FORT WORTH, Texas – The roar from the huge crowd of Eagles fans hugging the entrance to the team hotel grew, and the chants came and as the Eagles arrived late Saturday afternoon here, it was a festive cap to a wild, Beat Dallas Week. The fans are ready. And so is the team.
“Nothing like it,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “We’re going to see tomorrow.”
Said offensive tackle Lane Johnson: “It’s a big game. We know what’s at stake. At the same time, we have to be ourselves and nothing else. We’re excited and we’re ready.”
Now, it’s just football. No more headlines. No more war of words. The Eagles arrived in Texas on Saturday afternoon and have the long wait until Sunday’s 8:20 p.m. kickoff against Dallas with first place in the NFC East on the line.
Just as it should be.
“We’re focused on winning a football game,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “If you need to get up for the Dallas Cowboys, you’re playing in the wrong city. Guys have had a lot of energy all week. I thought we had a really good week of practice, really good game plan. I’m confident in the game plan.”
Injuries are a huge component in this week’s game, so from an Eagles standpoint let’s take a look at the big picture.
1. With DeSean Jackson still out, the wide receivers will remain the same as they’ve been in recent weeks. Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, along with Mack Hollins, have gotten the reps. Ertz and Dallas Goedert will likely play a lot together in 12 personnel. Miles Sanders will be a threat in the receiving game. Jordan Howard offers a checkdown option.
2. Nigel Bradham’s absence means that Nathan Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill will likely play a lot together. Malcolm Jenkins will see some time in the box. T.J. Edwards, the rookie from Wisconsin, could see his first extended action at linebacker.
3. Andre Dillard starts at left tackle with Jason Peters sidelined. He goes against a savvy and relentless edge rusher in Robert Quinn, who has a team-high five sacks. It’s going to be interesting to see how much help the Eagles give Dillard and how they slide protection his way. Lane Johnson and DeMarcus Lawrence, who will take most, if not all, of his reps on that side, will be the featured man-on-man battle in the trenches.
4. Boston Scott looked good last week – four rushes, 30 yards – and the Eagles could use his quickness in the offense. With Darren Sproles out, Scott is the third running back, and he’ll also return punts.
5. At cornerback, Jalen Mills is set to return to the lineup. The question is, who does he replace? While Dallas may not have Amari Cooper, the Cowboys still have speed on the outside with Michael Gallup. Who is the best matchup for Gallup’s speed? Will the Eagles keep a safety over the top? How would that impact the run defense against Ezekiel Elliott? Ronald Darby is listed as questionable for this game after having practiced on a limited basis all week.
6. Tim Jernigan remains out with the foot injury, so the Eagles are going to need some good reps from tackles Fletcher Cox, Hassan Ridgeway, and Akeem Spence against a good Dallas interior that specializes in opening holes for Elliott in the power running game.
Those are the top-end injuries. Of course, the Cowboys have Cooper and starting offensive tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins as well as cornerback Byron Jones listed as questionable for this week. How many, if any, of those players line up in the game will have a direct impact as well.
Mostly, though, it comes down to execution on the field. That’s always the common theme. The Eagles have to beat the Cowboys at the line of scrimmage, and they have to tighten up the defense, take care of the football, score early and often – all those things. Big game. Huge stakes. Eagles at Cowboys.
“This feels great,” Mills said, stopping for the cameras here. “It’s going to be fun and we know we have to play a great game to win. That’s what it comes down to.”