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For each of the past five weeks or so, the story has been much the same for the Eagles – win the game, climb back toward a winning record and continue fighting for the division lead. Depending on how things shake out in the earlier games on Sunday, the Eagles could be propelled into first place in the division with a win against the Cowboys on Sunday night. The Eagles had a chance to ascend over the .500 mark in their last game against Carolina, but came up short of the goal. This week, they can both even out their record and further bury the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East standings.
It's make-or-break time for the Eagles.
The first meeting with Dallas this season is one that fans would like to forget, but probably can't. The Eagles' defense held Dallas in check for most of the game, but offensively, nothing went right for the hometown team. The Eagles turned the ball over three times, twice when they were deep in Dallas territory. A late touchdown to Jordan Matthews led to a 20-10 final score in favor of the Cowboys, but the loss felt like it was by much more than 10 points. This time around, the Eagles get to go into the Cowboys' home and prove to a national audience that they belong in the NFC playoff picture.
How will the bye week aid of the Eagles? The hope is that all players will come back rested, re-charged and refocused. It should also provide some fresh legs in the backfield, as DeMarco Murray returns to the stadium he called home for four seasons. Ryan Mathews has been dealing with a groin injury throughout the week of training, so we'll see how much of a factor he could be if he's able to go on Sunday. The Eagles will be without All-Pro tackle Jason Peters, who was downgraded to out with a back injury on Saturday. Eagles fans will also see linebacker Kiko Alonso return to the field for the first time since the last Dallas game in Week 2, which would give the already strong defense another playmaker.
On the other hand, the Cowboys are coming off of their fifth straight loss, and another game in the "L" column could just signal the end of the their playoff hopes. Does Matt Cassel, along with a potentially healthy Dez Bryant and the rest of the offense, have enough to keep the Cowboys' season alive? Here's the preview ...
- Alex Smith
Last Time They Met
Cowboys 20, Eagles 10
September 20, 2015 - Lincoln Financial Field
When the Eagles head down to Dallas for their Sunday night battle with the Cowboys, they'll try to forget their first meeting this season ever happened.
Coming off a disappointing loss in Atlanta on opening night, Philadelphia hosted the division-rival Cowboys in the second week of the season. But while the loss to the Falcons hurt because the game had been within reach until late in the fourth quarter, the Eagles' Week 2 loss to Dallas was never all that close.
The Eagles gained just 226 total yards of offense in the game, including a paltry 7 yards rushing on 17 carries. Former Cowboy and 2014 rushing leader DeMarco Murray ran the ball 13 times and mustered just 2 yards, as the Eagles failed to score a touchdown until the final 90 seconds of the game, after their fate had already been sealed. Sam Bradford completed 23 of his 37 pass attempts for 224 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, with Jordan Matthews' 80 yards on six catches leading all receivers.
But while the Eagles will look to put this performance behind them when they take on the Cowboys for the second and final time in the regular season, the ramifications of that first meeting still linger. Tony Romo was sacked by Philadelphia three times in that game, with the final takedown forcing the veteran quarterback out of the game with a broken collarbone. Romo is still out of commission due to that injury, and when the two teams square off in Week 9 Matt Cassel will start at quarterback for Dallas.
The Cowboys' leading rusher in that first game, Joseph Randle (51 yards), was cut by the team last week, freeing up Darren McFadden to take over the bulk of the team's carries. McFadden carried 10 times for 31 yards in Week 2. Dez Bryant did not play in the teams' first meeting because of a foot injury.
- Max Rappaport
When The Eagles Have The Ball
Over the past month, the Eagles' running game has come alive, with the team averaging 173.7 yards on the ground per game dating back to their October 11 meeting with the Saints. And with two weeks off to rest and regroup, the Eagles are hoping to emerge from the bye with a more consistent and explosive offensive attack.
Since holding Philadelphia to a paltry 7 yards rushing in a 20-10 road victory in Week 2, Dallas' defense has given up at least 100 rushing yards in each of its last five games. Former Cowboy DeMarco Murray will look to take advantage of that trend this week, redeeming his 13-rush, 2-yard outing against his former team earlier in the year. Now fully healthy after dealing with a lingering hamstring issue early in the season, he's gained an average of 86.7 yards per game on the ground over the Eagles' past three games, pacing at 4.4 yards per attempt.
The Eagles' leading rusher this season, Ryan Mathews, is listed as questionable because of a groin issue. If he can't go, expect the team to lean heavily upon Murray and reserve back Darren Sproles, who has gained 282 yards from scrimmage on 53 plays from scrimmage to go along with 206 yards and a touchdown on 14 punt returns.
Sam Bradford will look to bounce back after completing 26 of his 46 passes (56.5 percent) against Carolina to the tune of 205 yards, no touchdowns and one pick. The numbers there were skewed a bit by the seven passes dropped by Eagles receivers in the game, including one by Jordan Matthews that resulted in Bradford's lone interception.
