The two top teams in the NFC East will square off in front of a national audience on Christmas Eve, as the Philadelphia Eagles will travel to Dallas to face the Cowboys. Philadelphia is coming off of a road win in Week 15 against the Chicago Bears, whom they defeated by a final score of 25-20. The Cowboys endured a last second defeat on Sunday at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who beat them 40-34.
This divisional tilt is a rematch of a game played in October, which the Eagles won 26-17 at home.
Let’s take a look at three keys to this important contest.
Hurts is Hurting
One of the most important storylines this week has been the health of Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. He came out of last week’s victory against Chicago with a sprained throwing shoulder. It appears unlikely that Hurts will suit up for Saturday’s game against Dallas, and it’s possible the Eagles will choose to play it safe and rest him for the remainder of the regular season.
Even though Philadelphia would appear to have the conference’s number one seed locked up, Hurts’ absence will be interesting for head coach Nick Sirianni to adjust around. Backup quarterback Gardner Minshew is in line to be under center for Philadelphia.
Dallas’ Defensive Strategy
Hurts’ likely absence(or potentially compromised ability if he plays) is going to be a major storyline to watch from the Dallas point of view as well. With Hurts under center, Philadelphia has given teams fits with run-pass option plays, where Hurts can either run with the ball himself, hand it off to a running back, or pass it. It’s a huge reason why Philadelphia has raced out to a 13-1 record this season, and why they are a legitimate favorite to win the Super Bowl.
With Minshew under center, the gameplan for Dallas’ defense will likely change. They won’t have to worry about the quarterback taking off from the pocket. The Cowboys might elect to bring more pressure knowing that Minshew will be looking to pass nearly every time he drops back. It also might allow them to play more of a straight up defense, only leaving seven players in the box, and shifting coverage to Philadelphia’s star wide receiver A.J Brown.
A Different Team Than Round One
During the first matchup between these two teams, Dallas started backup quarterback Cooper Rush for an injured Dak Prescott. To that point, Rush had been winning games as a fill-in, but couldn’t keep the magic going against a stout Eagles defense.
This time around, Prescott will play, and will arguably face his biggest test of the season. Some have questioned Prescott’s efficiency in recent weeks, but he’ll have a chance to erase that narrative with a good game on Saturday. It’ll be interesting to see if Dallas continues to lean on their ground game, as both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard fared well in the first game with Philadelphia.