There's no secret as to what this game means for the Eagles. If not for a disappointing loss a week ago, the season would hinge on it. Now, the season merely could.
The Eagles, to make the playoffs, need help – Tampa needs to lose at home to Oakland, and either Minnesota must lose to the Giants, or Chicago must drop its contest on the road at Houston. Not only that, the Eagles must beat Dallas.
Should the dependent variables not come to fruition, the consolation prize for the Eagles is a bit more glamorous than a higher pick – knocking the Cowboys out of the playoffs. The Cowboys, at 9-6, control their own destiny. Win, and they're in.
The Eagles could be hurt with some up-in-the-air statuses on the injury report – Brian Dawkins (illness), Stewart Bradley (ribs, groin) and Hank Baskett (knee) are questionable, L.J. Smith (shoulder) is doubtful. More certain, Victor Abiamiri (Lis Franc sprain) and Shawn Andrews (back) are out.
FROM THE COACH'S DESK
The Eagles' steady wide receiver rotation was thrown for quite the loop last week in Washington, as it was missing two key components and a third battled through multiple injuries suffered in the 10-3 loss.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg won't make excuses for the wide receiver corps' performance, which included a handful of dropped passes, but Hank Baskett (knee) and Kevin Curtis (calf) each missed the game plus DeSean Jackson was tender with a rib injury.
Jackson dropped two key passes late in the game, on good throws from Donovan McNabb.
""He was banged up. He was banged up with two different types of injuries in that particular game. He was on the field and he was playing and he was playing fast. Now, he's got to finish,"" Mornhinweg said. ""We've got to play at a certain level when we're injured and on the field and playing. That was an experience for him, it was a tough experience and I expect him to do a little bit better the next time he's banged up.""
It might have been some fatigue, too, for the rookie Jackson, who had been used to being part of a pretty extensive rotation. But with Baskett and Curtis out, the revolving door was mostly stagnant at FedEx Field.
This week, both Baskett and Curtis have been limited in practice. Baskett is questionable, but Curtis has improved to probable.
Still, Mornhinweg didn't make excuses for the drops – which plagued not only Jackson, but Reggie Brown, L.J. Smith and Jason Avant as well.
""There are two reasons for dropping the football. One is focus and (the other is) concentration,"" he said. ""Some people catch the ball better than others, but we want to catch the football every time the ball's in the air.""
KEEP AN EYE ON ... Cowboys RB Tashard Choice
The fourth-round pick from Georgia Tech wasn't expected to make much of a contribution on the offensive side of the ball this season. The Cowboys already had a Pro Bowl rusher in Marion Barber and they used a first-round pick on Arkansas stud Felix Jones.
Well, with Barber banged up and Jones done for the year with a hamstring injury, Choice has become the primary back of late with 79 carries for 419 yards (5.3 avg.) and two touchdowns. Choice started against the Steelers and accounted for 166 of the team's 289 yards from scrimmage. Choice's 88 rushing yards were the most allowed to a single rusher by the Steelers this season.
Against the Giants, Choice got a majority of the workload and had nine rushes for 91 yards, including a career-long 38-yard scamper for his first career touchdown.
In last Saturday's loss to the Ravens, Choice had 17 carries for 90 yards and another touchdown.
Barber was limited in Friday's practice and is listed as questionable on the injury report with a toe injury, but is expected to play. But the Cowboys haven't shied away from utilizing Choice who has been the leading rusher in the past four games and the primary one in the last three.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
LB Chris Gocong
Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said he was pleased about the improvement of the linebackers in pass coverage and Gocong has been a big part of that emergence. Following the loss to Dallas in Week 2, the pass defense was ranked 22nd in the league. Entering Sunday, Philadelphia is ranked second against the pass. Cowboys tight end Jason Witten has gone for over 100 yards receiving in the last two games against the Eagles, a streak Gocong hopes to help snap on Sunday.
RB Brian Westbrook
To run or not to run, that is the question. In the last three games against the Cowboys, the Eagles have rushed for more than 100 yards as a team just once. That was last season's Week 15 matchup that the Eagles won 10-6. Westbrook has been held under 100 yards rushing in each of those contests. In their last three wins this season, the Eagles have eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground each time. In their last two losses and in the tie against the Bengals, the Eagles failed to rush for over 100 yards. If the Eagles can get Westbrook and the running game going, it could be a long day for the Cowboys.
WR Terrell Owens
Philadelphia's favorite wide receiver makes yet another appearance in front of the denizens at Lincoln Financial Field. Owens' 949 yards receiving leads the Cowboys this season and he had three catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns in their first meeting of the year against the Eagles. Save for their first meeting of the 2007 season when Owens lit up the Eagles for 174 yards and two scores, though, Philadelphia's defense has done a good job keeping Owens in check. It will be interesting to watch whether or not defensive coordinator Jim Johnson chooses to cover Owens man-to-man.
NT Jay Ratliff
In his fourth season out of Auburn, Ratliff has emerged as a run stuffer in the Cowboys' 3-4 defense. He'll be squaring off against the biggest center in the NFL on Sunday when he faces Jamaal Jackson. Ratliff recorded a sack to go along with four tackles in Dallas' 41-37 win bakc on Sept. 15. Ratliff has 49 tackles and 7.5 sacks thus far in 2008. With victories over both the Steelers and Browns, who both employ a 3-4 defense, the Eagles have shown they can have success against a defense that used to give them fits.
FIRST AND LONG ...
- Cowboys QB Tony Romo has a 5-7 record in December games since taking over as the starter in 2006. He has thrown 18 interceptions in those 12 games against just 14 touchdowns. In 2006, eight of Romo's 13 interceptions for the year came in December. In 2007, five of Romo's 19 picks were in December. And so far this season, five of Romo's 13 interceptions have come this month.
- Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware leads the NFL with 20 sacks. He needs 2.5 to tie Michael Strahan's single-season record which was set in 2001. Ware had one sack against the Eagles in Week 2 and has 6.5 against them for his career. The Cowboys, as a team, lead the league with 58 sacks.
- The Cowboys lead the season series 53-42 and have won two of the past three.
- Head coach Andy Reid is 13-6 against the Cowboys.
- The Cowboys have a -7 takeaway ratio.
- The Eagles defense is ranked first in the NFC.
- David Akers is tied for first in the NFC with 130 points.
- With 135 passing yards, Donovan McNabb will set the Eagles' single-season passing record which was set in 2004 (3,875). McNabb had won 10 of their past 15 starts against Dallas. When McNabb has a 100 passer rating (including playoffs, minimum 10 attempts), the Eagles are 39-1.
- DeSean Jackson is poised to be the first rookie to lead the Eagles in catches since 1942.
- Brian Westbrook is the only player since 2004 with more than 4,000 rushing yards and 3,000 receiving yards. In the last home meeting against the Cowboys, Westbrook had a career-high 14 receptions.