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Eagles-Cowboys Preview: Winner will Sit Atop NFC East After Week 3

Here's a closer look at two teams who are already banged up at key positions, with final score predictions
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PHILADELPHIA – Once the Eagles put the Dallas Cowboys in their rearview mirror, they will be looking forward at a schedule that includes the two teams that played in the Super Bowl with a game against one of the still-unbeatens left in the NFL.

Wins will be difficult to come by over this stretch, which includes home dates against last year’s Super Bowl combatants, the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday, and a Thursday night game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, bookending a road trip to Carolina to meet the Panthers.

That probably makes Monday night’s matchup in Dallas perhaps even bigger for the Eagles than it being against an NFC East rival and team favored by many to win the division.

Both teams are already short-handed just two weeks into a journey that will take them through the middle of January, and longer should one or both make the postseason.

The Eagles will be without three starters – Brandon Graham, Brandon Brooks, and Jordan Mailata.

All eyes will be on Andre Dillard, filling in at left tackle for Mailata.

The Cowboys won’t have linebacker Keanu Neal, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, and receiver Michael Gallup.

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The Eagles have been led by a defense that has been decorated in statistics in the early going, with a run defense that is tied for first in the league, tied for second for fewest points, third in passing yards allowed, and fifth in third down efficiency.

The offense, well, it’s still looking to find some footing, with some visible growing pains in calling plays from first-year head coach Nick Sirianni.

“Our defense is keeping us in the game,” said RB Miles Sanders who has run 28 times for 129 yards and caught five passes for 43 yards, but still seeks his first touchdown of the young season. “Offensively, we have to grind it out, grind it out, and finish and be consistent. That’s the main thing.”

One of quarterback Jalen Hurts’ four starts last year came in Dallas, in Week 16. He completed 21 of 39 throws for 342 yards with one touchdown, an 81-yard TD to DeSean Jackson, and two interceptions, one of which came from CB Trevon Diggs, who already has two picks this season.

Jalen Hurts on Sept. 1, 2021

Jalen Hurts

“I was very impressed with him at home here when he did play against us,” said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy during a conference call with Philly media during the week. “I think he’s very natural at the position. Seeing him live last year I was very impressed with him, and I think he’s definitely taken that big step that you always look for in your players from year one to year two.

“He’s in a new offensive system but just from the video from Atlanta and San Francisco you can clearly see he’s very comfortable in the way they’re asking him to play. He’s decisive and he’s a huge threat outside the pocket. He seems very comfortable out there.

“I think it’s something that anybody that competes against him you’re conscientious of. He’s off to a heck of a start this year and he’s clearly a focal point for us.”

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McCarthy also liked what he has seen from rookie WR DeVonta Smith, who has 87 yards and one TD on eight receptions.

“He’s a very polished receiver,” said the Cowboys coach. “You recognize the talent and his ability at football and obviously what he did at the university of Alabama. But I really appreciate his route running. He’s dynamic with the ball, he’s tough.

“You’ve seen him scrap there with the run blocking on the second level. He’s got a really good release package. He really has the quickness to generate a nice vertical stem. But the way he sticks his routes and the ability to transition out of the release to the breaking point is very impressive for a young player.”

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The Eagles didn’t play against Dak Prescott last year after his ankle injury ended his season before the two teams met. They will see him Monday, as well as an offense that has added Tony Pollard as a nice complementary piece to Ezekiel Elliott.

It will be a challenge.

“Explosive,” was the one-word answer Eagles safety Anthony Harris used to described Elliott and Pollard. “They’re both explosive runners. Pollard has that long speed, the ability to take it all the way, as well as Ezekiel. They’re both physical. They both run behind a big offensive line.”

As for the Dallas defense, it looks better this year than last year, holding a high-powered Chargers offense to just 17 points in their win last week.

“I just think they have good players at each level,” said Sirianni, mentioning Diggs, linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, and LB/DE Micah Parsons. 

“I just think when you have these playmakers and a tribute to the guys over there in Dallas, they've just done a good job of getting players in there. You've got playmakers at each level, and then good coaching by (defensive coordinator) Coach Quinn, it just always presents challenges.”

Tight ends Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz could be instrumental in this game after being basically ignored in last week’s loss, with just a combined four targets, and Goedert not seeing his first target until the fourth quarter.

PREDICTIONS:

ED KRACZ: Eagles 28, Cowboys 27

JOHN MCMULLEN: Cowboys 33, Eagles 27

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.