Ahead of Sunday's prime-time showdown with the Dallas Cowboys, the PhiladelphiaEagles.com writers answer your questions below!
Dave Spadaro: Discipline is required. I don't think there will be much of an adjustment. I think the Eagles play their game and do what they've done so well this season, and they go into this game very aware of Dak Prescott's ability to create with his legs and keep plays alive. Don't let Dallas dictate here. Be aggressive, win one-on-one matchups, and tackle well. That's the formula the Eagles have used successfully in nine games and that's what they are going to bring to the table in this game.
Given's Prescott's elusiveness, it's probably better for the Eagles to keep Prescott in the pocket and collapse his protection, as Atlanta did on Sunday. But the read-option part of things? Set the edge, trust your eyes and understand that Prescott is a weapon.
Fran Duffy: From the read-option element, there are a couple of ways that they can defend it (more than I can get into in this space), but there's one theme that is consistent across the board no matter which way they go. They must be assignment-sound in the run game. "Do your job" has to be the mantra. If you're responsible for an outside gap, don't get nosy and look inside. If everyone in the front seven can be disciplined both against the run and the pass, you can keep this scheme from hurting you. Expect to see the read-option on Sunday night, particularly when Dallas gets into the scoring zone inside the 30-yard line.
Chris McPherson: It's not the first time that the Eagles have faced a read-option team this season. Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs presented similar challenges back in Week 2. But before you freak out and say, "That's the Eagles' only loss," the Cowboys don't have a weapon line Tyreek Hill who can create stress on a defense before the snap and get the unit out of alignment. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz wants his linemen to play the run on the way to the quarterback and that'll be no different on Sunday night.
Fran Duffy: My biggest surprise has to be Patrick Robinson after what we saw from him this summer. After seemingly giving up plays to every receiver on the roster during Training Camp, the veteran and former first-round pick has been solid and steady all season long both inside and outside in the secondary. He's been the biggest surprise to me. The most improved player has to be Nelson Agholor. Just looking at where he's come from in the last calendar year (next week will mark a full year since last season's game in Seattle), he's been extraordinarily more consistent at the catch point. He's taken the next step as a route runner. He's embraced his role in the slot and has been one of the most productive receivers in the league on the inside. It's been great to see Nelson come into his own.
Dave Spadaro: I wasn't sure that Patrick Robinson was even going to make the roster after watching him struggle in Training Camp and in the preseason. But he's become an extremely valuable member of the secondary and his ability to play the nickel position and on the outside has allowed the defensive backfield to thrive even with the injury to Ronald Darby.
Nelson Agholor is my candidate in the category of "most improved" because he's just done a 180-degree turn from last season. Agholor is the explosive, run-after-the-catch player the Eagles thought he would be when they drafted him in 2015.
I would also include running back Corey Clement in the mix here. Undrafted, given very little chance to make the roster back in the spring, Clement has taken on a chunk of responsibility and has not flinched. He just seems to do everything well.
Chris McPherson: I'll cast my "surprise" vote for tight end Zach Ertz. We saw glimpses of how productive he could be, but he's been the go-to weapon in the passing game since Week 1. In addition, he's become a red zone weapon with a career-high six total touchdowns, all coming inside the opponents' 20-yard line. I didn't know how the additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith would impact Ertz's numbers, but the tight end is deserving of All-Pro honors with the season he is having.
As for "most improved," how about the quarterback? I think we were all confident that Carson Wentz would take a big leap from Year 1 to Year 2, but to be the front-runner for the league's MVP award as the leader of the team with the best record?
Dave Spadaro: How about Dallas tight end Jason Witten against safety Malcolm Jenkins. Witten, who started his career in 2003 (yes, the Eagles drafted L.J. Smith instead) has 42 receptions this year and had seven catches for 59 yards in Sunday's loss at Atlanta.
Witten is the safety valve for Prescott. He's a huge body who still runs pretty well and catches everything in sight. The Eagles have done an excellent job against tight ends this year and Jenkins has played a big part in that success. Throwing only to the tight end won't beat the Eagles, but Witten has shown his value in the form of an amazing 1,131 career receptions and 66 touchdowns on his way to Canton, Ohio.
Jenkins, by the way, is having another terrific season. As we look back on building this roster, signing him as an unrestricted free agent has been one of the best moves the Eagles have ever made in free agency.
Fran Duffy: To me, the biggest matchup has to be Lane Johnson against Demarcus Lawrence, the league's sack leader. The Cowboys will move Lawrence around a bit, but most of his snaps will come against Lane. The only way the Cowboys win this game is if they are able to ground the Eagles' passing attack, and they'll need Lawrence to be a big part of that. If Lane can shut him down in this game or at least keep his impact limited, that's a huge win for the Eagles.
Chris McPherson: I'll take the heavyweight battle inside between defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and All-Pro right guard Zack Martin. Fran did an excellent job of explaining how the Eagles have schemed to get Cox more one-on-one matchups this season in his Eagle Eye in the Sky column. On his last podcast, NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell said that Cox is arguably the best at his position in the game. Martin struggled last week in the loss to Atlanta. With Tyron Smith's status up in the air (he didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday), the Cowboys can't afford for the pass protection to be leaky inside.
Fran Duffy: If Darby is fully healthy he should be a starter, he's the most physically talented corner on the team. There's a reason why the Eagles traded for him this summer. He should slide in at left cornerback, with Jalen Mills returning to the right side and Patrick Robinson sticking into the slot in nickel packages. That's how I would expect it to look on Sunday night.
Dave Spadaro: Let him play. All signs are that Darby will return to the starting lineup on the left side, and while the Eagles are going to monitor his snap count, there is no reason to ease him into the contest. I don't see the Eagles moving Darby around to match up with Dez Bryant, for example, but Darby has had a month to practice and get into game shape. He's itching to play, and Darby brings athletic ability and speed to the secondary.
If he's healthy enough to play, then let's see what he can do as a starter on Sunday night.
Chris McPherson: Darby has been a limited participant for weeks to get up to speed. Sure, there's going to be a bit of a transition having not played since the season opener, but if he's ready then put him out there.