Sunday Night Football Preview: What Should You Expect in This Key NFC East Matchup?
The betting public is clearly siding with the Eagles, with 83% of the bets and 84% of the money taking Philadelphia's side of the spread (PHI +2.5), according to oddsFire. Things are even more lopsided on the moneyline, with 93% of the bets and money backing the Eagles at +130 to win outright. With an over/under of 49.5 points scored, 74% of the bets have come in on the over, while only 58% of the money is on the over, implying that there have been some bigger bets siding with the under.
It's interesting to see the betting public take one side so strongly here, as at first glance, I would peg this as a close game that could go either way. Both teams know each other well, should be well prepared, and are desperately searching for a win in a matchup of 3-3 divisional opponents. Let's see if our projections give us a chance to fade the public here.
Passing Game Preview
The Eagles' passing game has the reputation of being a high-powered unit, but our metrics see them in a different light. Philadelphia has the 25th-ranked passing offense through six weeks, with a disappointing 0.05 Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back in 2019. Quarterback Carson Wentz posted 0.52 Passing NEP per drop back in Week 1 at home against Washington and had another big week with 0.39 Passing NEP per drop back in Week 4 on the road against the Green Bay Packers. Outside of those two games, Wentz has been uninspiring, according to our metrics, posting a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.05 or lower in each of his other four games.
Most of these struggles can be attributed to the offense as a whole, as Wentz has had to work around multiple injuries to his pass-catchers and has dealt with crucial drops from receivers pressed into service due to those injuries. DeSean Jackson has already been ruled out for Week 7 as has star left tackle Jason Peters, so the Eagles remain at less than full strength.
One area that the Eagles need to improve on is throwing to their tight ends, as Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert have been very mediocre when targeted, according to our metrics. Ertz and Goedert have produced 0.46 and 0.43 Reception NEP per target, respectively, through six weeks, placing them around the likes of Tyler Eifert and Kyle Rudolph. Miles Sanders' 0.84 Reception NEP per target ranks second among all running backs with at least 10 targets, and while Alshon Jeffery isn't an explosive receiver, he remains a dependable target with a 57.14% Target Success Rate.
There should be enough depth here for the Eagles to jumpstart their passing game, and the Cowboys provide an opportunity for that to begin this week.
The Cowboys have struggled defensively this season, specifically in the passing game. Dallas has allowed 0.28 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back, ranking ahead of only Washington, Atlanta, and Miami. Despite an easy run of quarterbacks through the first four weeks, Dallas only has two interceptions on the year and has failed to lock down subpar passing games. Their struggles remained a bit under the radar until last week, when Sam Darnold lit them up for 338 yards on 32 attempts, good for 0.34 Passing NEP per drop back. Defensive back Xavier Woods remains out of the lineup, while defensive back Byron Jones is questionable with a hamstring injury, so the struggles in the secondary may not be solved overnight.
Despite the Cowboys' recent losing streak, Dak Prescott and the Dallas passing game ranks third in the league with 0.27 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back, trailing only the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks. This Dallas offense is at far less than 100%, however, as wide receivers Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb are both nursing injuries but expected to play, while offensive lineman La'El Collins, Tyron Smith, and Zack Martin are all likely to play through injuries, as well.
The Cowboys have really found success when targeting their receivers, with Cooper and Michael Gallup posting impressive Reception NEP per target marks of 1.02 and 0.90, respectively. The Cowboys' offensive game plan will be crucial to the outcome of the contest, as they should have an exploitable advantage in the passing game.
The Eagles' secondary has struggled this year, with the pass defense ranking 21st overall while allowing 0.19 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back. Philadelphia has been torched by players like Terry McLaurin, Julio Jones, Marvin Jones, and Stefon Diggs, making this a bad matchup against a Cowboys passing game centered around Cooper and Gallup. Philly's pass defense really bottomed out last week, as they allowed 0.73 Passing NEP per drop back to the previously struggling Kirk Cousins.
With the Eagles possessing a strong run defense, this is the obvious matchup to exploit for the Cowboys' offense. Defensive backs Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby hope to return this week for a much-needed boost to the secondary, though it remains to be seen if either will be at full health coming off of injury.
Rushing Game Preview
Philadelphia's rushing offense has been middle of the pack this year, registering 0.00 Adjusted Rushing NEP per rush heading into Week 7. Outside of an impressive Week 4 performance against the Packers, the running game has been largely stuck in the mud. Jordan Howard has been the far superior option on the ground, with 0.13 Rushing NEP per rush on 66 attempts, while rookie running back Miles Sanders has struggled on the ground with -0.17 Rushing NEP per rush. Look for the Eagles to lean on Howard between the tackles, while they continue to find ways to get Sanders the ball downfield in the passing game.
Defensively, the Cowboys are the 22nd-ranked rushing defense in the league, allowing 0.07 Adjusted Rushing NEP per rush. Most of that damage comes from games against Saquon Barkley and Aaron Jones, however, who posted 0.64 and 0.49 Rushing NEP per rush, respectively. Otherwise, this Dallas run defense has contained opposing rushing attacks for the most part. The Eagles' rushing attack doesn't feature a running back like Barkley or Jones, so I would expect most of their success to come through the air against the subpar Cowboys pass defense.
The Cowboys have the league's fifth-best rushing attack, with a mark of 0.11 Adjusted Rushing NEP per rush in 2019. Getting their offensive line back to full strength will be an added bonus, providing Ezekiel Elliott better lanes to run through. Elliott is already up to 113 carries on the season and ranks eighth in Rushing NEP per rush among all players with 50 or more carries. He has clearly re-established his workhorse role from previous seasons.
The strength of this Eagles defense is clearly in the run game, which may cause the Cowboys to lean on Prescott in this one. Philadelphia has the sixth-best run defense in the league, allowing -0.10 Adjusted Rushing NEP per rush. No running back with more than five carries has produced a positive Rushing NEP per rush against Philadelphia, and they have held all of Aaron Jones, Dalvin Cook, Devonta Freeman, Kerryon Johnson, and Le'Veon Bell under 50 yards rushing this year. The Cowboys would be wise to look to the passing game and avoid the teeth of this Eagles run defense.
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