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In a year full of change, it’s no surprise that there has been plenty of turnover since the first meeting between the division-rival Eagles (4-9-1) and the Cowboys (5-9). Since their Week 8 matchup in Philadelphia, each team has upgraded the quarterback position, have seen key players return from their injuries, and have lost other key players to injuries.
But one thing will always remain certain between these two organizations: when playoff hopes are on the line, everything is left out on the gridiron. Here are five of the most important storylines for each team heading into Sunday afternoon’s matchup with Philadelphia at AT&T Stadium.
Let’s start with a seismic change to Philly’s roster this month: second-round draft pick Jalen Hurts replacing Carson Wentz as the starting quarterback. In college, Hurts became the first quarterback ever to lead two separate programs to the playoff (Alabama, Oklahoma). He’s a winner, and he has sparked the Eagles’ offense these last two weeks, starting with an upset win over the New Orleans Saints. According to NBC Sports, Hurts is just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to post five combined touchdowns (rushing and passing) with no interceptions in his first two pro starts.
What’s next for Wentz and the Eagles? That’s the biggest question surrounding their franchise now and potentially this offseason. Wentz signed a four-year, $128 million extension in 2019, and reports say the Eagles remain committed to him long term. However, Hurts is expected to start Sunday against the Cowboys and potentially the rest of the season, so it remains to be seen which quarterback the Cowboys will face twice in 2021.
Last Sunday, the Eagles dropped from third place in the NFC East to last place following their 33-26 loss to the Cardinals and the Cowboys’ victory over the 49ers. Hurts was outstanding in his second start, passing for 338 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Philly erased a 16-0 deficit in the first quarter to keep the game close, but Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray threw for a career-high 406 yards and three touchdowns, including the deciding TD pass to DeAndre Hopkins in the fourth quarter.
Despite their division standing, the Eagles aren’t out of the NFC East race just yet. Like the Cowboys, they need to win their final two games and hope their division rivals lose games. That means Sunday’s rematch at AT&T Stadium is an elimination game for both teams.
It’s been a rollercoaster season for the Eagles offense under Wentz and now Hurts, but defensively Philly continues to battle through injuries. They forced three turnovers against the Cardinals last Sunday, and Pro Bowl defensive linemen Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham will be a challenge for the Cowboys’ banged-up offensive line.
After some speculation, it was announced on Tuesday night that longtime Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin had agreed to become the newest head coach at Auburn, replacing the recently fired Gus Malzahn. Harsin just finished his seventh season as the Broncos head coach and compiled a 69-19 record there.
But what does this have to do with the Dallas Cowboys? Well, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore – the most legendary quarterback in program history – has quickly popped up as an early favorite to land the job. His name was the first one mentioned by Bruce Feldman of The Athletic and Stewart Mandel, editor-in-chief of The Athletic, was quick to make the connection as well:
If Kellen Moore’s not the next Boise State head coach by tomorrow, we’re rioting.
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) December 22, 2020
Moore, of course, still has two games left with the Cowboys this season and potentially more if Dallas manages to make the playoffs, and likely wouldn’t depart the team before the season is over if something did happen. Although if Boise State identifies him as their guy, and Moore indicates he’d be willing to accept the job, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for Boise State to simply wait a few weeks before making it official.
It would be quite a cap on the meteoric rise of Moore’s coaching career. He’s about to finish just his third season as a coach, and becoming a head coach of a well-established college football program (even if it’s a Group of Five school) would be quite the accomplishment.
It wouldn’t be totally surprising though. Last year, Moore’s first as the Cowboys offensive coordinator, the team ranked sixth in points, first in yards, first in yards per play, and second in offensive DVOA. The offense has taken a big step back this year in every category, largely due to an innumerable amount of injuries to key players, but his offense was red hot before Dak Prescott Jersey injury; the Cowboys were averaging nearly 33 points and 488 yards a game through those first five games.
It also wouldn’t be the first time Moore has considered going to the college ranks. Last year when Mike McCarthy was filling out his coaching staff, Moore apparently was in the running to be the offensive coordinator at the University of Washington where his head coach from his playing days at Boise State worked before ultimately agreeing to remain in Dallas and call plays under McCarthy.
