ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys saved their season with a win in Philadelphia a month ago.
Carson Wentz and the Eagles will try to do the same in Texas — actually for the third straight week since the defending champs found their season on the brink following a blowout loss to New Orleans a week after falling to their NFC East rivals.
While Eagles coach Doug Pederson isn’t big on the word “desperation” coming off his team’s first back-to-back wins this season, he isn’t dodging the significance of Sunday at AT&T Stadium, where the division lead will be on the line for the second time in three games.
On Thanksgiving Day, Dallas beat Washington to pull even with the Redskins . Now the Cowboys (7-5) have a chance for a fifth straight win that would all but eliminate the Eagles (6-6) and make things difficult for the Redskins as well.
“Every game for us is definitely a must win,” Pederson said. “I think every game for them is a must win. Both of us are trying to accomplish the same goal. We’ve just got to get ourselves ready to go.”
The Cowboys were in danger of losing touch with the playoff race when they visited the Eagles in early November.
The debut of new No. 1 receiver Amari Cooper, acquired in a trade, had been ruined in a loss to Tennessee. The offense had been struggling for the equivalent of a full season going back to 2017.
Including that 27-20 win to start a four-game surge , the offensive average is up almost 50 yards per game, Prescott’s efficiency at quarterback is significantly improved and there’s little doubt that Cooper’s impact has influenced both of those developments.
While the scoring hasn’t spiked as much because of the surprising defensive struggle against the high-scoring Saints, the 13-10 win that ended New Orleans’ 10-game winning streak was the signature moment for a defense that’s been carrying the Cowboys all season.
“Honestly we have been the same team,” Prescott said. “We knew the team that we had in some of the games that we lost. And it was just about making those few plays here and there. I just think sitting here at 7-5 now four games later, we have been able to make those plays.”
Things to consider with the Cowboys going for a season sweep of the Eagles for the first time since 2012:
The Eagles are running more effectively and more frequently than they have all season. Running backs have 56 carries for 263 yards the past two games. Undrafted rookie Josh Adams has emerged as the lead back and has 169 yards on 42 rushes. Corey Clement has been productive and Darren Sproles scored on a 14-yard run in his first game since the season opener.
“We’ve been persistent with the run game,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “Guys are doing a heck of a job of creating lanes, and if there is not a lane there, there have been enough times where the backs have done a good job creating on their own.”
Running back Ezekiel Elliott had 90 touches (72 carries, 18 catches) for 479 yards in the annual busy stretch of the season for the Cowboys — three games in 12 days around Thanksgiving. The 2016 NFL rushing champion welcomed four days off. “It’s definitely helped me getting my feet back under me,” said Elliott, who lost his league rushing lead to Todd Gurley last week. “It’s the best I’ve felt on a Wednesday in a while.”
Receiver Golden Tate will face the Cowboys for the third time this season. He had eight catches for 132 yards and two TDs while with Detroit in Week 4. He caught just two passes for 17 yards in his debut for the Eagles in the Cowboys’ 27-20 win. But now he’s coming off his best performance for his new team: seven catches for 85 yards and a score in a 28-13 win over the Redskins.
While the numbers for Prescott and his offense are improving, his sack rate isn’t. The 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year has been dropped an NFL-high 45 times and has been sack-free just once this season. The Saints sacked him a season-high seven times.
“It starts with me, but it’s a collective effort, from receivers getting open, getting separation, to the offensive line maybe holding up just a little bit longer for me, or me just getting the ball out and throwing it away, or getting it to the back or whatever we got to do,” Prescott said.
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Eagles linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill was the trash talker of the week , telling a Philadelphia TV outlet, “Look at Dallas’ history. They always choke. So we’ll go down there and make them choke.”
Prescott was aware of it but didn’t bite. “When you play a team like this, a game like this that means what it means, what somebody says doesn’t add any motivation,” he said.