FRISCO, Texas – Here's my preview of what I see as the two biggest keys to Sunday's regular season finale against Philadelphia.
Dallas Cowboys Win If:
The key for the Eagles offensively is Darren Sproles. You find ways to control him and you can keep their attack in check.
Carson Wentz has been hit or miss when they've put the game in his hands this season. I don't see Doug Pederson wanting to put the ball in the air much, considering how well the Cowboys have pressured the quarterback and created turnovers defending the pass. That has been a strength of this defense all season. Besides, the Eagles don't have game-breaking receivers -- and with Jordan Matthews dealing with an injured ankle, that compromises the group even more.
In the previous meeting between these two teams, Sproles had a season-high 15 carries for 86 yards. With the way the Eagles like to spread defenses out with 11 personnel packages, he is the perfect back to have in the scheme due to his ability to run and catch the ball well. He is a nightmare for defensive coordinators to have to deal with because of the multiple ways that Pederson uses him.
With Ryan Matthews on the injured reserve, I would expect to see a full complement of Sproles in this game. If that's the case then defensively they need to be on the mark with their tackling, which wasn't great to start the Detroit game. Tackle well to control Sproles and make the Eagles put the game in Wentz's hands to try and win.
Philadelphia Eagles Win If:
The Eagles are likely going to catch a break in the game due to the fact that Dallas really has nothing to play for. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is not going to have to worry about Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott for any extended period of time, so that will help his game plan. The Cowboys will also be without Tyron Smith and could be without Ronald Leary on that left side, which means Connor Barwin, Bennie Logan and Fletcher Cox could be in for a big day.
On offense, the Cowboys are tops in the league when it comes to controlling the ball and finishing drives with points. Without the players I previously mentioned, it will be difficult to control the game the way they are accustomed to. Keep an eye on Scott Linehan to see if he goes away from his plan on early down runs and decides to throw the ball with Mark Sanchez in order to try to keep his offense out of those second-and-long situations. Linehan might feel that he has a better chance moving the ball with Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley than he does pounding Darren McFadden into a heavy box with Malcolm Jenkins sitting right there to make tackles.
For the Eagles to win this game, Schwartz is going to need to come up with a plan to win on early downs, especially with the likelihood of Mark Sanchez taking over for Dak Prescott. If Schwartz can dictate down and distance, that's his best chance to put pressure on Sanchez to have to make plays to extend drives --which would be a problem for Schwartz if Prescott and Elliott played the entire game.