By Dylan MacKinnon
Monday night Eagles and Cowboys will meet in Arlington, to play for early control of the NFC East. Both teams come into week 3 1-1. Eagles coming off a disappointing loss to the 49ers where their offense looked nothing like it did week 1, and the Cowboys coming off a bounce back win over the Chargers after losing week 1. Here are the four storylines to watch going into this game.
1) Landon Dickerson Making His Debut
When the Eagles selected Landon Dickerson in the 2nd round, the immediate assumption would be this would be a red shirt season for him. He was coming of an ACL, and many thought he may not even be ready to play. But only 3 weeks in, he is ready to make his first start. He played a bit in week 2, but he did not go into the game as the starter. With Brandon Brooks now set to miss a few weeks with a Pec Injury, Dickerson has a chance to prove himself at this level.
His week 2 performance was shaky. In run protection he looked the part of a 2nd round pick. In pass protection, less so. He gave up 5 QB pressures in 20 snaps of pass protection. Many argued that it is unfair to criticize him for a game he never expected to play in, but Dickerson himself is not buying that excuse.
“I could sit here and give you excuses all day, but I believe excuses breed mediocrity,” Dickerson said. “Honestly, my play was not up to the standard that we’ve set here. I wasn’t happy with the way I played. That’s been the focus this week, correcting all the mistakes I had and what I need to work on.”
The Cowboys Defensive line is not as formidable as the 49ers was. Outside Micah Parsons they have not generated much of a pass rush. And Dickerson is not likely to be blocking Parsons on many snaps. A full week of first team reps, and having former All pros Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson on either side, should be a big help for Dickerson going into his first start.
2) Will the Real Eagles Offense Please Stand Up?
The Eagles week 1 and week 2 offense was like watching a different team. They execution wasn’t the same, and the play calling was no where near the same. They went from having the least air yards, to nearly having the most. From quick short passes getting speed guys into space, to taking several deep shots. So week 3 will go a long way into telling us which game showed the real Eagles offense.
The Cowboys likely not have the personnel to take away the short game the way the 49er’s did. But outside Trevon Diggs they also don’t have the personnel to take away deep stuff. So a mix of both styles may be a possibility. It will also be interesting to try and see if Sirianni tries to get Hurts to throw more over the middle of the field. Something he has not done so far this season. This offense cant just ignore an entire 1/3rd of the field, so they have to at least try.
Seen Jalen Hurts’ passing charts shared a few times, but haven’t seen much on the lack of throws to the middle of the field.— EJ Smith (@EJSmith94) September 20, 2021
Not necessarily alarming in a small sample, I suppose, but it’s something he’ll have to show he can do against different looks this year. #Eagles pic.twitter.com/WdM04d6l2O
This Eagles offense is a work in progress. it is a young inexperienced QB, with young inexperienced WRs, being coached by a young inexperienced Head Coach. There will be growing pains, and there will be identity shifts as they try to figure out how to make this all work.
3) Eagles Secondary Gets First Challenge
The Eagles secondary has been very good early in the year. Maddox is allowing a pass rating of 65.8 so far this year. Darius Slay is allowing a pass rating of just 45.8. The Eagles as a whole have allowed only 162.5 passing yards per game. The Eagles are 2nd in opponent yards per pass attempt. They have allowed only one passing touchdown. Third in first downs allowed through the air. Second in yards allowed per completion. Through two games they have legitimately been one of the best secondaries in the league. Not bad for a group most thought would be the weakness of the team. The world of difference a change in defensive coordinator can make. Even guys who struggled last year, like Maddox, are excelling so far this year.
Avonte Maddox is PFF's 7th highest ranked CB through 2 weeks:— Thomas R. Petersen (@thomasrp93) September 23, 2021
- 7 targets
- 4 receptions
- 27 yards, 0 TDs, 0 first downs allowed
- 65.8 passer rating
He's thrived in the slot so far.#Eagles pic.twitter.com/IWZv5EVz5K
But they have also not been truly tested yet. The Falcons have some weapons, but also have a declining qb in Matt Ryan. The 49ers have some good WRs, but Jimmy Garoppolo struggles in intermediate and deep routes. But now they will face the Cowboys. They have one of the better passing attacks in the league. This will be a good litmus test for how good this secondary really is. Though with Gallup out, and Amari Cooper hampered by an injury, a tough WR group could look average come Monday.
4) Can Eagles Limit Penalties?
One of the Eagles biggest problems this year has been penalties. Through 2 games, they lead the league in penalties. 22 total. That ties the Eagles record for most penalties through 2 weeks. They are 8th in total yards penalized. Its a young team, with a new coach, so part of that is to be expected. But 11 penalties a game is unacceptable.
Some of those penalties have hurt them at major moments. Most notably the Derek Barnett and K’von Wallace penalties that negated big defensive plays vs the 49ers. Those two took away what could have been momentum swinging plays. The Wallace one even took away a turnover. Many of the Eagles players disagreed with the penalty being called there, but it was, and it may have cost them a chance to win that game.
Good teams don’t make those mistakes as often as the Eagles have so far. If they want to compete, they need to clean that up.