Head coach Doug Pederson is confident in his team heading into Sunday night's prime-time showdown with the Dallas Cowboys (8:20 p.m., NBC, SportsRadio 94WIP).
Even after last week's tough loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the Eagles are tied with the arch-rival for first place in the NFC East. The Cowboys looked like one of the league's elite teams at the start of the season, racing out to a 3-0 start. The Jets, literally, cooled off the Cowboys, earning their first win of the season over Dallas in a 24-22 upset. The Cowboys have now lost three straight.
What gives? Part of it is the level of competition. The wins came against the Giants, Washington, and the Dolphins, who have combined for three wins. The last three opponents have been the Saints, Packers, and Jets, who have 11 triumphs.
But injuries have played a critical role in the Cowboys' recent demise as well. It's tough to win without both of your starting offensive tackles (Tyron Smith, La'el Collins), two of your top three wide receivers (Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb), and two of your starting cornerbacks (Anthony Brown, Byron Jones).
Nonetheless, the Cowboys already have two wins in the division. The Eagles are in the middle game of a three-game road trip that concludes next week against a sneaky good Buffalo team. After the road swing, the Eagles are home for three straight games, but they're against the Bears, Patriots, and Seahawks – a combined 14-3. And if the prospects of a Dallas loss aren't already bad enough, the Giants would be in a tie with the Eagles-Cowboys loser if they beat the Cardinals.
Let's hope the Eagles rise to the occasion. It's Eagles-Cowboys with first place in the NFC East on the line in a game for the entire football world to focus on.
THE COWBOYS ON OFFENSE
Dak Prescott is in his fourth year at the helm of the Cowboys' offense and he's been among the league leaders in a number of key stats including yards per attempt (8.9) and QB rating (102.9). His legs present an added dimension as he's been sacked only seven times all season.
As good as Prescott has been, the offense runs through back Ezekiel Elliott. He's sixth in the league with 491 yards on the ground to go along with five touchdowns this season. And the injuries to Cobb and Cooper forced the Cowboys to get Elliott more involved in the pass game. Backup Tony Pollard is a rookie with a wide receiver background who can present challenges as well.
Amari Cooper's breakout game last year came against the Eagles as he caught 10 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns, with the final one being the game-winner in overtime. Cooper has been slowed down by injury after a 226-yard performance against the Packers in Week 5. He played a handful of snaps against the Jets last week before heading back to the sideline. Cobb was signed in free agency to offset the loss of Cole Beasley as the slot receiver, but he's been out as well.
Michael Gallup was looked upon to step up for Cooper last week, but had just 48 yards on seven targets. Gallup does have two 100-yard performances this season.
It'll be interesting to see who suits up for the Cowboys, and what the offensive approach is. Do the Cowboys look at what the Vikings did last week with play-action and copy and paste? Do the Cowboys try to target Jalen Mills, who was activated to the roster on Saturday to see how ready he is? Or do the Cowboys get back to basics and feed Elliott, even though the Eagles have been stout against the run with the second-best defense in that regard?
Tight end Jason Witten came out of the broadcast booth and is a reliable target, although Blake Jarwin is the more athletic option.
Along the offensive line, injuries cloud the situation. In addition to the tackles being banged up, All-Pro guard Zack Martin has been limited in practice with a back injury and center Travis Frederick, who missed all of last year due to an illness, was absent this week for a reason that was not injury related.
The Eagles' defensive line needs to win the battle up front and keep Prescott in the pocket.
THE COWBOYS ON DEFENSE
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence didn't take kindly to Pederson being confident in the Eagles. Tackle Lane Johnson has had stellar outings against Lawrence, who has never registered a sack against the Eagles.
Now, will the Cowboys move Lawrence and have him line up against rookie tackle Andre Dillard, who is making his first career start for the injured Jason Peters? Even if it's not Lawrence, Robert Quinn is set to face Dillard. Quinn leads the Cowboys with five sacks on the season and the veteran has a number of crafty moves to show the first-round pick.
Continuing the injury theme, Dallas placed defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford on Injured Reserve this week with a hip ailment. The Cowboys have a disruptive interior defender in Maliek Collins, but Dallas ranks 21st in the league with a sacks-per-pass-attempt rate of 6.31 percent.
There is plenty of talent at linebacker, although there are questions as to whether or not the group is playing as well as last season. Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith are on the field for all three downs. Eagles nemesis Sean Lee is the third linebacker in base packages, but injuries have kept him and the defense from reaching its ceiling over the years.
The Cowboys rank 29th in the league in interception rate. Slot corner Anthony Brown is out with a hamstring injury. Top outside corner Byron Jones is questionable. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Eagles work both tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert heavily in the pass game.
Overall, the Cowboys rank ninth in yards allowed per game and 11th in yards allowed per play. They are extremely stingy on third down (second-best percentage in the league), so the Eagles will need to win on first and second down to keep the Cowboys from teeing off on quarterback Carson Wentz.
