Zach Ertz Philadelphia Eagles NFL
Zach Ertz. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Philadelphia Eagles (6-6) are looking to keep their playoff hopes alive on Sunday afternoon when they take on the Dallas Cowboys (7-5) at Jerry World (4:25 p.m., FOX). For both teams, this is a huge game as whoever wins will more than likely be in the driver’s seat for the NFC East crown.

The last time we saw the Eagles on the road, the New Orleans Saints smacked them 48-7. However, since that humiliating defeat, Philadelphia has beaten both the Giants and Washington in consecutive weeks to put them one game behind Dallas in the division standings.

The Cowboys are hot as well as they are riding a four-game winning streak with their last loss coming on Nov. 5 against the Tennessee Titans. Over the course of their latest winning streak, Dallas is outscoring their opponents 93-72.

Can the Cowboys rise to the occasion and wrap up the division in a must-win game? Or will the Eagles help them choke down the stretch with only three games remaining in the regular season?

 

To answer those questions and more, here are three things to watch for in this pivotal NFC East contest.

1. Eagles’ run defense showing signs of improvement

If the defending Super Bowl champs want to have a chance at winning on Sunday, they have to stop outstanding Cowboys running back Zeke Elliott. In last month's primetime contest at Lincoln Financial Field, Elliott racked up 187 total yards and two touchdowns.

It was clear that Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz did not have an answer for Elliott, who was hurdling over defenders and made their eight-man front look like Swiss cheese. However, if there is some good news, it is that Philly’s run defense has drastically improved over the last couple of weeks.

After getting gashed by Saquon Barkley back in Week 12 to the tune of 97 rushing yards in the first half, the Eagles’ defense tightened up and held him to only seven rushing yards in the second half.

This same exact scenario happened earlier this week against Washington. Philly’s defense did not do a great job of tackling and allowed Adrian Peterson to rip off a 90-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter.

However, Peterson finished the game with only 98 yards on the ground. The Eagles’ run defense has to keep Elliott under 100 yards or close to it on Sunday.

2. Winning the turnover battle

It is not a coincidence that in their last two wins, the Eagles have won the turnover battle. Against the Giants, they intercepted quarterback Eli Manning in the second quarter to spur their comeback and then against Washington, they intercepted quarterback Mark Sanchez in the fourth quarter to secure the victory.

Therefore, the game plan is quite simple for the Eagles’ defense: pressure Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and force him to throw the ball earlier than he wants too. But that is easier said than done, especially this season.

During their four-game winning streak, Prescott has done a good job of taking care of the football with four touchdown passes and zero interceptions. The third-year quarterback’s last interception came against the Titans, a game in which the Cowboys lost 28-14.

3. Who steps up for the Eagles?

Over the last two weeks, we’ve seen the likes of Golden Tate and Josh Adams step up with breakout performances to help lift the Eagles to victory. Who will be that guy this week for the defending Super Bowl champs? It is tough to say, but it could be Alshon Jeffery.

Philly’s top wide receiver has not scored a touchdown since Week 7 against the Carolina Panthers, which was also the last time he had more than five catches in a game (seven receptions for 88 yards).

We already know that the Cowboys’ defense will be paying heavy attention to star tight end Zach Ertz and making sure they limit his targets. This means that Jeffery should have some one-on-one opportunities on the outside against Dallas' cornerbacks.

Jeffery had four receptions on seven targets for 67 yards and a touchdown in last season's win at Dallas.