The key storyline of the always-heated NFC East showdown between the Philadelphia Eagles and the host Dallas Cowboys is centered around the solid play of the two rookie starters at quarterback.
Carson Wentz, the second overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, has the Eagles positioned in second place in the NFC East at 4-2. Dak Prescott, the fourth-round selection out of Mississippi State, has the Cowboys riding a five-game winning streak (currently the longest in the NFL) and sitting atop the division.
The Sunday night prime-time matchup at AT&T Stadium in Dallas is bound to have playoff implications later in the season, so both teams will be looking to put their best foot forward.
Much has been made of the return of quarterback Tony Romo and if the former Pro Bowl signal-caller will get the starting nod once he returns from his back injury.
A subject that needs more attention is the handling of players this season by Dallas head coach Jason Garrett. The once-maligned coach has his team playing at an elite level, all without Romo (six games missed), running back Darren McFadden (six), wide receiver Dez Bryant (three), guard La'el Collins (one), linebacker Rolando McClain (six) and cornerback Orlando Scandrick (four).
Those six starters have missed a combined 26 games in 2016. Only Bryant and Scandrick are in line to play against the Eagles.
Prescott, an early candidate for NFL MVP, stepped in for Romo and thrived. So much so that a quarterback controversy erupted in Dallas, though none of the players want to hear that talk.
"We're not really worried about that, honestly," said rookie and the NFL's leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott. "We just focus on now. We focus on going out there and winning every week and getting better as a team. To this team, it really doesn't matter who is at quarterback. We have faith in our guys. So, I mean, whatever happens, happens, and we're going to keep getting better as a team."
Elliott himself stepped in and replaced the NFL's fourth leading rusher in 2015 in McFadden. This "Wally Pipp" storyline doesn't get the headlines like Prescott versus Romo but is an integral part of the Cowboys success in 2016 as well.
Garrett has every player on the team believing they are just as important as the next, and this is a major reason the Cowboys are the top team in the NFC.
Coming off their bye week, since 2003, the Cowboys are 8-6.
The Eagles gave the unbeaten Minnesota Vikings their first loss of the year this past Sunday. Head coach Doug Pederson, like Garrett a former NFL quarterback, also has his team believing it can win any game it enters.
Wentz will play in Dallas for the first time as the Eagles starter and enters the game with eight touchdown passes on the year against three interceptions. The rookie from North Dakota State has the Philadelphia faithful believing the team again found a franchise quarterback.
As good as Wentz has been, the true savior for the Eagles in 2016 is the Jim Schwartz-led defense. The former Detroit Lions head coach mixed in man blitzes with zone blitzes to lead his troops to 20 sacks on the season.
The Eagles are only allowing an average of 14.7 points per game, which trails the Vikings and the Seattle Seahawks, both at 14, for best in the league. Philadelphia's defense created 12 turnovers for a plus-6 turnover differential.
Dallas is doing a good job of replacing injured/suspended players and not missing a beat. The Eagles will need that same success in their secondary heading into Dallas.
Cornerback Ron Brooks is lost for the year with a ruptured right quadriceps tendon, so Schwartz and Co. will scramble just to find bodies to line up against the Cowboys. Safety Malcolm Jenkins dropped down and played slot cornerback in nickel packages after Brooks got hurt, forcing Jaylen Watkins to replace Jenkins at safety.
"I thought Jaylen came in and played good, played well," Pederson said. "He was in on a few plays around the quarterback a few times and a couple of blitzes, and he's a guy that obviously now is going to have to increase his workload. But I think he stepped up and did a nice job.
The Dallas defense has been a pleasant surprise as well. In six games, the unit led by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has not allowed a 100-yard rusher or receiver. The group also forced nine total turnovers.