With their season teetering on the brink, the Cowboys pulled out a 27-20 win on Nov. 11 that even their grandmas thought was impossible.
Now it’s Philly’s turn. The Eagles (6-6) will try to keep their postseason hopes alive against the Cowboys (7-5) at 3:25 p.m. Sunday at AT&T Stadium. Isn’t it fun how cyclical the NFL can be?
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In fact, this entire month-long stretch has broken perfectly for the Cowboys. But it wouldn’t have been possible without the gut-check win in Philly. If Dallas had lost that night, the concerns were deep and vast, at least among media and fans.
The Cowboys would have fallen to 3-6 with seemingly no chance at the playoffs. The growing chatter that coach Jason Garrett needed the boot would have exploded and the looming questions about Dak Prescott’s long-term prospects as a foundational quarterback may have turned into a full-blown panic. But Dallas traded for Amari Cooper and the Cowboys have gone 3-1 since his arrival and all of those voices of discontent have at least been muted until further notice.
Five things to watch Sunday afternoon:
1. Here’s the deal
The Cowboys can increase their lead in the NFC East to two games with three games left with a win on Sunday. Barring a collapse against the Buccaneers, Colts and Giants down the stretch, a win would wrap up the division title. Don’t doubt the Cowboys are aware of importance of the game. Any notion of a let down is ludicrous on the face of it, but let’s be honest, there is a track record, at least in previous seasons. This year’s team, however, doesn’t seem distracted or allowing their eyes to linger too far from the prize. They’ve faithfully followed the boring lead of their head coach, which in this case, is what you want.
2. Zeke, Dak and the run game
Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 151 yards with a 7.95 average on 19 carries the last time the Cowboys played the Eagles. It was the first game where it became obvious that the addition of Cooper would indeed open things up a bit in the run game. Prescott only rushed for nine yards but he ran it six times, which also helps keep the defense guessing.
3. Elite defense?
Rod Marinelli isn’t quite ready to call his defense elite. He wants to see more takeaways (and defensive touchdowns) before giving them that respect. But he does call it the best defense he’s had in Dallas. The Cowboys are second in the league in points allowed (18.6) and fourth in yards allowed (318.2 per game) despite forcing only 14 turnovers. But six of those takeaways have come during the four-game win streak.
4. The Wolf Hunter’s howl
Leighton Vander Esch debuted his wolf howl (along with AT&T Stadium howling sound effects) against the Saints. It quickly caught on and seems destined to become a fan favorite. Sean Lee won’t play for the fifth consecutive game which means the rookie will have plenty of chances to unleash the howl. Vander Esch leads the team in tackles as his profile continues to rise.
5. Tyron’s return
Left tackle Tyron Smith is listed as questionable to return to the starting lineup after missing the previous two games with a neck stinger and elbow injury. Smith said early in the week he expected to play. Jerry Jones said Friday morning he expected Smith to play. But that has been the case the past two games and Smith was not cleared to go. Although Cameron Fleming has done a fine job as his replacement, Smith’s All-Pro stature can’t be undervalued.