FRISCO, Texas – Here are the two big keys I'm looking at heading into this Week 17 game against Philadelphia.
Dallas Cowboys Win If:
Initially, Jason Garrett and the staff are playing this game to win. Practice the entire week has been focusing on that. Starters have been receiving the majority of the work in preparation for the trip to Philadelphia.
How long those starters play is only known by Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett, so that will be managed accordingly. My broadcast partner, Nate Newton, likes to say that this time of year that two things travel well -- a running game and a defense. The conditions will be less than ideal for throwing the ball with the game time temperature in the low 20's, so the focus on running the ball should be the best plan of attack.
Ezekiel Elliott didn't play the last time these two clubs met. With his history of playing in these types of conditions at Ohio State, he should benefit the Cowboys. Elliott slogged through a game in Washington where protecting the ball took every bit of skill that he had. For the Cowboys to win this game they will lean on Elliott and an offensive line that will be without Tyron Smith. The Eagles have one of the better run defenses in the league -- but how much will they be willing to expose their starters in a meaningless game with home field already secured?
I expect to see the Cowboys, scheme-wise, get in plenty of "12" and "13" personnel groups and hammer the ball at this Eagles front to see how much they really want to play. If they're successful, this should open up some shots in the play action game -- which would make life easier for Dak Prescott to throw the ball.
Philadelphia Eagles Win If:
I am not really sure what the Eagles' plan is going forward in this game? I am sure that Doug Pederson would like to get some of his players some work and then adjust as need be. His former boss, Andy Reid, decided earlier in the week to sit his starting quarterback with a playoff game next week. Unlike Reid, Pederson has the option to play his guys longer due to the first round bye.
With Jason Garrett appearing to want to win this game, Pederson will have to balance how much he wants to expose his starters -- especially if the Cowboys get things going defensively with pressure on Nick Foles. The last thing Pederson can afford is for DeMarcus Lawrence beating Lane Johnson around the corner and getting a good shot on his starting quarterback.
I believe the Eagles are in the same boat as the Cowboys when it comes to what they want to do offensively. Pederson will want to run the ball, moving the clock and protecting his quarterback. Pederson knows that the Cowboys have improved defensively since they've made the changes to their secondary, and throwing the ball might not be the best option -- despite having an explosive group of weapons.
The game for the Eagles will come down to whether their offensive line is better than the Cowboys. Control the front and they control the game, despite who is playing for them.