Forget Him, Not
X-Factors For Eagles-Cowboys
The Eagles (13-1) travel to Arlington, Texas, to face the NFC East-rival Dallas Cowboys (10-4) at AT&T Stadium on Christmas Eve for a 4:25 p.m. kickoff.
After a gritty road win in Chicago – at the expense of quarterback Jalen Hurts in the short term – the Eagles look to add to their win total with backup Gardner Minshew at the controls for the second meeting.
In the aftermath of a gut-wrenching overtime loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Cowboys will be eager to avenge their Week 6 loss to the Eagles and will surely be motivated by the prospect of temporarily denying the Eagles the inevitable – an NFC East title and No. 1 seed in the 2023 playoffs.
Here are four X-factors primed to impact Saturday afternoon’s clash in Arlington:
RB Miles Sanders: My X- factor from a week ago, the mystifyingly underutilized Sanders yielded just three carries for 12 yards at the break – and just eight more the rest of the way. Instead, the team turned to quarterback Jalen Hurts to spearhead the ground game. Hurts led the way with 61 yards and a trio of touchdowns. With backup Gardner Minshew helming the offense this week in place of Hurts (shoulder sprain), expect the Eagles to implement a run-heavy game script with Sanders in an effort to shorten the game and lighten the burden on Minshew. Sanders carried 18 times for 71 yards and a touchdown in the first matchup, and I suspect the first-time Pro Bowler will be in line for 18-to-20 on Saturday, with fellow running backs Boston Scott and Kenny Gainwell sprinkled in for supporting roles.
SLB Haason Reddick: Since being held without a sack for the first two weeks of the season, Reddick has since averaged a sack a game in the 12 games. The 28-year-old, recently selected to his first Pro Bowl on the heels of his third double-digit sack in as many seasons, currently ranks third in the NFC in sacks (12), behind Nick Bosa and Micah Parsons. Reddick’s two-sack performance at Soldier Field last week fueled a gutsy road victory, and the veteran will need to double down against the same formidable Cowboys’ front that blanked the Eagles in Week 6. However, the Eagles were credited with four quarterback hits on Cooper Rush in the initial matchup, with Reddick leading the way (two). I not only envision Reddick flashing off the edge and collecting his 13th sack, but I also sense the former Temple standout producing a critical turnover in what presumably will be a closely-contested affair between divisional foes.
KR/PR KaVontae Turpin: A vastly improved Eagles special teams unit will be put to the test by Turpin, a 2023 Pro Bowler who rolled up 132 combined yards – including a 63-yard kickoff return – when the two teams met in Week 6. Turpin, formerly of the USFL’s New Jersey Generals, boasts blistering 4.3 speed and holds the distinction of being the only player in the NFL this to have both a kick return and punt return go for 50-plus yards.
It was only recently that coordinator Michael Clay’s unit has shored up its leaky coverage, allowing just 66 punt return yards (on six opportunities) over the past three games. Their longest kick return allowed over that span was 29 yards, courtesy of the Bears’ Velus Jones Jr. last week. It’s no coincidence that the unit has performed closer to standard following the Week 13 practice squad elevation of linebacker Christian Elliss, but the second-year linebacker is now out of elevations after playing in the team’s last three games. In recent weeks, Clay’s beleaguered unit has demonstrated a discernible urgency and discipline. The latter is essential when the margin for error is small.
S Jayron Kearse: The lengthy safety figures to draw the assignment of shadowing tight end Dallas Goedert, who makes his return to the lineup for the first time since Week 10. With the Eagles turning to backup Gardner Minshew with Hurts on the mend, tight end production – often a safety blanket for quarterbacks with limited reps – could be a focal point in this week’s game plan. In a spot start against the Jets last season, Minshew targeted Goedert a team-leading six times, completing all six for 105 yards and two scores. The inherent chemistry between the two was evident and could manifest again Christmas Eve. Kearse, sporting atypical dimensions for the position at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, should draw the coverage assignment and can expect a busy afternoon. For reference, Goedert was targeted six times when the two teams met on back in October, corralling just two for 22 yards.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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