Dallas Cowboys

Five for Philly: ‘We have dug out the pits of hell before,’ DeMarcus Lawrence says

The Dallas Cowboys (3-3) know what’s at stake Sunday at AT&T Stadium.

Not only is first place in the NFC East on the line when they face the Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) but also is their season.

Riding a three-game losing streak following a 3-0 start, the Cowboys know the bleeding must stop now.

There is urgency but no panic, just resolve as well as understanding that they were left for dead last year at 3-5 before rallying to win the NFC East with a 10-6 record.

“We have went through this before,” defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. “We have seen hell. We done dug out of the pits of it. We were 3-5 last year. What is it to fear. We know what we got to do. We are doing to show it. Period.”

It helps that Eagles coach Doug Pederson guaranteed a win, giving the Cowboys some extra motivation.

It also doesn’t hurt that the Cowboys, who are 2-0 in the NFC East, have won 12 of their last 13 games in the division.

They remain confident.

“You can’t ask for anything better than this,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “Got Philly coming in, division rival, winner holds first place in the division early in the season and especially where we are with our record at 3-3. To have this chance to be in a position to have a game like this early, we are excited. We like our chances.”

Here are Five Things to watch for Sunday:

Dak Prescott vs. Carson Wentz

Since Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz took the league by storm as rookies in 2016, they have often been compared. Wentz was the second overall pick. Prescott was picked in the fourth round. Yet, Prescott has a 3-2 edge in head-to-head matchups and has won two division titles. Prescott is actually 3-1 against Wentz in games that actually mattered.

Wentz is the one with the $110 million contract extension. And Prescott is still looking to get paid.

A columnist for a Philadelphia newspaper noted earlier this week that Wentz was a better talent but Prescott was a better leader.

“Something that’s always fun,” Prescott said when asked about the comparison. “Something we’ll be able to always, every matchup, look back and say what’s our record against each other or this vs that. Something that will always be cool to track. A guy that’s done really, really well in his career. Credit him for what he’s doing, what he’s done. But I like our chances this Sunday.”

Cowboys need to start fast

The Cowboys have been outscored 47-9 in the first half of this three-game losing streak. They have been down 31-3 and 21-6 early in the third quarters in losses to the Packers and Jets the past two weeks before battling back to turn a blowout into a close, competitive loss.

“It just comes down to execution of the plays and not shooting ourselves in the foot and just starting fast,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said.

The Cowboys know if they want to turn their season around and stop the losing streak they need to get off to a better start, beginning Sunday against the Eagles.

“It is very frustrating,” Prescott said. When our backs are against the wall and we got to score points, we do. We got to figure that out and play with the same mentality and the same urgency from the first play of the game. If we do that we will put ourselves in a good position for this game moving forward.”

Cowboys getting healthy for showdown

When the Cowboys started the week, part of the doom and gloom stemmed from the number of injuries heading into the showdown with the Eagles.

They opened practiced on Wednesday without seven starters, including center Travis Frederick, tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, receivers Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb and cornerbacks Byron Jones and Anthony Brown. Then guard Zack Martin missed practice on Thursday.

All all of them practiced on Friday and will play against the Eagles on Sunday, except for Brown.

Cooper’s presence is especially important going against the Eagles’ blitzing defense. He had 217 yards and three touchdowns last season against Philadelphia.

So there should be no excuses by the Cowboys, especially since the Eagles have even more injuries.

Linebacker Nigel Bradham, receiver DeSean Jackson, defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, cornerback Avonte Maddox, tackle Jason Peters and running back Darren Sproles has already been ruled out of the game.

Can Cowboys defense be elite? How about a turnover?

The biggest problem with the Cowboys this season has been the defense’s inability to live up to its own expectations of being elite. The Cowboys unit, which was supposedly deeper in the front seven than anytime over the last 20 years, has made few plays.

One sign is the fact the Cowboys are the only team in the NFL to not have started a drive in the opponent’s territory all season.

That speaks to a lack of turnovers. The Cowboys have just five in six games, which is tied for 29th in the league.

The Cowboys have just 14 sacks and rank 20th in sacks per pass play.

“We haven’t been as consistent as we’ve wanted to be on the defensive side of the ball,” coach Jason Garrett said. “And we want to do a better job making some impact plays, taking the ball away. We just have to create more of them and there’s a lot of different reasons for that. We talk a lot about that many of the turnovers emanating from the pocket and pressuring the quarterback, sacking the quarterback, all of that maybe that causes him to throw it earlier. Maybe it causes him to throw the ball maybe not where he wants to be, exactly where he wants to throw it, creating tips and overthrows and all of those kinds of things.

“So we have to do a better job being disruptive in the pocket and sack the quarterback a fair amount of times. We’ve been around him but we have to do more of that. We have to cash in on opportunities when we get them on the back end and just simply make the plays.”

Jason Garrett’s hot seat

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones continues to maintain that Garrett is not on the hot seat.

But he said the same thing about former coach Wade Phillips in 2010 right up until the day he fired him following a blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Garrett is in the last year of his contract with the mandate from Jones to take the team further than he did in the past, specifically compete for a trip to the Super Bowl, to secure a contract extension.

A loss to the Eagles would extend the team’s losing streak to four games heading into the bye week with the toughest part of the schedule ahead.

There is no major trade on the horizon to improve a Cowboys team that Jones felt is as talented as any since his last Super Bowl title team in 1995.

So Jones could make a move with Garrett to spark the team in an attempt to salvage the season if they come up short on Sunday.

It’s just another reason it’s a must-win game for the Cowboys.

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Clarence E. Hill Jr. has covered the Dallas Cowboys as a beat writer/columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1997. That includes just two playoff wins, six coaches and countless controversies from the demise of the dynasty teams of the 1990s through the rollercoaster years of the Tony Romo era until Jason Garrett’s process Cowboys.