Eagles-Cowboys scouting report: Agholor, DGB should get plenty of targets

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Eagles-Cowboys scouting report: Agholor, DGB should get plenty of targets

Eagles vs. Cowboys
Sunday, 1 p.m. on Fox
Eagles favored by 5; over/under 43 (as of Friday)

The Eagles are favored in Week 17 because it means absolutely nothing to the Cowboys. At 13-2, Dallas has already locked up the top seed in the NFC and homefield advantage until the Super Bowl.

Will Cowboys starters sit?
Dallas has little reason to risk injuries for Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, any of the offensive linemen or important defensive players like Sean Lee. That doesn't mean they'll all sit, but if they play it likely won't be for the whole game. It will probably resemble a preseason game for the Cowboys.

But Prescott and Eliott want to play. Keep in mind the Cowboys, with the first-round playoff bye, won't be playing next weekend. Sitting two full weeks could mess up Dallas' timing.

"We're trying to stay sharp, trying to have a sharp edge every week so we can go into this playoffs like a high-octane machine," MVP frontrunner Elliott told the Dallas Morning News this week. "We're not taking weeks off. We're not looking at it as games that aren't meaningful. Every game we play is meaningful."

The Cowboys don't want a repeat of 2007, when they went 13-3 and were one-and-done in the playoffs. This is a team that hasn't made it past the Divisional Round since 1995, its last Super Bowl year.

There's been some back-and-forth reporting this week, but the latest from ESPN's Adam Schefter is that Tony Romo will play Sunday for the first time all season, though third-stringer Mark Sanchez will play as well.

Wentz makes it through
Carson Wentz injured his ribs in the only preseason game in which he played, so when he was named the Eagles' starter just before the season — for a team that knew it was going to lose its best offensive lineman to suspension — many wondered if he'd make it through his rookie year healthy.

He has.

This has not been a seamless transition to the NFL for Wentz. He dazzled early but has been mistake-prone since Week 7, with seven TDs and 13 interceptions.

Still, we all know Wentz's numbers would be better if he had a better supporting cast. And he's proven this year that even with little help around him, he can be a serviceable NFL quarterback. He's going to end the year with around 3,800 passing yards. 

Wentz is already a better quarterback than that bottom tier of starters — which includes anyone who's played QB for the Bears, Browns, Rams, Jets or 49ers, plus guys like Brock Osweiler and Trevor Siemian. You could argue Wentz is better right now than (or extremely close to) Blake Bortles, Sam Bradford and Ryan Tannehill.

There's a lot to like. The goal for Wentz in this game should be to end it healthy and avoid turning the ball over for the first time since Week 10 against Atlanta.

Wentz had one of his best games of the year when he faced the Cowboys in Week 8 in Dallas, going 32 for 43 for 202 yards and a TD. Many think the Eagles should have won that game, a 29-23 overtime loss. Had they won, think about how many things would be different right now. The NFC East race might be extremely tight. Wentz's confidence might have grown and perhaps he would be closer to Rookie of the Year than Prescott or Elliott.

Strong finish for skill guys
Knowing this game changes nothing for the Eagles — not playoff positioning, not their draft pick — they could experiment with different things in the season finale. This would seem like a good time to feed Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham even if they're not wide open or the best read on the play.

Wentz has targeted his tight ends a ton the last few weeks because Zach Ertz and Trey Burton are often the skill players most capable of quickly gaining separation. But if Agholor and DGB are going to be here another year or two (or longer), the Eagles should try to see what their ceiling on a Sunday is.

Why not target Green-Beckham 10 times, as long as he's not being beaten by the cornerback on every route? DGB has drawn more than five targets only four times all year. Two of those games resulted in his only two touchdowns, while another was his high watermark of the season with 82 yards.

The Eagles know what they have in Ertz and Jordan Matthews, who may not play after missing practice all week with that nagging ankle injury. They still have no idea what they have in Agholor and Green-Beckham.

Prepare for whoever
Jim Schwartz said this week that game planning will be more challenging than usual because the Eagles are preparing to face any of Prescott, Romo and Sanchez.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said earlier this week that playing Romo isn't worth the risk. That's a sensible decision because Romo has been brittle for years now and another injury would cripple his already low trade value. If Romo does play, it probably won't be for the whole game.

If the Eagles face Sanchez, it should be a strong game for their defense. Sanchez has thrown one pass all season, and he's been a turnover machine throughout his career even when he's in a rhythm.

