FRISCO, Texas – You can tell it's Week 17 by the matchups I'm previewing today.
Both of these teams are coping with injuries, and both are going to be looking to give younger players an opportunity heading into the final game of the regular season. These two matchups demonstrate that, and they could go a long way in deciding a winner:
Dallas Cowboys OT Emmett Cleary vs. Philadelphia Eagles DE Connor Barwin
Emmett Cleary will be asked to step in and start for the injured Tyron Smith this weekend. We saw his first offensive game action in the second half of the game Monday night against the Lions.
Cleary will draw a difficult assignment facing a quality pass rusher in Connor Barwin. When you study Barwin, he is more of an athlete than he is a power player. Where Barwin can give Cleary problems is by extending him up the field with his quickness. Cleary doesn't have the feet or the footwork consistently enough to be able to handle Barwin or any of these Eagles defensive ends. Barwin's lateral speed and quickness give most starting offensive tackles problems -- including Tyron Smith.
Where Cleary has to be careful in dealing with Barwin is not playing over the tops of his feet and becoming overextended. Barwin is going to hit Cleary with his burst on several rushes, then counter by starting quick, then stopping to get Cleary off balance. When Cleary needs to be at his best is playing with patience. He needs to let Barwin stop-start all he wants because that doesn't get him to the quarterback.
I am not a fan of this matchup at all, but the coaches can help Cleary by putting a tight end to his side in pass protection -- or Joe Looney there, as well. The idea is to make Barwin have to take his rush wider, giving Dak Prescott and Mark Sanchez more of an opportunity to get rid of the ball.
Dallas Cowboys DT David Irving vs. Philadelphia Eagles OG Stefen Wisniewski
With all the injuries across the defensive line especially at tackle, I expect to see David Irving move back inside to work with Maliek Collins.
The Eagles have had their own problems with injuries at guard and Wisniewski will likely start for Allen Barbre, who has had a hamstring problem. I really do like this matchup due to Irving's length and quickness. Wisniewski is not the best athlete, and he will struggle to handle Irving in this game. I don't see a guy with good playing strength, and when Irving gets a guy that has that issue – he finds ways to take advantage like he did in the previous two games.
Irving will be able to get Wisniewski off balance with his power, and they will be forced to use Jason Kelce to try and help him. This will allow Collins to get more one-on-one matches with Brandon Brooks and when that happens, he tends to have favorable results.
As well as David Irving has played at defensive end, I feel his best position is playing inside where he can take advantage of these guards that are not equipped to handle his quickness and power. Look for a big game from him in this matchup.