Wentz, Prescott lead Philly and Dallas into NFC East showdown
ARLINGTON, Texas — Trying to explain the quick success for Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz and Dallas counterpart Dak Prescott often comes back to the complementary parts behind both rookies.
For Wentz, that means relying on a persistent if not wildly successful running game, and one the NFL’s best defenses. For Prescott, it means the league’s top rushing attack fueled by fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott, the NFL’s rushing leader with 703 yards, and a dominant offensive line.
If you want to use the term “game manager” for two quarterbacks who protected the ball at the start of their careers better than any first-year players before them, so be it. Their teams are winning, which makes for quite a story line in a key NFC East game Sunday night.
“I obviously don’t think it’s a negative way to describe any quarterback,” said first-year Eagles coach Doug Pederson, a former NFL QB. “If you’re efficient throwing the ball, you’re not turning the ball over, and you’re converting on third downs, then that’s a pretty good way to manage the game.”
When Wentz and Prescott were trading the rookie record for pass attempts without an interception to start a career, this Eagles-Cowboys meeting was a potential target for the return of Tony Romo, who broke a bone in his back in a preseason game. But Dallas’ 10-year starter has been ruled out for the game despite practicing on a limited basis and for the first time since his fourth back injury in less than four years.
So Prescott gets a chance to extend a five-game winning streak that has the Cowboys (5-1) tied with Minnesota for the best record in the NFC.
“It’s going to be big because it’s the next game,” Prescott said. “I’m not going to really put much into it, the rival or the division opponent. It’s a game that I want to win. Every game that I play, I’ll be the same way and I’ll treat it that way.”
Things to consider as the Eagles (4-2) go for a fourth straight win at the Cowboys, which would match their longest in the series going back to when Philadelphia won eight straight overall from 1987 to 1991:
DEZ RETURNS: Dallas receiver Dez Bryant is expected back after missing three games with a hairline fracture of a bone in his right knee. He said he was ready to play against Green Bay before the bye, but the medical staff opted to give him the extra two weeks of recovery time. The 2014 All-Pro missed seven games last year after breaking his foot in the opener and finished with career lows in catches, yards and touchdowns. He scored his only touchdown this season against Chicago when he returned after injuring the knee. “Seems like forever. Now it’s over,” Bryant said.
THE AGGRESSOR: Pederson describes himself as conservative, but his play calling isn’t. Pederson has gone on fourth down with the lead — the Eagles are 5 for 5 on fourth down. He took a point off the board last week after a penalty and tried a 2-point conversion — it was successful . Wentz is 3 for 3 for 21 yards on fourth downs and he ran 6 yards on fourth-and-2 against Minnesota.
“I trust our guys and I trust our offensive line and I think it sends a great message to the rest of the team, to the defense and special teams,” Pederson said.
PROTECTING THE ROOKIES: The Eagles can trace their success directly to protecting Wentz. He’s been sacked four times total in their four victories and eight times combined in the two losses. Not only have the Dallas blockers created huge holes for Elliott, they’ve allowed the second-fewest sacks of Prescott with nine. Four of those came in one game, a fourth-quarter comeback at Washington that was Prescott’s first win .
SECONDARY SHUFFLE: Eagles Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins should get more snaps at cornerback because Ron Brooks sustained a season-ending knee injury. Jenkins played more than half his snaps last season in coverage against the slot receiver, so he’ll help fill Brooks’ role as the nickel cornerback. When Jenkins shifts to cornerback, Jaylen Watkins will take his spot at safety. “I just get bored playing deep sometimes,” Jenkins said.
MORE QB TIDBITS: Wentz and Prescott are on the verge of breaking the team rookie records for touchdown passes. Wentz will pass Donovan McNabb (eight in 1999) with his next TD pass. Prescott needs two to tie Troy Aikman (nine in 1989). Wentz and Prescott are also 1-2 among rookies in TD passes and passing yards. Wentz has the edge in touchdowns (eight to seven), Prescott the nod in yards (1,486 to 1,324).