By Pete Baxter
Monday night will feature the latest iteration of one the NFL’s great rivalries. The Philadelphia Eagles will be travelling to Dallas to take on the Cowboys. Both teams enter their week three matchup 1-1. They are locked in a three-way tie with Washington to lead the ever-mediocre NFC East. Earlier this week, Eagles’ coach Nick Sirianni was spotted wearing a “Beat Dallas” t-shirt at a press conference, adding fuel to the fire.
This key matchup could help one of these teams build some serious momentum in the battle for the division. An Eagle’s victory in Dallas would go a long way in building up the confidence of a young team. This is particularly true of their second-year quarterback and first-year head coach.
Let’s take a look at some specific predictions to be made around this classic Monday night battle:
Jalen Hurts Will Lead the Eagles in Rushing Again
For the second straight week, Jalen Hurts will outrush his running backs. Hurts led the team with 82 yards and a touchdown on the ground in week 2 against San Francisco. Miles Sanders was held to 55 yards while rookie Kenneth Gainwell racked up just 14 yards.
The Cowboys will be without key defensive linemen Dorance Armstrong and Carlos Watkins. Normally this would be great news for the Eagles, but the only unit more depleted by injuries in this game is the Eagles’ offensive line. The Eagles will be without star left tackle Jordan Mailata for their Monday night game. He joins starting right guard Brandon Brooks on the injury report. Brooks will be out for around eight weeks.
In a battle between injury-depleted defensive and offensive lines, we can likely expect these factors to cancel out. I would expect a similarly quiet performance from the Eagles’ running back duo as we saw in week two. I would anticipate Sanders and Gainwell to combine for around 80 yards.
Meanwhile, with two of his top blockers out, Jalen Hurts will likely be running for his life again. This will limit his productivity in the passing game but could create a very productive day on the ground for the uber-athletic quarterback as he perpetually runs away from pressure.
I would predict another 70+ yard rushing performance for Hurts with a touchdown on the ground. This should be enough to lead the squad in rushing.
Hurts Will Have Another Tough Game Through the Air
As noted, this could be another tough game for Hurts through the air. After torching a terrible Falcons’ defense for 264 yards and three scores through the air in week one, Hurts was held in check by San Francisco in week two. Hurts threw for 190 yards (91 of which came on one deep bomb to Quez Watkins) and no scores against the 49ers.
Without two of his top blockers, against a considerably less dominant (and injury depleted) defense, I would expect a similar, but slightly more productive day for Hurts. However, against a ball-hawking Cowboys defense, I expect Hurts to break his turnover-free streak.
Let’s project Hurts to finish somewhere in the vicinity of 17 of 31 for 220 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The Eagles Will Actually Try to Use Their Tight Ends
I have my fingers crossed that this will be the week that Sirianni and Hurts make the collective decision to make their dynamic tight end duo a focal point of the offense. With Hurts likely to be facing consistent pressure with the loss of Mailata and Brooks, leaning heavily on Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz could be a great safety blanket for the young quarterback. I believe Sirianni will realize this and adjust his play calling accordingly.
We very well may see both Ertz and Goedert have their most productive games of the season. Granted, the bar is not set exceptionally high. I would predict around 10 to 12 targets to the tight ends. Goedert should be amongst the team’s leaders in receiving, in the area of six catches for 80 yards. Ertz should chip in with around three catches for 45 yards.
Injuries Will Cost Philly More Than Dallas
Injuries will play a role for both teams in this game. However, I think they will ultimately prove more costly for Philadelphia. Jalen Hurts is still inexperienced and learning the pro game.Being without two of his top blockers will impact him in the game, as well as in his head. His decision making, while generally positive to start the year, will be shaken along with his confidence to some degree.
Now healthy, the Cowboys have one of the top offensive lines in the league, anchored by Tyron Smith, La’el Collins and Zach Martin. With the Eagles missing their top pass rusher for the season in Brandon Graham, Dak Prescott has a great opportunity to take advantage of a depleted pash rush and put up some big numbers, even if Amari Cooper is unavailable (which is currently up in the air). I would anticipate Prescott going for something in the area of 25 for 40 with 290 yards and two touchdowns.
Ultimately, the Cowboys should be able to take advantage of the Eagles’ injuries to outduel their division rivals on Monday.
Dallas Will Win the Battle, But the Eagles Could Still Win the War
In the end, this will come down to Dak Prescott being put in a better position to win than Jalen Hurts, in front of his home crowd. I expect the Eagles to put up a fight, but to ultimately fall short. I project a final score of Dallas 34, Philadelphia 27.
The Cowboys will win this round and are the better team at this moment in time. However, Hurts, Sirianni and company are learning and growing each week. Nick Sirianni has a much higher ceiling as a head coach than Mike McCarthy. Jalen Hurts is extremely talented and has shown much improved decision making and accuracy this season. He is already the second-best quarterback in the division, as it seems apparent that we have already seen the best of Daniel Jones.
In what appears to be a three-way battle for this division along with Washington, the Eagles could very well come out on top in the end. It may only take nine or ten wins to do it.
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While this may be a disappointing week, keep your chins up, Eagles fans. This group is just getting started. Fly Eagles, Fly!
More to come from Philly.