Going into this season, not many prognosticators would’ve bet on the NFC East having the sole undefeated team in the league, and two one-loss teams five weeks into the season. Add an injury to Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott and nobody is placing that bet.
The New York Giants have shocked everyone going 4-1, with the lone loss coming at home against Dallas. The Philadelphia Eagles are looking dominant at 5-0, and the Cowboys at 4-1, undefeated with Cooper Rush, might be the most surprising of all. The two teams matchup on Sunday night for early division supremacy.
Philadelphia is running over their opponents unlike any other team in the NFC. They’re tied for second in the league in point differential at 47 points, more than double that of Dallas at 21. Their offense is averaging 27 points per game, the Cowboys aren’t even averaging 20. The Eagles lead the league in turnover differential at +9, almost doubling that of last year’s turnover kings.
Dallas is winning with their defense. As the passing offense gets worse statistically every week, the defense continues to allow less points than they did the game prior. Dallas isn’t as dominant in all three phases as their opponent this week, but they are making enough big positive plays, and avoiding too many big negative plays to continue to win.
Something has to give in this matchup of early NFC powerhouses. Here are the keys to victory between these two NFC East rivals.
Getting off to a fast start
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The one knock on the Eagles to start this season is that they have not put up many points in the first quarter. They put seven points up on both the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals, but they were shutout the other three contests.
Dallas has scored in every opening quarter, even the debacle against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers they were able to put their only three points of the game on the board in the first stanza. On the first two drives vs the Cincinnati Bengals, with Cooper Rush starting, they scored two touchdowns. The Cowboys even added a defensive scored last game versus the Los Angeles Rams and blocked a punt to set up a field goal as well.
Dallas has outscored the Eagles 31-14 in the opening quarters of 2022, and their defense has never allowed a first quarter TD. Philadelphia has allowed three touchdowns, 21 total first quarter points compared to 12 for the Cowboys’ D.
If Dallas can take an early lead and allow their defense to settle in and get comfortable, stopping the Eagles run game could become easier, and the chances of getting Jalen Hurts pressing in passing situations increases. The nerves of possibly losing their first game, and the division lead could be problematic for Philadelphia and a key to a Dallas win.
If the Eagles can start fast this time, getting a lead on a poor offensive team, it could cause the opponent to truly struggle to stay competitive. Philadelphia is elite in the second quarter, so a quick start could be the key to an easy victory for them.
Which OL holds up the best
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
The matchup everybody will watch no matter which team has the ball is the one in the trenches. Micah Parsons, Demarcus Lawrence and the incredible rotation of lineman Dallas has up against one of the better offensive lines in the NFL, or Haason Reddick, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, and Jordan Davis trying to overload a shaky Cowboys OL.
Washington showed what a great pair of defensive tackles can do to the Dallas offensive line. Ezekiel Elliott could only muster 2.6 yards per carry, and the big-play back, Tony Pollard, didn’t even average a single yard on his nine touches. Washington only had two great defensive tackles and with Chase Young out they were limited at edge rush. The Eagles have three defensive tackles, and Reddick as an edge rusher. How badly the Philadelphia defensive line overpowers the Dallas OL will be key to how competitive the offense of the Cowboys will be.
Dallas has the best pass rush in the league. The four games they have won have been directly connected to the pass rush overwhelming opposing offenses. The Cowboys are second in the league in sacks per game, and sack percentage. They lead the league in pressure percentage on drop backs at 40%. The Eagles OL will be the best one Dallas has faced, and this could be the top key to the game. If Philadelphia can run the ball and minimize the elite pass rush of their opponent, then this game could be an easy victory for the home team.
Jalen Hurts scrambling
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The Eagles throw the ball on 48% of their plays through Week 5, 29th in the NFL. Hurts has run the ball for double-digit attempts in all but one contest this season and averages over 13 carries a game. That game he had nine carries, and he has rushed for at least one touchdown in every game but that one. On the year, Hurts is rushing for at least a score per contest.
Hurts’ running capabilities have always been key to his game, in 24 career starts he has 1,322 yards and 19 touchdowns. That is more yards in the first 24 starts than Cam Newton, Josh Allen, or Michael Vick and more touchdowns than all of them plus Lamar Jackson.
With the Cowboys’ rush ability, Hurts scrambling could be an important tool to extend drives and get red-zone touchdowns instead of field goals. Hurts only has four touchdown passes compared to six to rushing scores.
Last season Dallas held Hurts in check, only allowing 35 yards on nine attempts in their only contest. That’s less than four yards a carry, with no touchdowns and no rushes over 10 yards the entire game.
The Cowboys had issues with the only other running QB they faced this season. The defense routinely overpursued on Daniel Jones and allowed him to step up through the middle, running for almost nine yards per carry. Jones ended the night with nine carries for 79 yards.
If the Eagles can keep drives alive with third-down scrambles by Hurts and scores in the red zone where the Cowboys have clamped down all season, their chances to win increase. If Dallas is able to lock up Hurts, it might be difficult for Philadelphia to put up points against this ascending defense and the Cowboys could steal another underdog victory.