Despite nearly shutting out the Dallas Cowboys in the first meeting between the two teams this season, the Eagles defense isn't taking the Cowboys offense lightly at all in advance of Saturday's showdown in Dallas. In fact, the consensus opinion in the locker room is that the Cowboys provide as difficult a test as the Eagles have seen this season.
"I think besides our offense, they rank probably first; either them or the Giants," said starting middle linebacker Jamar Chaney. "The receiving corps they have, the quarterback, both of them have running backs and tight ends, so pretty much all their skill positions can play for any team in the NFL, so they have a lot of talent over there."
The Cowboys' array of weapons begins with quarterback Tony Romo, who has thrown for 29 touchdowns and only nine interceptions on the season for a cumulative quarterback rating of 102.6, fourth-best in the league. Romo's most prolific target is tight end Jason Witten, who has excelled against the Eagles in the past but was held to only 26 yards receiving by the Eagles in the first matchup, Witten's second-lowest total of the season.
"I've only been in the league two years and he's probably the best one I've played against in my two years in the league," said Chaney. "So you have to just hope to contain a guy like that and mix up things for him and Romo so they won't be looking at the same looks and try to get a jam on him sometimes, play off sometimes, just change it up on him."
"He's not real fast, but he somehow gets open almost every play," said linebacker Brian Rolle. "He's a true competitor, somebody that I would say outside of Tony Gonzalez might be the next best tight end in the league. I feel like he's a great matchup and with our LBs on him, I feel like we should win that battle."
Then there are the receivers on the outside. Dez Bryant is one of the more physically impressive receivers in the league, while Pro Bowler Miles Austin is back healthy. And the Eagles can't afford to forget about Laurent Robinson, who has been a breakout player for the Cowboys while Austin was injured. Robinson has 49 catches for 792 yards on the season. He also scored the Cowboys' only touchdown against the Eagles back in Week 8.
"He's a good player," said cornerback Joselio Hanson about Robinson. "Real good getting down the field, big-play receiver. So we can't sleep on any of them.
"They've got three great receivers and a great tight end, so they're probably the best we've faced all year."
Finally, there's running back Felix Jones, who did not play against the Eagles back in Week 8. At that time, rookie DeMarco Murray was in the midst of a string of breakout performances that saw him grab the starting job. But Murray suffered a season-ending injury two weeks ago, and Jones has picked up right where Murray left off, eclipsing 100 yards rushing in each of the last two weeks.
"I played him a bunch of times in college," said Chaney, who starred at Mississippi State while Jones was teaming with Darren McFadden at Arkansas. "He's just a great back. The thing that's surprising about him is how fast and quick he is. He's not only fast, but he has pretty good acceleration, he can get top speed pretty fast. I guess he's got a chip on his shoulder since he wasn't starting, but he's starting now since Murray went down. So I guess he's got a chip on his shoulder and wants to prove people wrong."
"When he hits the seam, he can go home," said Rolle. "He's not a big power guy. Murray's a bigger back but Felix knows the offense a little more, he's been in it a lot longer. He's a home run threat every time he touches the ball."
So how can the Eagles regain the magic they used back in Week 8 to stifle the league's sixth-ranked offense? According to Rolle, the answer lies with defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.
"Juan will have a great defensive scheme this week," Rolle said. "They do have a bunch of talent that, if you get the wrong matchup on one play, it could be a touchdown. This week, we're going to work hard at whatever scheme Juan sees fit and we're going to execute well."