Now, Moore mayhave the opportunity to be the head coach at his alma mater, with a fan base that universally adores him. That’s the kind of opportunity that rarely comes along for any coach, let alone someone as young as Moore. It’s unclear if he would be seriously interested or if Moore prefers to remain in the NFL, but this is probably the most attractive college football job Moore will ever find, given his connection to the school.
Of course, it’s also unclear if Boise State would even offer him the job. His youth and inexperience is a question mark, and his lack of college coaching would bring up questions about his ability to successfully recruit. However, Moore does fit the mold of recent Boise State head coaches. When Dan Hawkins left Boise State for Colorado back in 2006, offensive coordinator Chris Petersen was promoted. When Petersen left for Washington in 2014, Harsin (then the head coach of Arkansas State) was hired after spending ten years with the Broncos under both Hawkins and Petersen.
While Moore never coached under any of those aforementioned coaches, he did play for them. As a four-year starter from 2009-2011 with Harsin serving as his offensive coordinator for the first three of those years, Moore threw for 14,667 passing yards, 142 touchdowns, and just 28 interceptions. His 50-3 record as a starter helped elevate the program to new heights, as well as setting most program records in addition to some NCAA records.
Right now it’s all just speculation, since Harsin to Auburn was just announced and Boise State is very much in the early stages of their coaching search. But this is something the Cowboys will definitely be monitoring, and it will be up to McCarthy and Jerry Jones to navigate this situation successfully if they hope to keep Moore in Dallas.
It had been nearly 16 months since Dallas had strung together back-to-back wins with their victory over San Francisco, 41-33. Sunday marked the second time this season where the Cowboys were able to top the 40-point plateau and the first time since their 40-39 win over Atlanta in Week 2. Despite the points, Dallas was outgained by San Francisco 458 yards to 291 but were able to take advantage of four 49ers turnovers that led to 24 of the 41 points. Dallas’ win gives them six wins over San Francisco in their last seven meetings dating back to 2005.
The win, along with Washington’s loss to Seattle, allows for Dallas to keep their playoff hopes alive for at least one more week. Dallas entered Week 15 needing to win each of their final three games and for Washington to lose out in order to win the NFC East and advance to the postseason. As they enter Week 16, that remains the case as Washington has another opportunity to seal the Cowboys’ fate with a win over Carolina this Sunday. Another added element to this week’s playoff scenario is that Dallas would end Philadelphia’s chances at a playoff berth with a win this week as well.
Sunday will be the second annual meeting between the two NFC East foes and, much like the Eagles, the Cowboys have seen an upgrade at quarterback since the Week 8 bout. In the first matchup, Dallas was without Andy Dalton Jersey at quarterback and instead had to trot out rookie seventh-rounder Ben DiNucci Jersey behind a decimated offensive line. With no Zack Martin Jersey up front and minimal time to adjust to the NFL game, DiNucci finished 21-40 for 180 yards and a pair of fumbles in the 23-9 loss. After a disappointing outing against Washington, the defense kept the Cowboys in the game by forcing a season-best four turnovers and holding the Eagles offense to just 222 yards. Dallas had a couple of opportunities late in the game to either tie or take the lead, but the offense never was able to get off the ground and cemented another divisional loss for the Cowboys.
Much like they were able to do against Philadelphia the first time around, the Dallas defense has suddenly found a groove in finding takeaways. Over the last two weeks, Dallas has forced seven turnovers that have led to 41 total points after only having 11 takeaways in the first 12 games of the year. One of the contributing factors to the success has been the reinforcements on the defensive side, specifically in the secondary. Week 15 marked the first game all season where the top four cornerbacks on the depth chart were all active at the same time (Chidobe Awuzie Jersey, Anthony Brown Jersey, Trevon Diggs Jersey, and Jourdan Lewis Jersey).
Despite the Cowboys getting healthy in the secondary, there are still some key playmakers that are questionable entering the week against Philadelphia. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch Jersey suffered a sprained ankle in the win over the 49ers and could miss Sunday’s game, according to head coach Mike McCarthy. Vander Esch played 94% of the snaps against Philadelphia the first matchup and registered a strip-sack on Carson Wentz. However, Dallas could see a return from Ezekiel Elliott Jersey after he missed Week 15 with a lingering calf injury. Tony Pollard Jersey finished with over 130 total yards and a pair of rushing touchdowns in his second career start.