For the Eagles
Out: LB Nigel Bradham (ankle), WR DeSean Jackson (abdomen), DT Tim Jernigan (foot), CB Avonte Maddox (concussion, neck), T Jason Peters (knee), and RB Darren Sproles
Questionable: CB Ronald Darby (hamstring)
Darby was limited in practice all week. He hasn't played since the Week 3 game against Detroit.
For the Cowboys
Out: CB Anthony Brown (hamstring)
Questionable: DE Dorance Armstrong (neck), WR Randall Cobb (back), T La'el Collins (knee), WR Amari Cooper (ankle, quadricep), CB Byron Jones, C Joe Looney (back), G Zack Martin (back, ankle), and T Tyron Smith (ankle)
Wide receivers Cobb and Cooper practiced in a limited capacity on Friday only. Same with Martin, the All-Pro offensive guard. Tackles Collins and Smith were limited on both Thursday and Friday.
BY THE NUMBERS
13-5: The Eagles are 13-5 overall and 6-3 on the road in prime-time games since Doug Pederson took over as head coach in 2016, the fourth-best win percentage in the league. For comparison, the Cowboys are 13-6.
72.8: The Eagles own the second-ranked rushing defense in the league, allowing just 72.8 yards per game.
4-0: Can the Eagles ground Ezekiel Elliott? The Cowboys' running back is 4-0 against the Eagles, averaging 4.82 yards per carry and 30.3 touches per contest.
50: The Eagles have the third-best third-down offense in the league, converting 50 percent of their opportunities. Who is second? The Dallas Cowboys, with a success rate of 50.7 percent.
70: If the Eagles' offense can get in the red zone, it usually leads to good things. The Eagles have the fourth-best red zone touchdown efficiency in the league.
2.2: Carson Wentz averages 2.2 touchdown passes per game since 2017, the second-best rate behind only Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes.
5.97: Rookie Miles Sanders is third among NFL running backs in scrimmage yards per touch.
27.3: Jordan Howard gains a first down on 27.3 percent of his rushing attempts, the sixth-best rate in the league.
33: Zach Ertz is fourth among NFL tight ends with 33 receptions this season.
SCOUTING REPORT: RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT
This defense knows what it's up against, and each and every one of the players understands that to beat the Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles must have a good game against running back Ezekiel Elliott. In the four games he's played against the Eagles in his three NFL seasons, Elliott is 4-0 and is averaging 4.82 yards per carry and 30.3 touches per contest.
So, the task is a significant one for the defense, a unit that ranks second in the league (72.8 yards per game) against the run, on Sunday night. The Eagles' defensive players provided a scouting report on No. 21, who is sixth in the league this season with 491 rushing yards, averaging 4.3 yards per tote.
What makes Ezekiel Elliott so great? Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro has more here.
DEVOUR THE COMPETITION
Devour the Competition is an initiative created by the Flik Hospitality staff to help the players prepare for the game through delicious food. The chefs prepare a meal during the week of the game that is inspired by the Eagles' opponent. As the Eagles get ready to battle the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, the chefs made Texas red chili with cheddar jalapeno cornbread waffles.
Texas Red Chili (Recipe sourced from Chef Graham Dodds, former executive chef of the Statler Hotel in Dallas.)
Makes 10-12 servings
5 pounds ground beef
6 bottles Miller Lite
1 cup onion powder
1 cup garlic powder
1 cup paprika
1 cup Texas-based chili powder
1/4 cup cayenne
2 No. 10 cans of whole peeled tomatoes, puréed through a ricer
Heat a large braising pot over medium-high heat and coat with cooking oil.
Add beef and season well with salt.
Stir until beef breaks apart and fat is rendered out. Do not allow meat to brown.
Pour into a colander and discard fat.
Put rendered beef back into pot, add beer, and simmer until beer is reduced by half.
Add 1/3 cup onion powder, 1/3 cup garlic powder, 1/3 cup paprika, and 1/3 cup chili powder.
Add tomato puree and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
Once chili has cooked for an hour, add another 1/3 cup onion powder, 1/3 cup garlic powder, 1/3 cup paprika, and 1/3 cup chili powder.
Season with a little more salt to taste.
Keep stirring occasionally as chili will start to thicken.
Cook for another 45 minutes or so, and then add the remaining spices plus the cayenne. Season with more salt if needed and serve.
Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread Waffles
Makes 10-12 waffles
5 boxes Jiffy Corn Muffin mix
2 cups milk
5 medium jalapenos, stem and seeds removed, sliced thinly
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly mix eggs and milk together. Add jalapenos and cheese and then slowly fold in corn muffin mix. Combine completely and allow mixture to rest at room temperature for 5 minutes.
Place about 6 oz of waffle mix into a greased preheated waffle iron and cook until done and crispy. Break each waffle into its 4 corners and serve aside Texas red chili.