Our first game preview of 2016 couldn’t have come at a better time as we cross the season’s halfway point and treated to a divisional showdown between two current NFC power teams.
The Cowboys (5-1) enter this contest after a restful Week 7 bye and welcome the return star wideout Dez Bryant who missed the last three games with a hairline knee fracture. Bryant completes a full armament of weapons at the disposal of stellar rookie quarterback Dak Prescott who has guided the Cowboys to five consecutive wins.
The Eagles (4-2) are fresh off of a hard-fought, defensive victory over the Vikings (5-1) whose current reign atop our BES Rankings now spans three weeks. The Eagles are led by a rookie quarterback of their own in Carson Wentz who, unlike Prescott, has struggled in his last two outings, completing just 54 percent of his throws for a combined 317 yards and one touchdown against two interceptions.
Let’s take a closer look at how the two squads match up based on data from our Week 7 report:
Requisite Reads for Newcomers:
Both teams occupy the BES Top-10 with the Eagles having previously held the No. 1 spot in our rankings in Weeks 3–4. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have made a steady ascent up the BES rankings, debuting at No. 16 in our Week 2 report before rising to their current position at No. 2.
KEY MATCHUP: Cowboys Offensive Line vs. Eagles Defensive Line
It’s no secret that the Cowboys own quite arguably the league’s best offensive line, illustrated above by an impressive Pass Protection score of 3.29. The unit, anchored by perennial Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith (tackle), Travis Frederick center) and Zack Martin (guard), has allowed just nine sacks and 22 quarterback hits which rank third and second in the league respectively.
Meanwhile, the Eagles feature a formidable pass rush, tied for third place in the league with 20 sacks on the season. The defensive line is anchored by disruptive tackle Fletcher Cox who, along with defensive ends Brandon Graham and Connor Baldwin, have combined for 10 sacks, 50 percent of the team total.
They are tasked with putting heat on Prescott and containing electric rookie halfback Ezekiel Elliot who is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and 117 rushing yards per game, pacing him for 1,800 yards on the season. The expectation here is for the Cowboys to lean heavily on Elliot and their offensive line to control the clock and wear down the Eagles defense.
X-FACTOR: Carson Wentz
Wentz struggled against the Vikings and their No. 2 BES Defense in Week 7, throwing for just 138 yards and a pair of interceptions while also fumbling three times.
Better ball security is obviously in order against the Cowboys if Wentz wants to keep his rival Prescott off the field. The Cowboys defense is 18th in the BES with a 1.85 score in Pass Pressure. Therefore, Wentz could potentially orchestrate some productive, clock-eating drives. In turn, this would keep the Eagles defense relatively fresh, giving them a better a chance to withstand the Cowboys ground attack.
Though the Cowboys rank higher in BES Overall, the Eagles have the edge in strength of schedule having beaten two BES Top-10 teams in the Vikings (No. 1/Weeks 2, 5-8) and the Steelers (BES Top-10/Weeks 2-6). Both the Vikings and Steelers were undefeated when they fell to the Eagles.
However, in both of those games, the Eagles were at home where they are 3-0 this season. They’re 1-2 on the road and have yet to take on a team of the Cowboys caliber in their travels. Therefore, we pick the Cowboys to win this game on the strength of home field advantage, a bullish offensive line and having the more poised rookie under center.