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Monday Night Football DFS Breakdown: Cowboys vs. Eagles

Full disclosure I'm a huge cowboys fan but I will try to be a unbias as possible. NFC East matchups might not always feature the best quality of football play, but the bitterness between the teams tends to make for a fiery clash in most of their matchups, and we could see the same here with both teams 1-1 and looking to establish a winning record at the expense of a divisional opponent. There shouldn't be any lack of focus or intensity on the part of either team. That the game is in Dallas is probably reassuring for the Cowboys' pass and tempo-oriented offense, and if the Dallas offense comes through it might bring out a matching urgency from the Eagles offense, hopefully resulting in a shootout. The main concern for the scoring upside in this game is the fact that both offensive lines are potentially compromised – the Eagles are without left tackle Jordan Mailata and the Cowboys will be without right tackle La'el Collins. As of press time the O/U is 51.5 and the Cowboys are favored by 3.5.

QUARTERBACKS

Dak Prescott ($11200 DK, $16000 FD) might be the most popular player on the slate. It's a home game where Dallas is favored, yet in a matchup where the Dallas run game projects poorly. If the spread is sound and the traditional home game benefits apply, this might be a case where the spoils go to Prescott even more than most Dallas victories. It could be a script nearly opposite of Week 2, when Dallas defeated the Chargers on the road but with Prescott attempting just 27 passes. In this setting the Cowboys probably can't lean on their run game as much, or at least if they do there's reason to suspect they will lose over that choice. With that said, this Eagles defense is no joke, and the threat they pose is heightened by the absence of Collins. Dak has already shown the ability to produce against tough defenses – Week 1 against the Buccaneers certainly comes to mind – but he'll need to actually play well to do well against a defense of this quality. Of course, as good as this Eagles defense has looked, it's also worth noting that they've only seen the Falcons and 49ers, and Prescott is quite a different category of quarterback than Matt Ryan or Jimmy Garoppolo.

If Prescott produces well it could bring about an upside scenario for Jalen Hurts ($11200 DK, $16500 FD), whose unique rushing skills offer quick fantasy points when the conditions are right. It's difficult to tell how good this Dallas defense might be – it's clearly better than the 2020 version – but even if it's much better than last year Dallas' defense still probably isn't better than average. In a one-game slate we probably need something more fearsome than an average defense to move off a quarterback, especially when that quarterback is a strong bet to claim a high share of his team's rushing production. With that said, the Dallas defense played tough against a better quarterback in Justin Herbert last week, so if Hurts is off his game the dud possibility exists.


RUNNING BACKS

Ezekiel Elliott ($8400 DK, $12000 FD) hasn't had the greatest schedule to start the year, and his numbers have suffered as a result of facing the Buccaneers and Chargers, both on the road. Unfortunately for him, the Eagles defense doesn't appear much more charitable. The Eagles have been uniquely strong against the run for years, and through two games they're mostly showing more of the same in 2021. Elliott has spent a very high percentage of his snaps pass blocking, a concern that's only amplified by this matchup, especially with Collins out at right tackle. The Eagles pass rush is deep and talented, and if Dallas takes to the air often it might not bring with it as many new target opportunities for Elliott as his investors might hope. Still, Elliott showed the ability to produce in a well-defended, low-scoring game against the Chargers last week, producing 71 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries and turning two targets into two receptions for 26 yards. His median projection might not look great here, but particularly if he can get some short-range touchdown opportunities he can still play a crucial role on the slate. Of course, no one could be criticized for preferring Tony Pollard ($7600 DK, $10000 FD), who produced 140 yards and a touchdown from scrimmage last week. Pollard is much more active as a pass catcher than Elliott, so if the run is abandoned then Pollard's share of the offense can spike upward. It must be noted, though, that Elliott is still playing twice as many snaps.

As much as Elliott might be the game's biggest name at running back, Miles Sanders ($8000 DK, $11000 FD) has quietly done a good job through two weeks and could very well be the game's highest-scoring running back. Particularly if Hurts takes up a lesser share of Philadelphia's ground game, Sanders has the explosiveness to make the most of it. Sanders' main concern coming into this year was arguably his pass catching, but he's been sound on that front to this point, turning seven targets into five receptions for 43 yards. One half of the sample was against Austin Ekeler, but it's worth noting that Dallas has surrendered 18 receptions on 21 targets to running backs through two games. If Sanders can't capitalize on that trend then perhaps Kenneth Gainwell($5000 DK, $8000 FD) will. Gainwell is a much more talented receiver than Sanders, but probably not as good of a pure runner and certainly not as good as an athlete. The odds of Gainwell displacing Sanders are minimal, but if the Eagles trail and turn to a pass-heavy game plan Gainwell is a candidate to poach snaps from Sanders.