Plus, if Sanchez is on the field, it probably means the big guys like Elliott, Bryant and Jason Witten are not, which should make things easier on the Eagles' D.

The Eagles have been much better defensively at home, and it could mean ending the season on a high note for guys like Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jordan Hicks and the safeties.

Is Elliott the MVP?
A lot of people have spent weeks diminishing Elliott's accomplishments because he has so much talent around him. He does. He has the best offensive line in the NFL. He plays with a QB who protects the ball and pass-catchers with all types of skills.

To me, he's still the MVP. This team is not close to 13-2 without him.

Some have made the argument that anyone who's run behind Dallas' O-line the last few years has succeeded. That's true, but it's in relative terms. Elliott has 1,994 yards from scrimmage and 16 total TDs this season. Is that the same thing as Darren McFadden rushing for 1,089 yards and three TDs last year for a 4-12 team? Um, no.

Let's say the Cowboys never drafted Elliott. Let's say they entered 2016 with Alfred Morris and McFadden as the main RBs. In that scenario, Dallas is probably closer to 10-5 than 13-2. 

Just look at the impact Elliott makes game after game after game, changing the momentum and allowing Dallas to control the ball with powerful first-down runs and big gainers. Elliott has had at least one 20-plus-yard run in 10 games this season. He's scored in 10 games this season. 

He's been consistent, durable, dynamic, and in a year with no other clear MVP frontrunners, the award should be his. Tom Brady missed four games and would have probably needed to go 12-0 to win it. David Johnson's team didn't win enough games. Le'Veon Bell's late-season push fell just short. Derek Carr got hurt. No receiver had a truly dominant year. Matt Ryan has had a heck of a season, but does anyone really think he's been so much better than other QBs to deserve the MVP?

Elliott's biggest competition for MVP might actually be Aaron Rodgers. He's led the Packers to five straight wins and can seal the NFC North with a win over the Lions Sunday. If he does so with a huge statistical game and Elliott either sits or has a modest afternoon at the Linc, Rodgers could win it. 

Rodgers has surged up the odds leaderboards and is now just 3/1 to win MVP, behind only Elliott (2.25 to 1) and Ryan (2.5 to 1).

Prediction
Because I don't expect the Cowboys' starters to play the entire game, I think the Eagles have a productive defensive game and get the win to finish 7-9 and 6-2 at home.

Unlike the last two seasons, winning in Week 17 wouldn't hurt the Eagles' draft positioning because they have the Vikings' pick, which looks like it'll fall around 15th.

I foresee good games from Wentz and the defense, leading to a second straight divisional win over a team that will still be playing while Wentz is back in the Midwest hunting.

Eagles 24, Cowboys 13

Report: Tony Romo will play vs. Eagles on Sunday

Report: Tony Romo will play vs. Eagles on Sunday

It looks like the Eagles will face Tony Romo in Week 17 after all.

Romo is "expected to see game action" against the Eagles this Sunday at the Linc, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter and Todd Archer.

How much Romo plays remains to be seen. Reports surfaced Thursday that third-stringer Mark Sanchez and backup RB Darren McFadden would take the bulk of snaps for the Cowboys on Sunday. At 13-2, Dallas already has homefield advantage locked up through the Super Bowl and thus has little to play for.

But Romo does have something to play for. He's auditioning for a starting job elsewhere in 2017, and a good game might impress QB-needy teams like the Broncos, Jets, 49ers, Bears, Texans or Browns.

"Anything is possible in this last game," Doug Pederson said Friday. "I would expect … it doesn’t surprise me, obviously. Knowing where they’re heading, going into the postseason, obviously getting [Romo] some snaps would be beneficial. That would be something I’d even consider if we were in that situation, of doing that with our backups."

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said earlier this week that the risk of playing Romo outweighed the reward. That was a logical take considering the series of injuries, mostly back injuries, Romo has suffered in recent years. He hasn't played in a regular-season game since Thanksgiving 2015, when he broke his collarbone.

The Cowboys have not publicly disclosed their plans for Sunday. Head coach Jason Garrett has remained quiet and running back Ezekiel Elliott evaded the questions when asked earlier this week. 

"We haven't decided how that's going," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan told reporters Thursday.

"It's never bad to get reps in games, but again, that question is for someone other than me. You could argue both reasons why you would or wouldn't, but we've got to go play the game. If you spend a bunch of time concerned about things that could happen negatively, you get consumed by that, but I think we do a good job and Coach Garrett does a great job of just focusing on getting ready to play and focusing on the right things, and that's what we're doing."

