<
>

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles: Which team is set up for success in NFC East?

play
Do Cowboys have a leadership problem? (1:18)

Jeff Saturday disagrees with Jerry Jones' assessment that the Cowboys don't have a leadership void. (1:18)

It's the movable object versus the stoppable force as the Philadelphia Eagles host the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) in a tussle for superiority in the sub-mediocre NFC East.

How bad is it?

The Eagles (2-4-1) are the first team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to lead a division after Week 7 with two wins or fewer, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Excluding the 1982 strike-shortened season, when technically the league didn't have divisions, the NFC East's combined win percentage of .268 (7-20-1) is the second-lowest by a division through Week 7 since the merger. Only the 1984 AFC Central (.214) was worse.

When it's this awful, the ceiling is pretty close to the floor. Dallas (2-5), for example, has the second-best chance among NFC East teams of making the playoffs (8.4%) behind Philly, per ESPN's Football Power Index, yet has the fourth-highest chance in the NFL of securing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft (4.3%).

Eagles reporter Tim McManus and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer assess the damage ahead of this matchup and figure out which team is better set up for success.


McManus: Todd, the Eagles' offensive line is a wreck. Four of their top six linemen are on injured reserve or the physically unable to perform list (Brandon Brooks, Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Andre Dillard) and right tackle Lane Johnson now has a knee sprain to go with his bad ankle. Center Jason Kelce has been the only constant. There's been so much turnover around him, I'd forgive him if he had trouble keeping all of his linemates' names straight.

Quarterback Carson Wentz has paid the price. He's been hit a league-high 76 times and is tied for first in sacks with 28. He's also been blitzed 97 times so far -- second most in the league behind New York Giants QB Daniel Jones -- so maybe defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will dial up some Tabasco-like heat this week once he's done flushing his own eyes.

Archer: You think the Eagles' line is a wreck? Have you seen the Cowboys' line? Tyron Smith is done after playing two games because of neck surgery. La'el Collins is out for the season because of hip surgery. Zack Martin didn't play last week because of concussion, and did you see how brutal it was? Six sacks by Washington and zero fight after quarterback Andy Dalton was decked on a dirty hit by Jon Bostic. The Cowboys' line has the look and feel of a fourth preseason game. They have started five different combinations up front already. Oh, I forgot the center spot. Travis Frederick retired somewhat surprisingly in the offseason, and his replacement, Joe Looney, has missed the past three games with a knee injury. That has put 2020 fourth-round pick Tyler Biadasz out there maybe a little earlier than the Cowboys had hoped.

Let's talk defense for a minute. You referenced Nolan's Tabasco-in-the-eye incident. Is that not the way things have gone this season? The Cowboys have allowed 243 points. There have been 11 other seasons in which they did not allow 243 points, excluding 1982, the strike season. In 1993, the Cowboys went 12-4 and allowed 243 points.

And sadly, the Cowboys' defensive group has been healthy compared to its counterpart. I just don't know how it gets better. Now go ahead and tell me how much the Iggles miss safety Malcolm Jenkins.

McManus: I'm not going to pretend the Eagles' issues on defense are anywhere close to those in Dallas. The Cowboys' defense stinks. I've never seen a group underperform so badly in my life.

Philly's defense has been no prize, though. The Eagles are giving up 28 points per game -- that's in the bottom half of the league -- and have generated only three interceptions this season, which is the third-lowest total in the NFL. They have the fewest salary-cap dollars committed to the linebacker position ($4.3 million) in the league, and opposing tight ends thank them for it just about weekly.

But at least the defense has remained relatively healthy. The offense has been totally ripped apart by injury. The Eagles have been down their two starting wide receivers in Jalen Reagor and DeSean Jackson (Reagor could return from a thumb tear this week) and their top two tight ends in Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, and they have been operating without running back Miles Sanders of late because of a knee issue.

Add in the O-line woes and it's a wonder Wentz is actually getting better as the season rolls along. Now imagine if he had skill position players such as Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb at his disposal. There's a whole lot of talent over there in Dallas and not much to show for it, Mr. Archer.

Archer: Mr. Archer? Am I that old? The Eagles have three interceptions. The Cowboys have one. They have gone 183 pass attempts without a pick. They have recovered two fumbles. Their star players haven't played that way. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence has one full sack closing in on almost a calendar year. Jaylon Smith, their highest-paid linebacker, has looked lost at times. The secondary has given up big plays. The Cowboys have allowed 31 plays of 20 yards or more. Now that's bad. We'll give that one to the Cowboys.

And if we want to get back to the offense: Running back Ezekiel Elliott hasn't had a 100-yard game yet. It is the longest cold spell of his pro career. He has also lost four fumbles that have been turned into four touchdowns by the opposition.

McManus: It's getting harder to compete with Dallas' ineptitude. But an Eagles tie with the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3 is all that's separating these two teams in the standings, and as you lay out, the Cowboys have been a disaster.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has to take some heat for shaky drafting that has deprived the team of impact players (taking JJ Arcega-Whiteside over D.K Metcalf in the 2019 draft still has this fan base apoplectic) and forced it to rely more on aging veterans, which is a factor in why this team has so many injuries.

Meanwhile, coach Doug Pederson can't seem to get his team humming until its first in a ditch and gets to play the "underdog" bit.

And did you see the playcall to tight end Hakeem Butler on fourth-and-goal against the New York Giants last week? The most important play of the game to that point and they design it for a newcomer playing his first offensive snap? My goodness.

Archer: At least Pederson and his staff have been around. Coach Mike McCarthy might make it through this season, primarily thanks to no offseason program, minicamp, training camp or a preseason because of COVID-19. Who knew all that stuff really mattered? Though I'm not sure it really does because other teams that have endured the same seem to be doing OK. The Cowboys have gone backward.

McCarthy signed a five-year deal in January. I can't imagine Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones would walk away after one season after the patience he had in keeping former coach Jason Garrett. That wouldn't make sense. I would bet on plenty of staff changes, though.

The Eagles have issues. Some are legitimate. Just like the Cowboys' problems. But this is where I throw out the trump card.

No, not the Trump card, but the trump card. At least the Eagles have Wentz. The Cowboys lost their leader, best player and evidently the glue to the entire operation in Dak Prescott when he suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle.

Prescott covered up so much of what has gone wrong with the Cowboys, it's not even funny. And they're likely to be without Dalton on Sunday because of the concussion too. The Cowboys' starter will most likely be seventh-round pick Ben DiNucci.

And with that, the defense rests. Misery loves company, but the Cowboys have more misery than the Eagles.

McManus: OK, you win. Or lose? I've got nothing to counter DiNucci vs. Wentz. As Eagles fans like to say, "Dallas sucks."