Three things to know before the Eagles face the Giants on Thursday Night Football (8:20 p.m. ET, FOX, NFL Network, Amazon Prime).
1. We know that Ezekiel Elliott and Alvin Kamara are two of football’s most compelling young running backs, but we don’t often hear why. What makes Elliott great is his tempo control. He consistently runs with the exact pace and speed that each play demands. If he needs to go fast, he can go fast. If he needs to go slow, he can go slow. If his blocks play out in such a way that he must go fast and then slow and then fast again, he can. His command is extraordinary. With Kamara, the trait that jumps out is what football lifers call “contact balance.” Kamara rarely loses his footing or running track when he’s initially hit by a defender. He’s a super agile runner who is also hard to tackle. That’s a rare combination.
2. So far, Amari Cooper has made doubters like yours truly look bad. After 180 yards and two touchdowns on Thanksgiving, Cooper has appeared to be worth the first-round pick and eight-figure salary that he cost the Cowboys. The fourth-year wideout has always had outstanding transitional movement ability, which helps him get open on intermediate routes. The problems he had against press coverage in Oakland have not shown up. If Cooper keeps playing at this level, eventually defenses will start treating him like a true No. 1 receiver, rolling a safety over the top against him or, perhaps more aptly, a linebacker underneath. That’ll open up Dallas’s ground game. It may not happen Thursday, though. Saints second-year star Marshon Lattimore is one of the few NFL corners who truly can travel with No. 1 receivers on an island. Yes, against Atlanta last week Lattimore traveled with No. 2 wideout Calvin Ridley, with No. 2 corner Eli Apple and a double-teamer taking Julio Jones. We won’t see that in this game, as Cowboys No. 2 receiver Michael Gallup, though improving in the second half of his rookie season, is not as threatening as Ridley.
3. Another star matchup to highlight: Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence versus Saints right tackle Ryan Ramczyk. Both are top-shelf stars at their respective positions. Lawrence comes in with 8.5 sacks (13th most in the NFL) and is an even better all-around run defender than pass rusher. Ramczyk can move bodies in the ground game and is one the NFL’s few right tackles who doesn’t need chip-blocking help in pass protection.
Bold Prediction: Against a young, fast Cowboys defense, Drew Brees will have his lowest completion rate since his 58.3% outing in Week 4 against the Giants.
Score: Saints 31, Cowboys 23
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