Five on the Cowboys
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The hype train left the station Wednesday in Philadelphia when one reporter asked Eagles receiver Jordan Matthews if Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott could be the Millennial version of the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning rivalry in the NFL.
As absurd as that question might have been, both quarterbacks have been exceptional as rookies and first place in the NFC East, as well as a boost in the league’s lagging television ratings, are just part of the narrative as the traditional rivals get ready to square off on “Sunday Night Football.”
The two young signal callers are a combined 9-3 as NFL starters and in the mix for the NFL’s Rookie of the Year, along with Prescott’s teammate in Dallas, star running back Ezekiel Elliott.
With Round 1 of the rivalry on deck, here are five things you should know about this version of the Cowboys:.
‘DAK’ TO THE FUTURE
The Cowboys’ rookie QB has been spectacular after being pressed into action due to preseason injuries to both Tony Romo and Kellen Moore. Prescott has completed 125 of 182 passes (68.7 percent) for 1,486 yards with seven TDs against just one pick for an unconscious 103.9 passer rating.
Prescott has completed 125 of 182 passes (68.7 percent) for 1,486 yards with seven TDs against just one pick for an unconscious 103.9 passer rating. The Mississippi State product has looked like a Russell Wilson Doppelganger with more size, a heady dual-threat that mystifies opposing defenses by using an almost point-guard mentality at the point of attack.
The Eagles’ top receiver, Jordan Matthews, made an interesting point about Prescott being the guy MSU for multiple seasons. Matthews believes going through an offseason at the college level where defensive coordinators are preparing to stop you 24-7 was very helpful because the Cowboys’ starter was forced to tweak his game to the adjustments made to him at the top level of college football in the SEC.
RUN, RUN, RUN
As impressive as the Eagles front seven was last week, this is not Matt Asiata running behind Jeremiah Sirles, T.J. Clemmings and Jake Long. Through their first six games, the Cowboys lead the NFL in rushing with 161.2 yards per game, are tops with 59 first-down runs, lead the league in time of possession at 33:09, as well as clock-churning, five-minute drives with 16.
Because of that dominant ground attack, Dallas has allowed the second fewest sacks (nine) and has the best scoring efficiency in the NFL (49.2 percent).
Elliott, who leads the NFL with 703 rushing yards, fuels the running game behind perhaps the best offensive line in the sport,
MANAGEABLE THIRD DOWNS
The Cowboys have excelled on the most important down in football as Prescott leads the NFL in completion percentage on third downs (73.1) and is fifth in passer rating (96.6) behind only savvy veterans like Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers.
Part of the success can be traced to manageable down and distance but don't discount Cole Beasley, who has turned into one of the top slot receivers in football and is a handful due to his short-area quickness as well, as his ability to run top-tier option routes,
Beasley leads Dallas with 33 receptions for 390 yards this season. On third downs, Beasley is fifth in the NFL with 10 receptions for first downs.
So many NFL games end up as one-score games in the fourth quarter but that one score that can decide it can happen much earlier than that and the Cowboys have gotten out of the blocks like a house afire this season.
Dallas has scored on its opening possession in five of its first six games, amassing 27 points on those drives. Conversely, the Eagles have allowed only one first-possession score so far this season.
RED ZONE STRENGTH VS. STRENGTH
The Cowboys have been lights out in the red zone this season due to the dual-threat capabilities of Prescott making them so difficult to defend.
Dallas has scored on 95.7 percent of their red-zone trips, third in football. Conversely, the Eagles have been the best at stopping teams when they get inside the 20, allowing opponents to convert on just 65 percent of their opportunities.
MARINELLI’S NO NAMES
The Dallas defense doesn’t have a ton of big names but as usual Rod Marinelli is getting more out of the group that he probably should be. Through six games, the Cowboys’ stop unit is allowing only 17.8 points per game, which is seventh in the NFL.
The running game and time of possession advantage Dallas usually enjoys certainly helps that but results are results and the ‘Boys’ D has not allowed more than 17 points in four consecutive games and have not allowed a 100-yard rusher or receiver in 2016, joining Minnesota as the only two teams in football to accomplish that.
973espn.com Prediction: If the Eagles want to win this one, it will have to be in a different fashion than the way they topped previously unbeaten Minnesota in that the offense will have to carry its own water.
As good as the Eagles’ defensive front can be at times, it will not dominate the Dallas offensive line and the difference in this game will be likely be whether the Eagles’ pass protections holds up in a road environment.
That means a slight advantage to the Cowboys: Dallas, 21, Eagles 20
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen