We're nearly there – the Eagles at Dallas in front of a crowd of, what?, 30,000 fans at AT&T Stadium. How many of them will be Eagles fans? Heck, The Three Jalens (Mills, Reagor, Hurts) are all from Texas. They're going to have family in attendance. Eagles fans are going to be there. It's going to be quite a show. On the field, there are a lot of factors to consider here. The Eagles and Dallas are in must-win situations. And even with the Eagles at 4-9-1 and Dallas at 5-9, there is a lot at stake.
Here is a six-pack of items to consider with such much happening – DeSean Jackson is active and Derek Barnett is out – on this Saturday.
1. The injury update: It's significant
A lot is going on. The Eagles won't have defensive end Derek Barnett, who did not make the trip because of a calf injury, and along with the loss of Josh Sweat, the Eagles are thin at defensive end with Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, and Genard Avery, who has played only 80 defensive snaps this season. Avery is going to need to bring energy and burst off the edge. Expect Joe Ostman, the team's Ed Block Courage Award winner elevated from the practice squad, to get some reps as well.
Sweat and cornerback Kevon Seymour have been moved to Injured Reserve, ending their seasons. Jordan Howard is also up on the active roster for this game to give the Eagles a power running back in short-yardage situations.
Tight end Caleb Wilson and defensive tackle T.Y. McGill have been promoted from the practice squad to the active roster.
The really interesting news: The Eagles activated wide receiver DeSean Jackson from the Injured Reserve list. Clearly, they've seen enough from him in practice this week to think he can help at Dallas. Jackson has played in only four games this season and hasn't played since the first Giants game on October 22. Jackson has had such an injury-plagued two seasons since returning to Philadelphia and it seemed the Eagles were turning the page at the position with the emergence of their young receivers. Jackson has 13 receptions for 155 yards this season. He's an intriguing addition to the passing attack, for sure. The speed is there. The deep threat is significant. How much of an impact can Jackson have for an offense that wants to be multifaceted against Dallas?
The Eagles are also without linebacker Duke Riley, who is good in the screen game and in coverage with his speed, so rookie Shaun Bradley may play an increased role.
Dallas is missing some key pieces on its defense at each level. Defensive tackle Antwaun Woods is out with an ankle injury. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is out with an ankle injury and the Cowboys are going to miss his aggressiveness and his sideline-to-sideline abilities. Safety Xavier Woods, who has played 96 percent of the team's defensive snaps, is out with a ribs injury. And defensive back Rashard Robinson, who helped Dallas with a lot of defensive snaps when the Cowboys had injuries in recent weeks, is out with a knee injury. In the cases of Woods, Vander Esch, and Woods, the Cowboys are losing starters in the middle of the defense. It's going to be interesting to see how the Eagles look to exploit those losses. Do they go after the inside of the Dallas defense and work their way to the edges?
2. Miles Sanders is ready for a Dallas experience
It wasn't necessarily pretty in the Eagles' 17-9 win last December against Dallas at Lincoln Financial Field, but the game provided an indication of the damage running back Miles Sanders can do against the Dallas defense: he had 20 carries for 79 yards and a touchdown and added five receptions for 77 yards. With the Cowboys' defensive injuries, Sanders could get a lot of touches on Sunday. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him featured in the high-energy running game, either, as Dallas is 32nd in the league in rushing defense, allowing 161.8 yards per game, and more than 180 yards per game in the last three weeks.
"The running game is very important," Sanders said. "Just getting it started and getting it rolling, it's going to open up a lot of stuff for us as a team and having a quarterback like Jalen, who can use his feet and pull it when it needs to pull it and just attacking the defense and staying on them and being aggressive in the run game is going to help us, regardless, whatever we want to do. They're still a great team over there, it's still a good football team. They've got NFL players on the team, so nothing is going to be easy despite the stats and whatever it is. We've just got to control what we can control and go out there and dominate, play after play."
Sanders did not play in the 23-9 win over Dallas on November 1. He has rushed for 810 yards in 11 games and, with a huge final two regular-season games, could become the franchise's first 1,000-yard rusher since LeSean McCoy in 2014 (1,319 yards). His thoughts on that possibility?
"I'm aware that we've got to win this week," he said. "I'm aware that if we win this week and everything handles itself, we have a chance to win the NFC East the next game. That's what I'm aware of."
3. Scoreboard watching? Not the Eagles
A lot of players were asked during the week about keeping one eye on the gigantic scoreboard at AT&T Stadium on Sunday as the Giants-Ravens game wraps up while the Eagles are on the field warming up and as Washington takes on Carolina at the same time the Eagles are playing. Nobody was biting, and veteran defensive tackle Malik Jackson summed it up best.
"My philosophy is just: Do our job," Jackson said. "It's one of those things, as a team we wouldn't be in this position, scoreboard watching, if we do our job. The one thing we have learned is – win the game. If we win and do what we're supposed to do, I believe everything will fall in place. We just have to win the game."
4. Raise your hand if you had Alex Singleton leading the team in tackles
He started the season as a "fringe" member of the 53-man roster, but linebacker Alex Singleton has emerged as a key member of Jim Schwartz's defense. Singleton leads the team with 67 solo tackles and 94 total tackles (according to the official team statistics compiled by the coaching staff) and he's had double-digit sack totals in each of the last three weeks (five times this season).
Has his performance as a three-down linebacker made him indispensable in this defense? Singleton draws on his professional football roots in the Canadian League and in the fact that he has to fight to make the roster in each of the last two seasons. His bottom line: Nothing is going to be guaranteed.
"I've come in and competed the last two summers and so, no matter what happens, I think it's going to be a competition in the future and I'm excited for that and I'm ready for that," Singleton said. "I'm focused on beating Dallas first, and then we'll worry about that."
5. Marcus Epps trying to make a name for himself
Second-year safety Marcus Epps had a nice game in Arizona with an end-zone interception, three passes defensed, and seven total tackles in a career-high 68 snaps. He's looking to take his game to a new level Sunday at Dallas as he gains more comfort in the defense.
"I came in last year and had to learn the playbook on the fly and then I was on the field two weeks later and it was tough," he said. "I'm much more comfortable out there now. Every game, it gets better for me with my understanding of the defense and where everyone is supposed to be and what my responsibilities are. Last week, we battled out there. It didn't go our way, and that's the bottom line. But every time we're out there together, it helps."
Epps, the personal protector in the punt game, accepted responsibility – whether it was truly his or not – for the "leaking" in Arizona when Cameron Johnston had one of his punts blocked, leading to a Cardinals' touchdown.
6. At left tackle, Jordan Mailata?
Jordan Mailata makes his ninth start of the season at left tackle on Sunday (he has also started a game at right tackle) and now some are projecting him to be the team's left tackle in 2021. It's certainly going to be interesting to see how it plays out with 2019 No. 1 draft pick Andre Dillard expected to be fully healthy after missing this season with a biceps injury, but the fact that some are suggesting Mailata could be the guy is a testament to just how far he's come since being a 2018 seventh-round draft pick having never played American football.
Nobody talks about Mailata playing Australian Rugby any longer. He's a football player now.
"Honestly, how I feel about the position right now, I just go out there and do my job. It sounds like a broken record but it's honestly the only way I can function, is to go out there and do my job," Mailata said. "I don't really think about anything else. I just think about that play in that moment. We have a great saying here – 'Be where your feet are at' – and that's what I do all the time. All that other stuff will take care of itself. I just do my job and that's the mentality that I'll always have. It's helped me be consistent and now that I feel more confident, I've just got to stick to what I know, and that's what I know."