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Eagles-Cowboys 5 questions: Shaq Leonard's debut, containing Dak Prescott, more

Homeowner lights up house in Philadelphia Eagles green to honor 2-year-old who drowned to death
Homeowner lights up house in Philadelphia Eagles green to honor 2-year-old who drowned to death 01:55

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The narrative can still be controlled. Even after last Sunday's blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles (10-2) still control their destiny in the race for home-field advantage in the conference.

If the Eagles win out, the No. 1 seed in the NFC will be theirs for the second consecutive year.

Philadelphia's toughest test remaining in the season is this week in a highly-anticipated rematch with the Dallas Cowboys (9-3) with full control in the NFC East on the line.

An Eagles victory in Dallas — where they haven't won since 2017 — would give Philadelphia a two-game lead over the Cowboys with four to play (and the head-to-head tiebreaker). A Cowboys victory still gives the Eagles the lead in the NFC East race (via tiebreakers), even though both teams would have the same record.

This is the biggest game of the season for the Eagles and Cowboys, as Philadelphia looks to prove it is still the team to beat in the NFC East while Dallas just wants to prove it can beat a team with a winning record.

With the NFC East on the line, here are five questions the Eagles have to answer ahead of the Sunday Night Football showdown.

1. Will Shaquille Leonard make his debut?

The Eagles signed Leonard on Monday as a much-needed boost to an already thin linebacker position — Philadelphia waived Christian Elliss, who started last week, to make room for Leonard.

Leonard is expected to play next to Zach Cunningham, who is also expected to be back from a hamstring injury this week.

How much Leonard plays is to be determined, but expect him to play a significant role against the team he turned down in his Eagles debut.

2. Do Eagles need to run the ball more?

Nick Sirianni was greeted with signs at the NovaCare Complex pleading with the Eagles to run the ball after the running backs received just nine carries in Sunday's loss to the 49ers. Philadelphia gained just 20 yards in the loss (2.2 YPC).

Philadelphia has 343 fewer rushing yards than last year on 35 fewer carries through 12 games. The Eagles are also averaging 4.1 yards per carry in 2023 compared to 4.6 in 2022, having 18 rushing touchdowns this year to 23 last year.

Eagles running backs have not been as efficient through 12 games this season as last either. Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, and Boston Scott combined for 1,231 yards and 4.6 yards per carry (265 carries) last season. D'Andre Swift, Gainwell, and Scott have combined for 1,059 yards on 4.4 yards per carry (239 carries) this season.

The biggest difference in the running game is Jalen Hurts. Through 12 games last season, Hurts had 132 carries for 609 yards and nine touchdowns (4.6 yards per carry). He has 121 carries for 430 yards and 12 touchdowns this year (3.6 yards per carry).

Teams are also daring the Eagles to throw the ball with single-high safeties. The Eagles have a philosophy to pass the ball to score points and run the ball to win games — the latter is hard to accomplish when trailing (the team has trailed by double digits over the last five games). Having just 33.2% of rushes that go five-plus yards (25th in NFL) doesn't help either, while also facing 27.2% of rush attempts with eight in the box.

The Eagles don't need to run the ball more — they need to run the ball better.

3. How will secondary contain Dak Prescott?

Communication issues in the secondary are a major concern for the Eagles, which isn't good when facing a scorching-hot Prescott.

The Eagles pass defense has allowed 64.8% of passes to be caught for 3,123 yards with 27 touchdowns to six interceptions for a 98.4 rating (29th in the NFL). Since Week 8, the Eagles have allowed 306.2 passing yards per game with 15 touchdowns (to just three interceptions) for a 103.9 passer rating.

In comes Prescott, who is averaging 316.8 passing yards with 20 touchdowns to just two interceptions since Week 8 (123.1 rating). Prescott leads the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL (32.3 points per game) and an offense that has scored 30-plus points in every home game this year.

The Eagles' pass defense hasn't been great, but the pass rush has to get to the quarterback too. Prescott has nine touchdowns and zero interceptions with three-plus seconds to throw in his last seven games, a 150.7 passer rating. Getting to Prescott early and often will significantly help out that back seven.

4. How much does return of Dallas Goedert help offense?

The Eagles have trailed by double digits in each of the four games that Goedert has missed, so let's begin there. They've averaged 115 rush yards per game and 2.70 yards after contact per rush, both ranking toward the middle of the league. The passing game has also been not as efficient, as Philadelphia has completed 59.4% of its passes for four touchdowns to two interceptions and an 83.9 passer rating (18th in NFL).

Getting Goedert back also will significantly free things up in the passing game for A.J. Brown, who has just 14 catches for 159 yards and a touchdown over the last three weeks (11.4 yards per game). The offense has averaged 28 points per game with Goedert and 25.7 points per game without Goedert.

Both the pass and run game will open up with Goedert's return, perfect for the stretch run.

5. Are the top pass rushers playing too many snaps?

The Eagles' starting pass rushers have put in yeoman's work through 12 games. Josh Sweat has played 76.63% of the snaps and Haason Reddick has played 75.52%. Brandon Graham is down to 29.52% as the trio are the only edge rushers that play since the team moved on from Derek Barnett. Nolan Smith has played just 22 snaps over the last two weeks, so he's not receiving a significant uptick in playing time.

Reddick played 73.87% of the snaps last season, but Sweat played just 53.07% and Graham 42.86%. The Eagles are certainly relying on their top edge rushers to get pressure on the quarterback, and the results haven't been great since the bye.

Philadelphia has just four sacks (25th in NFL) and a 3.2% sack rate (29th in NFL) over the last three games. The pressure numbers are there (53 pressures are fourth in NFL over past three games), but the sack numbers aren't.

The Eagles are 13th in the NFL in sacks (35) and 22nd in sack rate (6.6%). They're fourth in pressures (195) and 13th in pressure rate (35.8%). Sweat playing more snaps and Graham playing less plays a role, which may be taking its toll during the toughest stretch of the schedule.

Perhaps more Graham will help, but the Eagles play Reddick and Sweat has much as they do for a reason. The depth isn't there like in years past.

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