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS

The pass catchers in this game potentially carry more cred at this point than the running backs, so there figures to be plenty of interest around the top route runners of both teams. That's probably especially true in the case of the Cowboys, who arguably carry the two headliners in Amari Cooper ($9000 DK, $13000 FD) and CeeDee Lamb ($9800 DK, $12500 FD). Particularly with Michael Gallup (calf) out, it's easy to imagine a scenario where both Lamb and Cooper do heavy lifting for the Cowboys in this one. Both wideouts line up all over the place, so there's nothing obvious to glean here in terms of the cornerback matchups, but through two games Cooper has played the slot slightly more than Lamb. That might not continue, but in any case the slot might be the easiest area to attack the Eagles defense. Outside corners Darius Slay and Steven Nelson have played quite well through two weeks, not that it's especially concerning for wideouts of Lamb- and Cooper-caliber. Slot corner Avonte Maddox is no slouch, but he's small and plays inside largely to avoid receivers with outside builds and skill sets like Lamb and Cooper.

Cedrick Wilson ($4400 DK, $6500 FD) is actually a candidate to lead the Cowboys in slot snaps as their replacement WR3 and could pay off in that capacity, though Dallas could also use Gallup's absence as a reason to call more two-tight end sets with both Dalton Schultz ($4800 DK, $6500 FD) and Blake Jarwin ($3000 DK, $6000 FD). Schultz has run safely ahead of Jarwin in the rotation so far, but Jarwin has run more routes per snap and it's possible that Jarwin's snap count has been limited to ease his return from last year's ACL tear. Noah Brown ($200 DK, $5000 FD) is also hanging around, for unclear reasons.

The top pass catcher for Philadelphia is clearly DeVonta Smith ($7200 DK, $10500 FD), who's polished like a veteran despite his rookie status. The targets weren't landing in Week 2 (two catches for 16 yards on seven targets) and Hurts is unlikely to ever be better than average as a passer, but Smith is generating 2.09 air yards per snap (95th percentile) and should not be doubted over a broader sample. The correction will occur eventually, and the Cowboys are fine candidate to play that victim. Jalen Reagor ($6200 DK, $7500 FD) might also be in position to bounce back after a Week 2 dud. Reagor isn't as skilled as Smith, but he's a more explosive athlete and poses a unique threat both after the catch and downfield. He's a little rougher in between, which is why Smith is the lead man, but young, toolsy players like Reagor are capable of improvement. The same is true of Quez Watkins ($5400 DK, $7000 FD), who seems to be Philadelphia's lead slot receiver at the moment. Watkins and Reagor have both had some of their snaps poached to give meager playing time to Greg Ward ($1600 DK, $5500 FD) and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside ($800 DK, $5500 FD), for unclear reasons.

More than Watkins, Ward or Arcega-Whiteside – and arguably even more than Reagor – Dallas Goedert ($6600 DK, $9500 FD) is a candidate to emerge as the second-greatest pass-catching threat behind Smith. Goedert and Zach Ertz ($2200 DK, $6000 FD) have played almost the same number snaps through two weeks, on the other hand, and Ertz actually ran 38 routes to Goedert's 36. Then again, Goedert has drawn seven targets while Ertz has seen just four. Just as importantly, Ertz was only able to practice Saturday this week due to spending the prior practices on the COVID list. It's not clear how that might affect Ertz's workload, but if it does it almost has to be to Goedert's benefit.

KICKERS

Greg Zuerlein ($4000 DK, $9000 FD) has double-digit points in both of his first two games, and hopefully his initial accuracy woes from Week 1 are a thing of the past. If they are, then this could be a nice setup for him. If Dallas is correctly favored then they might have the luxury of accepting field goals rather than pursuing fourth-down conversions in enemy territory, and the Eagles defense might be good enough to slow Dallas' approach the closer it gets to the end zone. Jake Elliott ($3800 DK, $8500 FD) could find himself in a similar scenario if the Eagles can take a controlling grip of the game's flow, but through two weeks he hasn't eclipsed double-digit fantasy points in a game.

DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS

The two missing tackles – Mailata and Collins – could leave their respective offenses more vulnerable to the pass rush in this game. Both teams, especially the Eagles, have the front-four personnel to take advantage of any poor play by the offensive lines in this game. If one team establishes a safe lead over the other, then the losing team would need to open itself up to the risk of sacks and turnovers as they drop back the quarterback and air it out.




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