PHILADELPHIA — Before the suspension of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott became official, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins channeled his inner Ric Flair when asked if he would rather face the Cowboys with or without Elliott in the lineup.
“I’d rather play Zeke,” he said, “because we want to be the best. And to be the best, you’ve gotta beat the best.”
Instead, the 8-1 Eagles will face a 5-4 Cowboys team that will be without their star back and potentially their star left tackle, Tyron Smith, who missed Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons with a groin injury. Smith’s replacement, Chaz Green, was responsible for allowing four sacks. Byron Bell took over midway through the fourth and yielded two sacks of his own. Smith is a question mark for Sunday night’s game against Philly.
“Absolutely, I would say,” responded Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox when asked if Dallas missed Smith more than Elliott. “The guy[s] gave up six sacks. Obviously they’ll try to get their best O-lineman back on the field for Sunday.”
One thing the Cowboys do have going for them is quarterback Dak Prescott, who was sacked a career-high eight times versus Atlanta while dealing with the two key offensive losses but has otherwise been playing at a high level. He has 16 touchdowns to four interceptions on the season, upping his impressive career TD-INT ratio to 39-8. Whether Dallas’ offensive front is at full strength or not, the Eagles know they have their hands full in trying to contain Prescott.
“I’ve been around the NFL for a pretty long time now. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better thrower on the run than Dak Prescott,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “He can throw scrambling to his left. He can throw scrambling to his right. There are not many quarterbacks that can do that. He can threaten the whole field on the run. He doesn’t have to reset the throw, and he’s very accurate on the run.
“For a young player, he makes very few mistakes, and that’s impressed me also.”
According to offensive coordinator Frank Reich, the Eagles brought Prescott in for a visit and evaluated him a good bit during the pre-draft process in 2016. Though they ultimately traded up for Carson Wentz, Prescott had some pretty big fans in the building.
“You can ask anybody; I had very, very high grades on Dak in every aspect,” Reich said. “I thought his college tape was really, really good. I really liked the way he threw the ball, his timing and anticipation. When he came in here and we sat down and interviewed him — a hardcore interview as far as digging down into protections and X’s and O’s and pass concepts and what his understanding of what the pass game was and protections — it was really high in all areas. And then you could just tell he had that X factor, as far as natural leadership ability.”
Prescott fell to the Cowboys in the fourth round, 131 picks after they selected his backfield partner, Elliott. Assuming Elliott’s six-game suspension holds, Prescott will be the opposition’s primary focus for the next five games, including the Eagles’ Sunday night in Dallas.