With only seven games remaining in the regular season, tonight’s Dallas-Philadelphia showdown at Jerry’s World is a must-win for the Cowboys if they plan to repeat as NFC East Division champions.
A loss and the Eagles can start printing their winning T-shirts and caps, owning an insurmountable four-game lead with just six to go.
So what do the Cowboys need to do to win? Obviously have players step up for the ones who won’t be playing, most notably Ezekial Elliott’s backups at running back — Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith.
Then, of course, Dallas needs to fill the gap lost by hamstring-prone linebacker Sean Lee and the possibility of not having Tyron Smith at left guard for another 60 minutes.
“The next man up has to be ready on a moment’s notice,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said after the loss to Atlanta. “We didn’t handle the adversity of the day.”
Last week, Dallas was embarrassed on both sides of the ball, beginning on offense with quarterback Dak Prescott being thrown to the turf eight times, six sacks alone by Falcons lineman Adrian Clayborn, who beforehand only had two.
The Cowboys obviously miss not having Elliott in the lineup. But more so, Tyron Smith.
Surprisingly against Atlanta in the first half, Dallas relied heavily on Rod Smith, its other Ohio State runner, to replace his fellow Buckeye.
However, that didn’t turn out so well. Three carries by Smith for just 14 yards.
So why did the Cowboys give up on Morris, who started in Elliott’s place Sunday? He is easily their next best running back hands down.
“I’m always ready,” Morris, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher for Washington from 2012 to 2014, said last month.
Morris, after a dreadful six tries for 8 yards, finished with a team-high 11 carries for 53 yards.
Sadly, Dallas’ second leading rusher was Prescott, having to run for his life for 42 yards, one of those six efforts an 11-yard touchdown to momentarily put his team up 7-0.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, Philadelphia’s defense won’t need to worry about Morris, McFadden and Smith like they would Elliott, therefore turning more of its attention to Prescott’s main pass targets — Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley or Jason Witten.
So the three backfield amigos certainly need to respond to the challenge.
“Like I’ve said and I’ll continue to say, we trust those running backs that we have and what they’ll do (today),” Prescott said.
If not, do not expect Dallas’ defense to carry the burden, because the Eagles will score, time and time again, behind a much-improved Carson Wentz at quarterback.
Hopefully the Cowboys will be able to answer with matching points and a Mike Nugent winning field goal at the end of it all, or kiss the NFC East and most likely the playoffs, as well, goodbye.
Dallas 38, Philadelphia 35.