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Can the Eagles defense shut down the Cowboys running game?

The improved Philadelphia Eagles defense will have their biggest test of the season when they go up against Ezekiel Elliot and the Cowboys offensive line, arguably the best in the National Football League.

The Cowboys are currently third in the NFL in total offense, averaging 401 yards per game. Dallas leads the NFL in running the football with 161.2 yards rushing per game. Elliot is second in the NFL in rushing with 703 yards.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said the Cowboys have also done a good job protecting rookie quarterback Dak Prescott as well finding holes in the running game.

“Yeah, they have given the quarterback a ton of time. Prescott has done a good job of leading them to their record and with a quarterback, the most important stat is winning, and he’s done that,” Schwartz said. “They have given him a lot of time and they have helped him run the ball, and that’s a pretty good formula for any quarterback, much less a rookie quarterback.”

The Eagles defense come into Sunday night’s nationally-televised contest ranked fifth in defensive yards and fifth in passing yards allowed per game. Last week against the Minnesota Vikings, the Eagles defense allowed just 289 yards of offense and sacked quarterback Sam Bradford six times.

Where the Eagles have struggled six games into the season is stopping the run. They are an average 14th in the league at stopping the run. The Birds are allowing teams to compile 102.7 yards per game rushing. In a 27-20 loss to the Washington Redskins, the Eagles gave up 230 yards on the ground.

Despite their recent troubles defending the run, Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said the defense is steadily improving at slowing down their opponents ground game.

“We’re getting better,” Cox said. “Last week, we knew we had to step up (against the Minnesota Vikings) because of the previous two weeks (against Washington) that team was able to run the ball at will on us. We had to go into that game and focus on the run and make that team one dimensional.”

For the Eagles to shut down or even slow down Elliot, they are going to have a tough fight in the trenches trying to stop an offensive line that has three Pro Bowlers from last season. Cox said the game will come down to how tough his team is in the trenches.

“They got three first-rounders, three All-Pros. They lean on those guys, but then again that’s a challenge for us as it is every week,” Cox said. “It’s a challenge for us to go up against a good offensive line. Can our defensive line be better than their offensive line?”

Another thing the Eagles have to worry about in Sunday’s game is the return of wide receiver Dez Bryant, especially if Dallas is successful in the running game. While the Cowboys are going to probably run the ball a lot more than they’ll pass it, they are going to take some shots down the field with the game-breaking ability of Bryant.

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said the Eagles have to stop the running game in order to keep Prescott from making plays on play-action passes and from finding guys like Cole Beasley who has a knack of making catches that move the chains on third down. The Cowboys are fourth in the NFL on third down conversions.

“First things first we have to stop the run, but they have weapons that complement the run with Jason Witten, Cole Beasley and with Dez Bryant coming back,” Jenkins said. “Dak Prescott’s been playing pretty well, especially off the play-action pass. He’s a very accurate when he’s been able to fake the run and he has wide open lanes to throw in. But all of that starts up front.”

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