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Dallas Cowboys' Dak Prescott and Philadelphia Eagles' Jalen Hurts bring top-notch intangibles to QB duel

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FRISCO, Texas -- Since 2016, whenever the Dallas Cowboys played the Philadelphia Eagles the debate centered around which team had the best quarterback: Dak Prescott or Carson Wentz.

Wentz was the NFL's No. 2 overall draft pick that year; Prescott was the 135th pick. Prescott was named Rookie of the Year. A year later, Wentz had an MVP-type season, before a knee injury ended his season prematurely; however, the Eagles went on to win the Super Bowl. But that debate ended when the Eagles traded Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts and the Cowboys signed Prescott to a four-year, $160 million contract in March.

As the Cowboys and Eagles prepare to meet in Arlington, Texas, on Monday Night Football (ESPN, 8:15 p.m. ET) with Prescott and Jalen Hurts at quarterback, the debate isn't so much about which signal-caller is better now. The 28-year-old Prescott has started 71 games and is a two-time Pro Bowler, while Hurts, 23, has started six games. It's more about what Prescott has become and what Hurts can be. Both quarterbacks bring strong intangibles to the table.

NFL Nation reporters Tim McManus and Todd Archer take a category-by-category look at where each quarterback stands:

Leadership

Hurts: He definitely has it. That was evident even as a rookie, when teammates began using the same words to describe him -- "natural-born leader" -- as if they were reading from a common script. He holds players accountable. Hurts hits receivers with playbook pop quizzes when he passes them in the hallway and demands better execution when a practice rep falls short of expectation. He has made it a point to establish a connection with everyone in the locker room, whether by taking them out to dinner or simply seeking out common ground.

And he's doing all of this at age 23.

Most of Hurts' stripes have been earned through his work ethic, illustrated by his daily 5 a.m. workouts at Lane Johnson's personal gym, the "Bro Barn," this offseason, where he was granted access into the Eagles' offensive line fraternity.

"He doesn't think he's above anybody," Philadelphia guard Nate Herbig said. "He doesn't work like he's entitled to anything. He works like he owes you something. I have a lot of respect for that." -- McManus

Prescott: Leadership might be his best trait. He connects with every aspect of the locker room and every aspect of the organization, from ownership to the mailroom coordinator. Even after he suffered the compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle last season in Week 5, Prescott made it a must to get to The Star every day, despite the COVID-19 testing protocols, to help the quarterbacks prepare for the upcoming game. His commitment to the rehab in the offseason proved even more his dedication.

All of it adds up to a belief teammates have in him in moments like last week's final drive that ended in a game-winning field goal against the Los Angeles Chargers.

What's the feeling they have with Prescott out there?

"Comfortable, to say the least. Very comfortable," Dallas wide receiver CeeDee Lamb said. "You've got your starting quarterback out there leading the charge in a two-minute drive to win the game; I don't think it can get any better than that. And, you know, we won." -- Archer

Mentality

Hurts: Prior to last year's game between the Eagles and Arizona Cardinals, former Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson had a conversation with Arizona counterpart Kliff Kingsbury about Hurts' demeanor.

Kingsbury: "I recruited him in high school and ... he was just the most mature, knew-he-was-going-to-be-something type kid."

Pederson: "You've got to check his temperature sometimes to see if he's got a pulse. I'm like, 'Dude, fire up a little bit,' you know?"

Hurts is steady-handed and singularly focused -- convenient traits when surfing the emotional waves of a game.

"He's the leader," Eagles rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith said. "When things go wrong, he's the guy that's picking everybody up. When things are right, he's the one telling us, 'Keep pushing.'" -- McManus

Prescott: The moment is never too big for him. As the final seconds ticked off the clock last week against the Chargers and confusion reigned, Prescott waited patiently and did not panic to call a play, allowing the coaches to call a timeout. He has been that way since his arrival, even as a fourth-round pick. When he makes a mistake, he is accountable to his teammates. He doesn't point the finger when others make mistakes, such as his interception against the Chargers.

"You say 17 points, I say 14," Prescott said. "I gave them three with the interception and they returned it and put themselves in range, and the defense didn't let them get anything else. That's what it's about."

Do you think the defenders liked seeing the praise from a quarterback?

"He's the same guy every day," Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said. -- Archer

Development

Hurts: He was thrown into the deep end as a rookie, asked to take over an injury-riddled, dysfunctional team for the final quarter of a 4-11-1 season in place of the soon-to-be-traded Wentz. Hurts gave the team a jolt initially but cooled a bit down the stretch, finishing with a 1-3 record in 2020. He completed 52% of his passes and threw six touchdowns to four interceptions while rushing for 354 yards and three scores.

Eagles coach Nick Sirianni wanted Hurts to improve his footwork and strike a better balance between improvising and playing within the structure of the offense.

The QB made strides in those areas this summer, as evidenced by his strong performance in the opener against the Atlanta Falcons (77% completion rate, 3 TDs, 0 INT). Hurts was much less efficient in Week 2 against the San Francisco 49ers, a reminder that he is far from a finished product. But he is showing signs of progress. -- McManus

Prescott: As a rookie in 2016, the Cowboys did not ask Prescott to carry the day. They relied on running back Ezekiel Elliott and an All-Pro laden offensive line with Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, plus Pro Bowlers such as tight end Jason Witten and wide receiver Dez Bryant.

Prescott had two 300-yard passing games as a rookie. By 2019, he threw 30 touchdown passes in a season and finished a yard shy of Tony Romo's single-season franchise record of 4,902 passing yards. Prescott was on pace for more than 6,000 yards last year before the injury.

In his past seven games, he has eclipsed 400 yards four times.

"Just to make the statement: When Dak lines up, we have a chance to win the game," McCarthy said. "That's the type of player he is. He clearly demonstrates that not only on Sundays but the way he approaches it each and every day. That's what you look for in your franchise quarterback." -- Archer

Playing under the lights on the big stage

Hurts: This will be his first night start as a pro. But if his college days are any indication, Hurts will perform. He was a perfect 7-0 in night games at Oklahoma in 2019, passing and rushing for 28 total touchdowns while throwing just three interceptions.

The big stage isn't too much for him. He finished his college career 7-3 versus top-10 opponents and was 5-2 as the starter in conference championship games and playoff games, totaling 10 touchdowns to two interceptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Everything is bigger in Texas, including the ostentatious AT&T Stadium. But Hurts, a Houston native, is no stranger to that, having played in his share of big games at Alabama and Oklahoma. -- McManus

Prescott: Monday's outing will be Prescott's 29th prime-time regular-season game since becoming the Cowboys' starting quarterback. This will be his fifth Monday Night Football start; in his four previous games, he went 3-1 and completed 71 of 104 passes for 895 yards and 10 touchdowns with two interceptions.

Prescott opened this season at the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his return from the ankle injury and a shortened training camp because of a right latissimus strain with perhaps his best game, considering the long layoff. He completed 42 of a career-high-tying 58 passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns with one pick in a 31-29 loss on a last-minute field goal.

"I love night games," Prescott said. "Love playing on prime time. I think it's just set for the perfect stage." -- Archer