FRISCO, Texas –As we all know, this week is going to be about the Cowboys' injuries.
There's a million ways to dissect this game, from the play calling to the individual matchups and everything in between. But when you're facing the prospect of missing two All-Pros in a game against the NFL's hottest team, that's where you're going to start.
Here's my final notebook of Week 11, starting off with the injuries and moving into the rest of the obvious talking points. It's going to take a heck of an effort for the Cowboys to grab a win on Sunday night, so here's some thoughts on how I think they can do that:
- If Tyron Smith is not available against the Eagles, look for Byron Bell to get the start over Chaz Green. Bell took the majority of the snaps this week in practice, much like Green did last week. When Smith practices, Bell and Green generally split those snaps -- but without him, the coaches have worked to try and get one guy ready. After listening to Jason Garrett speak this week, I get the sense that the staff will not be late to to provide help to Bell, as they were with Green last week against the Falcons.
- I expect that we will see Justin Durant start this week in place of Anthony Hitchens, as Hitchens moves over to take Sean Lee's spot. I think Durant will see the game better than Jaylon Smith, who has had his share of problems with that. Smith will still play a part in the game in the role that is best suited for him -- and that's coming off the bench. The key here will be if Durant can hang in there for 50 snaps after the being inactive for several weeks. He doesn't move like he once did, but the smarts are still there and while Lee is out these next three games they need someone on defense that won't make mistakes.
- No Jeff Heath means that Xavier Woods will get his first NFL start. The coaches have a great deal of faith in Woods' ability. They like his smarts and the way he prepares for the games. Woods tends to put himself in position to make plays like we saw last week against the Falcons. Where this defense needs him to step up big are those routes that the Eagles like to run in the middle of the field with crossers. Woods will also need to be a better tackler, as well. He's had his moments where he has been good and others where it has been a struggle. Kavon Frazier and Keith Smith will take over for Heath as the primary special teams contributors.
- I believe you will see Jim Schwartz trying to just create pressure on Dak Prescott with his front four. It was a plan that both the Broncos and Falcons were successful with in their victories. The Cowboys receivers had a difficult time getting open in those games and Schwartz has to believe that his secondary can hold up just as well. If Schwartz feels the need to bring pressure with blitzes, his crew has been up to the task. Opposing quarterbacks have a rating of 61.08 when facing extra rushers. Where the Cowboys can counter here is that when Prescott has faced the blitz, his rating is 102.3 -- which is 10th-best in the league among all quarterbacks. If the Cowboys can block the Eagles' four-man rush, Schwartz might be forced to bring pressure. That would play right into a strength of this Dallas offense.
- Chidobe Awuzie will be active for the first time since the Green Bay game. I wrote earlier that Xavier Woods should get the start for Jeff Heath. Where Awuzie fits could be in a couple of different spots. Special teams will be his primary role, while I would expect his primary role on defense to be as a down player in the slot. It wouldn't surprise me one bit to see the Cowboys get in their Deacon package -- but with six defensive backs on the field. That would give them the flexibility to use Awuzie in coverage underneath or they could use Kavon Frazier, who is more comfortable playing deep. This would also allow them to use Byron Jones and Xavier Woods down, as well.
- If the staff is not confident in how well they can protect Dak Prescott, I could see Scott Linehan play to his strength by using his mobility. Jim Schwartz has even said it himself, Prescott is one of the best quarterbacks that he's ever seen throw on the move. Moving the pocket should allow Prescott to get the ball out of his hand quicker, which in turn protects say Byron Bell on the backside. The danger there is Prescott being exposed on the edge, but we've seen him protect himself when out there before.
- Doug Pederson is not afraid to take shots down the field with Carson Wentz this season. Last year that was a different story, as the Eagles struggled to get the ball down the field during Wentz's rookie season. Where the Eagles have improved the most with Wentz has been his ability to hit those downfield plays. Coming into this matchup, he's rated as a 98.1 quarterback when throwing the ball for 21 or more yards in the air, which is 12th-best in the league. On the opposite end, the Cowboys defensively have allowed opposing quarterbacks a rating of 103.6 in those situations -- which puts them 24th in the league. I expect the Eagles to take some of those shots with Nelson Agholor and Mack Hollins to test if things have improved for the Dallas defense.
- My weekly guess at the Cowboys inactives: K Dan Bailey, RB Darren McFadden, S Jeff Heath, LB Sean Lee, DT Daniel Ross, OT Tyron Smith, TE Blake Jarwin.