Eagles preview: Delaware football coach gives scouting report on former rival, Cowboys QB Ben DiNucci
Not that anyone on the Eagles has asked, but University of Delaware coach Danny Rocco could provide them with a scouting report on Ben DiNucci, the Dallas Cowboys third-string quarterback suddenly promoted to starter because of injuries to Dak Prescott and Andy Dalton.
The Cowboys and DiNucci are approaching the game as if he will be the starter.
“This team drafted me for a reason," DiNucci told reporters who cover the Cowboys. "Coach (Mike) McCarthy brought me here for a reason.''
SLAY'S BIG PLAYS:How this new Eagle turned secondary into one of NFL's best
There probably was a reason, but it most likely wasn't to start against the Eagles on Sunday Night Football with first place on the line in the NFC East, despite the records of 2-4-1 for the first-place Eagles and 2-5 for the Cowboys.
DiNucci was the Cowboys' seventh-round pick last spring, and as Rocco put it about making his first career start against Eagles on Sunday night: "It’s an opportunity of a lifetime. That’s a reality for guys in those roles and those positions."
Rocco should know. Rocco's brother, Frank, coached several years earlier at the high school that DiNucci attended, Pine-Richland High School, which is located near Pittsburgh.
Rocco and the Blue Hens faced DiNucci and James Madison in the first round of the NCAA's FCS playoffs in November, 2018 at JMU.
"He was perfect for what they were doing offensively with the (run-pass option) game," Rocco said. "He’s big enough, athletic enough to make a play in the run game. He really had a lot of confidence in the receivers and the system that they were in to deliver accurate balls in the passing game."
DiNucci had completed 68.2% of his passes that season in leading the Dukes to the playoffs. But he was also proficient as a rusher, gaining 104 yards and scoring 3 touchdowns against Towson the week before the game against UD.
"Holistically, the thing that really stuck out the most for me was his accuracy," Rocco said. "He had great confidence. It just kind of felt like they were in a season where every 50-50 ball really wasn’t a 50-50 ball ... That’s the thing that resonated with me, being in good position defensively on their receivers really wasn’t good enough."
And that, Rocco said, is the sign of an NFL-caliber quarterback. Rocco said he saw the same thing when he was coaching at Richmond with Kyle Lauletta as his quarterback. Lauletta was drafted by the Giants, spent some time on the Eagles' practice squad and is currently on the Browns' practice squad.
Against DiNucci, Rocco said he changed the alignment of the safeties and pretty much tried anything to get DiNucci out of his rhythm.
For the most part, it worked. JMU had only 316 yards of offense, and UD was within 12-6 until DiNucci's late third-quarter touchdown pass provided the final margin of 20-6. It was mostly the Hens' offense that struggled, amassing just 185 yards of offense.
DiNucci was 23 of 31 for 223 yards and a touchdown. He ran for another 20 yards.
NDSU won 28-20, clinching the victory when DiNucci was intercepted in the end zone with 5 seconds remaining.
But Wentz was watching as a fan, and he wasn't particularly paying attention to the opposing quarterback. And he hasn't paid much attention to DiNucci this week, either.
"Obviously, I watched that game," Wentz said. "You only get so much time in a week, so I watch the defense."
But Rocco also offered another way to disrupt DiNucci's rhythm, and that's by bringing pressure. And this might be the Eagles' best strategy.
The Eagles are third in the NFL with 24 sacks this season, led by Brandon Graham, who's third with 6.0.
"I will say this is the best start I’ve had since I’ve been here, even during the year we won the Super Bowl (in 2017)," Graham said. "I think this has been the most consistent I’ve been as far as back to back games with sacks."
As it turns out, the Cowboys are without three of their starters on the offensive line in Tyron Smith and La'el Collins, both out for the season with injuries, and Travis Frederick, who retired.
A strong pass rush could disrupt DiNucci, who has elite wide receivers in Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and rookie CeeDee Lamb. But DiNucci has only had a week of practice with them, in addition to the second half against Washington. DiNucci went 2 for 3 passing for 39 yards in the Cowboys' 25-3 loss. He was sacked three times.
"The timing with the receivers is what they had down at JMU at a very, very high level," Rocco said. "That’s the thing that does take some time."
Of course, the FCS level of college football isn't the same as going against an NFL defense. But DiNucci, who began his collegiate career at Pittsburgh before transferring to JMU for his final two seasons, was impressive enough to catch the attention of the Cowboys.
"I wasn’t at all surprised that he was drafted," Rocco said. "But in this moment, this is a pretty quick turnaround for anyone."
They allow 178.3 yards rushing, worst in the NFL, and they give up an NFL-worst 34.7 points per game.
Even without running back Miles Sanders (knee), it's easier to see the Eagles getting to that average as opposed to the Cowboys getting to the Eagles' average points allowed of 28.0 points per game.
The Eagles are strong again at wide receiver with the return of rookie Jalen Reagor, along with Travis Fulgham and rookie John Hightower.
It's also easy to see Wentz having his first turnover-free game of the season after throwing 10 interceptions and losing 2 fumbles so far. The Cowboys have intercepted just one pass all season and have an NFL-worst turnover differential of minus-13.
Score: Eagles 37, Cowboys 21
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.