Eagles-Cowboys: Five Things to Know

The Cowboys have added an opportunistic defense to their explosive offense, but the Eagles' defense has surrendered just two TDs in two games

PHILADELPHIA - In many ways, it's the same old Cowboys over the first two weeks of the season with the Eagles set to visit North Texas on Monday night.

With Dak Prescott back in the equation under center, Dallas is ranked No. 4 in the NFL in offense, piling up 435.0 yards-per-game and 27th in defense, giving almost all of it right back at 419.5 YPG.

The difference is that the Cowboys' defense has at least added some opportunistic tendencies under new coordinator Dan Quinn, topping the league with a plus-four turnover ratio through two weeks.

Cornerback Trevon Diggs has been one of the most improved defenders in the league early in the season with two interceptions, three pass breakups, and brilliant work matching up with two of the best receivers in the league: Tampa Bay's Mike Evans and the Los Angeles Chargers Keenan Allen.

Likely drawing Diggs's attention on Monday is former Alabama teammate DeVonta Smith.

MORE: Trevon Diggs vs. DeVonta Smith a Monday Night Matchup of ...

The two were All-SEC together in 2019 with the Crimson Tide while practicing against each other.

"When you go against a guy like that every day, you have no choice but to be close because you’re out there competing and making each other better every day," Smith said when discussing his time with Diggs in Tuscaloosa.

Smith, the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner at Alabama when Diggs started his career in Dallas, had a great debut against the Atlanta defense, which played a lot of zone coverage and struggled more against the press looks of the 49ers.

Diggs will offer a steady diet of both and the ability to make plays if anything is away with the Jalen Hurts-Smith connection.

"He sees all the small details and any little thing you give away, he’s going to pick up on it," Smith said of Diggs. "Just the mental side of the game, he’s picked up a lot."

MORE VERSATILE RUSHING GAME

Typically, the Cowboys' running attack has been built around Ezekiel Elliott since the former Ohio State RB arrived as the No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 draft.

The wear and tear of significant touches over the ensuing years have robbed Elliott of at least some juice and now change-of-pace back Tony Pollard looks like the more explosive option out of the backfield.

Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has been game-plan specific with his backs over the first two weeks and it will be interesting to see how he thinks he can attacks Jonathan Gannon's defense.

MORE: Ryan Kerrigan Still Adjusting to Role ... - Sports Illustrated

In Week 1 against Tampa Bay, the Cowboys went pass-heavy when the Bucs loaded the box against Elliott. Against more two-high looks vs. the Chargers last Sunday, Elliott and Pollard combined for 29 carries, 180 yards, and two touchdowns.

"They got a different switch up. I mean Zeke is real downhill and a bruiser." Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave said. "Pollard can hit them edges and pretty fast, real fast so it's different speeds when both of them are in the game."

Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy is happy with the rotation.

"I mean my experience with Zeke is he’s about as big a team player that we have," McCarthy said. "He's got a smile on his face. He goes to the quarterback meetings. Has a great understanding of everything we’re doing on offense. At the end of the day, Zeke’s had individual success in this league and he’s like the rest of us – it’s all about winning a championship."

DAK IS BACK

The Cowboys starting QB is back after missing the final 11 games last season with a compound fracture and dislocation to his right ankle. Any concerns of a return to form have already been somewhat alleviated as Prescott is completing an awe-inspiring 76.5 percent of his passes while averaging 320 passing yards per game.

"That’s my dog, man," fellow Mississippi State man Darius Slay said of Prescott. "I’m glad to see him back out there. Glad he’s healthy. I’m going to keep praying for him having a healthy season this year."

LACK OF PASS RUSH

With DeMarcus Lawrence on injured reserve, the Cowboys really have no proven pass rushers to the point they've shifted talented rookie Micah Parsons from off-ball linebacker where he likely would have shadowed Hurts to edge rusher in an attempt to have some consistency hurrying the passer.

The projected Cowboys defensive linemen for Monday have a combined 24 career sacks with the oft-suspended and just returning from the COVID list Randy Gregory responsible for 10.5 of them.

If the Eagles are ever going to generate a consistent passing game this is a good place to start.

Parsons, though, is a concern wherever he lines up.

"He’s a beast, 6-3, 245, 4.3 speed," right tackle Lane Johnson said. "If anybody’s in this league you can’t take anybody lightly. You saw what he did last week, he got a lot of pressures, low to the ground, quick twitch. He’s a great player so I have my hands full."

Dak Prescott

USA Today

THE X-PLAY BATTLE

On one side you have Amari Cooper, albeit a banged-up version, and the explosive CeeDee Lamb with a high-volume passer pitching the football against a Gannon defense that has allowed one pass play of over 20 yards to date, the 40-yard strike to Deebo Samuel that set up San Francisco's first TD last week.

It's an amazing run even with a small sample size and Gannon still wanted it back.

"The one that happened over 20, I wish I had that call back because I think I could do a better job of putting our guys in a better call to not allow that," Gannon said. "But, we've talked about it since we've gotten here, is explosive plays is a winning stat, winning or losing stat, as takeaways are.

"And our head coach, we continue to preach that every day with our guys."

If Gannon's defense is able to keep this Dallas offense from X-plays it might be time to start cementing the group as one of the NFL's best.

PREDICTIONS:

John McMullen (1-1, 1-1 vs. the spread): Cowboys 33, Eagles 24

The Eagles have been tremendous so far limiting explosive plays and this could be their biggest test to date.

Many have speculated if the Eagles can win a shootout at this stage of their offensive development and Monday night may be their first chance to prove they can. Ultimately, you have to lean on the home field and the proven nature of the Cowboys' playmakers vs. the uncertainty of the Eagles' offensive weapons.

 Ed Kracz (1-1, 1-1 vs. the spread): Eagles 28, Cowboys 27

This will be the third straight week my pick lands in favor of the Eagles. The reason this time? Jonathan Gannon's defense. With a talented defensive line, even with the loss of Brandon Graham, and two more than capable cornerbacks in Darius Slay and Steve Nelson, my thought is the Eagles can outscore Dallas in its backyard

-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.