FRISCO, Texas –Here's a look at two big matchups I think will go a long way in determining this Cowboys-Eagles grudge match.
Dallas Cowboys OG Zack Martin vs. Philadelphia Eagles DT Fletcher Cox
The Eagles are the best in the league when it comes to defending the run. The Cowboys will once again will be without Ezekiel Elliott, so the ground game will have to come from the legs of Alfred Morris, Rod Smith and Darren McFadden. If the Cowboys are going to have any success running the football, it is going to have to come from Zack Martin handling Fletcher Cox. Martin has faced Cox throughout his career and he is fully aware of how disruptive he can be.
Where Cox is at his best is when he's on the move. He is not going to stay in one spot and let Martin get his hands on him. Cox is going to line up in the gap, attack Martin's shoulder and make him have to work his body in front to cut him off. Martin has the movement skill and upper body strength to prevent this from happening, but he's going to need some help from his teammates running the ball. These backs have to be ready to cut the ball back behind his block.
This is where Martin will miss Elliott, because he knows when to cut the ball and lunge forward to grab those two or three extra yards. The more that Morris, Smith or McFadden try to string things out, the harder it will be for Martin to secure that block. There is no way that Martin will play Cox perfectly in this game, because he is just too talented and he will make a play or two.
What they can't have offensively is for one of their best offensive linemen to struggle -- because if that's the case, they are once again in for a long day, much like they were in Atlanta. The Cowboys need some form of a ground game to have balance to run their offense and how well Martin plays Cox will go a long way in determining that.
Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence vs. Philadelphia Eagles OT Lane Johnson
This should be an interesting matchup if the Cowboys can make the Eagles one-dimensional on offense. The Eagles are one of the better teams in the league when it comes to running the ball and will likely test this Dallas defensive front without Sean Lee to see if they're up to the task.
Where the Eagles have had some issues offensively has been with their pass protection. As a unit they've allowed 24 sacks, which puts them 19th in the league when it comes to protecting Carson Wentz. That number could be even higher if not for Wentz's ability to escape in the pocket. He has made some incredible plays with his feet and is always a threat to carry the ball when he feels it's necessary.
DeMarcus Lawrence has been on a roll when it comes to putting pressure on the quarterback. His technique has been outstanding, and that's the sign of a great pass rusher -- when they can rush the passer but deliver different moves. Lawrence will test Johnson from a physical standpoint. As good of an athlete as Johnson is, he doesn't have the power to sit down on a pass rusher. The sack that Lawrence got last week against the Falcons was a straight power rush and I expect that we will see some more of the same against Johnson.
The Cowboys are going to need to make life miserable for Carson Wentz and that needs to start with DeMarcus Lawrence using the crowd noise and his pass rush ability to his advantage.