays, running the ball or scrambling and throwing it. I don’t see any flaws in him. You pressure him, they have had a good line and that helps too, but you pressure him and he throws to the right people. That’s what I see.”
The same settling effect on a game potentially going haywire is within Carson Wentz’ wheelhouse.
One of Carson Wentz’ greatest strengths is his ability to extend plays.
Combine that with his third-down conversion rate this season, and he is right there with Dak Prescott in the proven ability to keep a rough start in an emotional game from getting out of hand.
Bill Barnwell, ESPN: “When these two teams have needed to come back in the fourth quarter before things get out of hand, Prescott and Wentz have produced essentially identical traditional numbers. Down by 14 points or fewer in the second half, Prescott has been good for an 82.1 passer rating on 121 pass attempts. Wentz has generated a 79.1 passer rating on 188 tries…”
That’s over the past two seasons—not a truly comparable stat right now based upon the fact that Wentz has played most of his snaps in 2017 with a lead in the second halves of games.
But it speaks to the resilience of both Wentz and Prescott as situation-aware game managers when things aren’t exactly going their way.
More Barnwell analysis: “As for the idea that Prescott hasn’t come up with critical drives for the Cowboys, well, that’s just silly. Pro-Football-Reference.com credits him with five fourth-quarter comeback victories and six game-winning drives to just two for Wentz. Two of Prescott’s comeback wins weren’t especially eventful — one was a one-play drive off an Adam Thielen muffed punt, and another came across three Dan Bailey field goals — but there were three games in 2016 in which he really carried the Cowboys over the finish line on his back:
- Week 2, when Prescott went 5-of-6 for 54 yards to set up a game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter over Washington.
- Week 8, when Prescott took over in the fourth quarter down 23-13 to the Eagles after Wendell Smallwood fumbled. While the first possession after the fumble produced a field goal, Prescott overcame an overturned 63-yard Elliott run to go 5-of-8 for 71 yards with a game-tying 22-yard TD pass to Bryant. Then, on the first drive of overtime, Prescott went 5-of-5 for 56 yards and threw a game-sealing touchdown to Witten without letting Wentz ever step onto the field.
“On the other hand, Wentz doesn’t have that sort of signature fourth-quarter drive you can point to, although I suspect it’s just a matter of time before the MVP candidate has a few game winners on his résumé. He has been great on third-and-long this season, but he wasn’t very effective there last season, which is unsurprising due to the small sample size of third-down plays. Even given a league-high 35.1 percent conversion rate on third-and-8 or more this season, Wentz’s Eagles have picked up third-and-8-plus 25.9 percent of the time since the start of 2016, which is 11th in the league. Prescott’s Cowboys are at a 22.5 percent conversion clip on third-and-long, which is 20th. The average team faces a little more than four third-and-long plays per game, which means we’re looking at a difference of two or three extra third-and-long conversions per season.”
I guess my point is we are fortunate to witness this upcoming duel in Dallas because we will be watching two up-and-coming young QB’s with matching skill sets who each have the work ethic, leadership qualities and athletic talent to offset the usual craziness that defines these traditional Philly-Dallas rivalry games, no matter what the injury status or the missing personnel of either team dictates as an advantage to the other. Throw out the computer predictions—this one comes down to individual matchup execution across the board by every player on the field. The buck stops in the quarterbacks’ headsets.
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By the way, speaking of critical matchups, this is how PE.com‘s Fran Duffy sees it—he will be watching what’s going on with the right side of the Eagles’ offensive line very closely:
Fran Duffy: “To me, the biggest matchup has to be Lane Johnson against Demarcus Lawrence, the league’s sack leader. The Cowboys will move Lawrence around a bit, but most of his snaps will come against Lane Johnson. The only way the Cowboys win this game is if they are able to ground the Eagles’ passing attack, and they’ll need Lawrence to be a big part of that. If Lane can shut him down in this game or at least keep his impact limited, that’s a huge win for the Eagles.”