Final Thoughts: Accounting For Injuries, First-Time Starters, More Notes

FRISCO, Texas – You can write this game off if you want to, and plenty of people will. Nothing that happens at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday will change the Cowboys' postseason situation, as everyone is well aware by now.

But you gain an appreciation for the work that goes into preparing for an NFL football game when you're around it every day. Every guy on this roster has a paycheck to earn, a reputation to protect and a craft they take pride in. The Cowboys and Eagles both have players that are going to get the biggest opportunities of their lives this weekend.

So, yes, the game doesn't affect the standings. But it's far from meaningless, as plenty of people in that locker room have said.

For one last time in the regular season, here's a look at what I'll be watching for this Sunday:

  • I expect that we will see all three quarterbacks play in the game against the Eagles. My guess of the order would be Dak Prescott, Tony Romo then Mark Sanchez. I have gone back and forth on this for the last several days because I believe the front office has gone through it, as well. If you would have asked me Wednesday, I would not have believed that Romo was going to play -- but by Friday that's a different story.  
  • With the limited number of defensive linemen available, I could see the staff going back to a rotation that they used earlier in the year with Jack Crawford getting the majority of snaps at left defensive end. If you remember, before they settled on Tyrone Crawford, they were working Crawford and David Irving at that spot. With no Terrell McClain, I expect Irving to take his spot next to Maliek Collins at tackle, which is a nice combination inside.  
  • It sounds like Anthony Brown will be cleared to play this week. That's good news, because it will allow them to get back to their normal look at nickel. Instead of Byron Jones covering down in the slot – Orlando Scandrick can handle that role with Brown on the outside. What will be interesting is if Scandrick starts ahead of Brown at left corner. My gut says that Scandrick does start.
  • I'm thinking this is a big game from Damien Wilson in both the base and nickel. Wilson has the athletic ability to handle a back like Darren Sproles, and how well he is able to play him in space will be critical for the defense's success. I could see Doug Pederson featuring Sproles in order to take some pressure off Carson Wentz. Sproles had his best rushing day of the season the previous time these clubs met.
  •  The last time Emmett Cleary started a game during the regular season was on Nov. 24, 2012, when his Boston College Eagles visited the North Carolina State Wolfpack. During his college career Cleary made an impressive 48 consecutive starts, but Sunday will be his first in the NFL. Cleary will open the game at left tackle in place of the injured Tyron Smith. Look for the game plan to help him early with either a tight end or Joe Looney to his side as the extra blocker, and then the coaches will gauge continued help throughout the game as needed. Where I worry about Cleary the most is on those backside plays in the running game. Those are the snaps where Smith is able to create those cut back lanes for the backs to get through when things are muddy play-side. Cleary doesn't have the foot quickness to make those blocks down after down, and it could affect how the running game goes.
  • The last time Benson Mayowa faced Jason Peters, it wasn't one of his better games from a pass rush standpoint. On that night the Cowboys went with a rotation of Jack Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence and Mayowa. On Sunday, Mayowa will be the likely starter with Randy Gregory serving as his backup. Mayowa played the run well against the powerful Peters, but he couldn't capture the corner like we've seen him be able to do these previous games. This matchup will be a great test to see how far along he has come against a quality tackle.
  • The Cowboys haven't announced who they're going to activate from the practice squad for this game. A guy that makes sense is offensive linemen Ryan Seymour, and the reason I say this is due to his versatility. Seymour is a natural guard, but he can also play center and some tackle in a pinch. If Ronald Leary can't go this week, then Joe Looney will start at left guard -- but the problem with that is Looney is also your extra blocker on heavy packages. The staff could decide to not run any of those heavy packages or they could bring Seymour in to take Looney's place at guard. For a guy that will likely only be active one game – Ryan Seymour might be the most valuable linemen they have dressed for the game.       
  • My weekly guess at the Cowboys inactives isn't much of a guess this week, as the Cowboys declared seven players "out" on Friday. CB Morris Claiborne, LB Justin Durant, OT Tyron Smith, DE DeMarcus Lawrence, DT Cedric Thornton, DT Terrell McClain and DE Tyrone Crawford will all be out on Sunday afternoon.

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