Cowboys fend off Vikings for late 11th straight win

Cowboys fend off Vikings for late 11th straight win

BOX SCORE

MINNEAPOLIS -- Dez Bryant sashayed through the Dallas locker room with an unmistakable swagger and had nothing but good things to say about his adversary this time around.

It was a stark change from a week ago, when he sparred with Washington cornerback Josh Norman on Thanksgiving. The trash talking Dez and the polite Dez share one thing in common: they both win.

Bryant caught four passes for 84 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, helping the Cowboys win their 11th straight game with a 17-15 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night.

In a hard-fought battle with cornerback Xavier Rhodes, Bryant's 56-yard catch set up Ezekiel Elliott's 1-yard TD in the first half. Bryant caught an 8-yard scoring pass in the fourth quarter after a fumbled punt by Minnesota's Adam Thielen.

"I knew coming into this game it was going to be a tough match and I had to be on my `A' game," Bryant said. "Because if I wasn't, he can get the best of you. We had a good battle. We shared our thoughts throughout the game. It was good thoughts. It's nice playing games like that."

Elliott rushed for 86 yards on 20 carries for the Cowboys (11-1). They have the longest single-season winning streak in franchise history.

Sam Bradford threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jerick McKinnon with 25 seconds to play, but the 2-point conversion pass failed. Bradford argued for a penalty after he was hit in the face by a defender, but there was no call for the Vikings (6-6). Minnesota played without coach Mike Zimmer after he had emergency eye surgery Wednesday night.

"I'm sick and tired of the reffing in this league right now," Vikings defensive end Brian Robison said. "I'm sick and tired of it. You've got holding calls all over the place that people don't want to call. Bradford gets hit in the face at the end of the game and you don't call it. I'm not laying this loss on reffing, but at some point it's got to get better."

Bradford completed 32 of 45 passes for 247 yards, Danielle Hunter had two sacks and Kai Forbath kicked three field goals for Minnesota, which has last six of the last seven games after a 5-0 start.

Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer was elevated to head coach for the game and it remains unclear how long Zimmer will be out. Minnesota's third-ranked defense did their fiery leader proud, holding the explosive Cowboys offense to season lows in points, yards (264) and first downs (13).

"It's not the best game we played, but we showed up when we needed to and made the plays at the end," Elliott said.

Key play
With Dallas' offense doing nothing, Kyle Wilber made the play of the game when he punched the ball out of Thielen's hand, then pulled the ball away as the two rolled to the turf. Officials initially did not catch the fumble, but a heads-up challenge by Jason Garrett got the call overturned and Prescott found Bryant on the next play.

Catchless in Minneapolis
Cowboys tight end Jason Witten did not catch a pass, snapping a team-record streak of 130 straight games with a reception dating to 2008.

A TD to tie TD
Elliott's 1-yard plunge in the second quarter gave Dallas a 7-3 lead. It was his 12th touchdown rushing this season, tying him with Tony Dorsett for most by a rookie in Cowboys history.

Bradford under siege
Playing behind a patchwork offensive line that included center Nick Easton making his first career start in place of the injured Joe Berger (concussion), Bradford was under pressure all night long from a Cowboys defense that has often struggled in that area this season.

Bradford was sacked three times and had to leave the game on the final drive of the second quarter after taking a helmet from Maliek Collins to his rib cage. After getting some medical attention during halftime, Bradford was able to remain in the game.

"I had to take a deep breath," he said. "After that they were fine."

The bad news on the injury front for the Vikings came for safety Harrison Smith, who left the locker room on crutches with a walking boot on his left foot. He has been fighting through an ankle injury over the last several weeks.

Zimmer tribute
Before the game, the Vikings played a short video of Zimmer addressing the team during a practice. Zimmer's primary message: "Do your job."

That has been a common theme during his three seasons in Minnesota, and the organization likely wanted the players to hear it one more time before taking the field. After the video, a picture of Zimmer was put on the big screen with a "Get Well Soon" message attached.

"They fought to the bitter end, and I know coach Zimmer would've been very, very proud of them," Priefer said.

Up next
Cowboys: Dallas heads to New York on Dec. 11 to face the Giants, the only team to have beaten the Cowboys this season.

Vikings: Minnesota will travel to Jacksonville on Dec. 11 to face the Jaguars, hoping the extra time off will be enough for Zimmer to recover and return to the sideline.