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The Eagles Insider's Notebook: Will the Eagles look to ground the Cowboys?

Jason Kelce
Jason Kelce

In the latest installment of "This is the Biggest Game of the Season" – in reality, and the Eagles know this, they're all big – Dallas comes to town on Sunday for a 4:25 PM kickoff at Lincoln Financial Field. It's an NFC East game against a huge rival on Salute to Service day.

Both teams are fighting at the top of the division and the conference and, well, yeah, this is a huge game. A spotlight moment in front of a national television audience.

The locker room? Business as usual, understanding that a very, very good football team is on the other sideline on Sunday. With that, a trip around the locker room at the NovaCare Complex ...

Rashaad Penny: My time will come, and I will be ready

He has had three carries for 9 yards this season, seeing action in just one of the Eagles' first eight games. Running back Rashaad Penny has not experienced anything like this in his NFL career, so he's moving forward with a positive attitude and working hard and continuing to distance himself from the broken fibula that ended his 2022 season with Seattle.

The Eagles signed Penny on the first day of 2023 NFL Free Agency and here we are.

"It's a new territory for me. I can only control what I can control, so I'm continuing to learn the system, being part of it, working hard, and knowing that in the NFL your time is gonna come and when it does you have to be ready for it," he said. "I'm in a talented running back room and I've got confidence in those guys when they're out there and I'm sure they feel the same about me. It's all about taking the right approach.

"I've been in the league for six years now, so I see how it goes. Whenever my number is called, I will be ready to play. The Eagles signed me for a reason. I'm here for a reason. We're building as an offense and we haven't reached our peak. I'm in a good head space and when my opportunity comes, I won't shy away from it."

Penny is healthy, ready to go, being a professional. That's all he can do, he says.

"I'm on top of things," he said. "We have a great team and a great locker room. All that matters is winning."

Nolan Smith: Growing every day as a rookie

Every day, first-round draft pick Nolan Smith says, he's improving as a football player, learning the Eagles way, understanding the NFL just a little bit better. He has been a key piece on special teams using his physical nature and outstanding speed in coverage and he understands that on Sunday against the Cowboys' explosive return team, he will need to be at his best.

Within the defense, Smith has played 47 snaps, has one quarterback sack, two quarterback hits, four tackles, and is making strides. He's happy with where he is in his development.

"I'm learning from everybody and that's what I'm embracing," Smith said. "Like when I was a freshman at Georgia, playing in the SEC, you have some experienced players in front of you. I looked at the roster when I was drafted and I kind of knew what was in front of me."

Smith is learning it all: Practice habits, film study, questions to ask. He is soaking everything in and, at the same time, preparing himself for his reps, however many that come his way.

"The differences in the NFL are the people are a little bigger and, for me, the returners (on kicks) are a lot better," he said. "Ball gets out fast from the quarterback, better arm, zip, they know where the ball is going. That's a difference.

"I tell people, if I get 10 snaps, I'm going to run 22 miles an hour on all 10 of them on top of my special teams reps. I just play my part and I'll always be the high-energy guy. I'm the young guy getting everybody going and I love them.

"I'm a better player now than in August, 100 percent. I use my hands more and I'm learning every day. A lot of guys don't have this. It's good to play your first year, but if you play that first year, you don't have that learning experience from players and coaches. I'm learning everything. I feel we have a really good room and a really good atmosphere for me to grow."

Tyler Steen: Passing an emergency-duty test

All of a sudden, rookie offensive lineman Tyler Steen was on the field, late in the first half of Sunday's game at Washington, and it was real. Really real. And it felt natural for Steen, a third-round draft pick, who saw the first six snaps on offense of his NFL regular-season career.

All accounts are that Steen, who stepped in for an injured Sua Opeta at right guard in a two-minute drill that ended with a touchdown, did a fine job on those six snaps, which included alerting center Jason Kelce when to snap the football on the silent count.

"I'm just trying to do my job and it felt pretty good," he said. "I felt I was prepared and I felt pretty ready. It happens fast but you always have that mindset that if something happens you always have to be ready to play.

"I think I played OK. Six plays, two-minute drive, I felt pretty comfortable," he said. "Having the guys around me, it felt pretty good."

Steen is one of three players the Eagles have utmost confidence in at right guard, and there are options ahead of Sunday's game with Dallas. Opeta is recovering from a hip injury but is on the practice field and should be ready for Sunday. Cam Jurgens had his practice window opened after four weeks on Injured Reserve with a foot injury. And Steen, the rookie who stepped up on Sunday.

"I just have to be ready, whatever happens," Steen said. "The more time out there, the more comfortable I feel."

Jason Kelce: Analyzing the running game

The Eagles believe they can win in any number of ways offensively, including a running game that has been among the league's best in recent seasons. The running game this season has been up and down, and center Jason Kelce thinks that phase of the offense is close.

Very close.

"It requires that everybody executes his block," Kelce said. "It isn't the same thing as a pass play. In my opinion, we've been very close. It's been one of those things where it's, maybe the defense gets us on one play, but this guy doesn't get his hat (helmet) inside over here, this guy gets beat there, we don't quite hit it the way we want there. It's been kind of a little bit of all that. It hasn't been one person or one group, that's the way the run game is sometimes."

Dallas' defense ranks right in the middle of the pack at 17th in the NFL against the run, allowing 108.9 yards per game. The Eagles currently are seventh in rushing yards (132.3 yards per game), but rated as high as second in the league until two weeks ago.

"It's something that we're definitely focusing on to make sure that we are doing a better job, but we definitely haven't been as synced-up as we'd like to be or the standard that we are accustomed to," Kelce added.

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