One week earlier, in a 27-7 victory over the Giants, the veteran signal-caller threw a season-high three interceptions. But through seven games, Dallas has only picked off three passes, and its defense ranks 21st in the league in yards allowed per pass attempt.
Fortunately for Bradford and the Eagles, the Cowboys have also struggled to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterback this year. Dallas ranks 23rd in the NFL in sacks, with 13, and they didn't get to the quarterback once in a 13-12 loss last week against the Seahawks. If Philadelphia's offensive line can keep Bradford upright against the Cowboys, of course this will be tougher with Jason Peters out of the lineup, and his receivers can make plays for him, the Eagles' offense could be in for a big day coming out of the bye.
- Max Rappaport
When The Cowboys Have The Ball
Since Dallas lost Tony Romo in Week 2, the Cowboys have struggled offensively, coming up short in every game they've played without the starter. With a five-game losing streak in place, it's clear the team will be looking to get going offensively, beginning with quarterback Matt Cassel.
Cassel made his first start for the Cowboys in Week 7, but has not yet been productive for the team. He's thrown for one touchdown, recorded three interceptions and is completing only 57.7 percent of his passes. Currently, Cassel has a quarterback rating of 58.5, one of the lowest in the NFL. He does pose a threat in the run game, rushing 43 yards in his last appearance. However, for Dallas to excel, it will need to connect in the air.
A piece that may assist in that area is Dez Bryant, who will be playing his second game since returning from a foot injury he sustained in the opening week. The wide receiver was not a major threat in his first game back against Seattle, managing only two receptions for 12 yards against cornerback Richard Sherman. But, Bryant is a player Philadelphia will need to watch carefully, as he'll be looking for a major performance this Sunday. Whether or not he'll be operating at 100 percent is uncertain though. Throughout the week, he was limited in multiple practices.
The Eagles will also need to be aware of tight end Jason Witten, who has been Dallas' No. 1 receiver in 2015 with 360 yards and two touchdowns, as well as receiver Terrance Williams. Against the Eagles earlier this season, Williams had four receptions for 84 yards including a 42-yard touchdown grab from quarterback Brandon Weeden to give Dallas a 17-point lead in the game. Nevertheless, Dallas ranks 24th in passing and 29th in points scored in the league, which should give the Eagles an advantage.
On the ground, Philadelphia will be facing a much different run game compared to its last meeting with Dallas. In Week 2, then-Cowboy Joseph Randle led the team with 51 yards, but Eagles will not see Randle this time around. He was released by Dallas earlier in the week, meaning the defense will solely focus on what Darren McFadden will bring to the table. This season, the running back has rushed for 345 yards, averaging 4.0 yards per carry. He had only 10 rushing attempts and 31 yards in September against Philadelphia, but that workload will certainly increase this weekend.
The Eagles will be facing this desperate Dallas team with a much healthier defense in Week 9. Linebackers Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks will be factors in this game, after both left early in the teams' first meeting. Jordan Hicks, who stepped in for the two, had a tremendous showing with a team-high seven tackles and will have a large role again this weekend. Additionally, defensive end Cedric Thornton is fully healed after playing through a broken hand during that Week 2 matchup. With health on its side and a struggling Dallas offense, the combination should help Philadelphia tremendously.
- Julie Bacanskas
T Lane Johnson Vs. DE Greg Hardy
After missing the first four games of the season due to suspension, Greg Hardy has been a dominant force for the Dallas defense. In three games, he's registered 12 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. Additionally, Hardy switches spots on the field, meaning he won't be one player's matchup throughout the game.
With Jason Peters ruled out due to a back injury on Saturday, Lane Johnson will take his spot at left tackle and Dennis Kelly will come in on the right side. However, regardless of the shuffling, the offensive line knows it needs to play a much improved game from the last one against Dallas. The O-line struggled tremendously that Sunday, and as a result, the Eagles were never able to get the run game going. With Hardy now in the lineup and Peters out, Philadelphia will have to rise to the challenge.
RB DeMarco Murray vs. Cowboys Run Defense
In his first matchup against his former team, the Cowboys certainly got the better of DeMarco Murray. He rushed for a mere 2 yards, with the Eagles' offense bottled up. Since that game, the running back has only gotten stronger in his performances rushing for 296 yards on 67 carries. With Ryan Mathews' health questionable heading into the game, Murray could see an increase in his carries as well.
Dallas is in the middle of the pack when it comes to run defense, allowing 103.0 yards per game. In the last meeting it held Philadelphia to negative rushing yards for a majority of the game, something the Eagles do not want to occur again.
WR Dez Bryant vs. Eagles Secondary
Dez Bryant was truly dominant when he last played against the Eagles in 2014. He nabbed six receptions for 114 yards and three touchdowns. However, those numbers came against a very different Eagles secondary than the one he'll face for the first time this season. After his performance last weekend and the fact he is still coming off his foot injury, the Eagles could have the upper hand in this matchup.
- Julie Bacanskas
Take a look at the key players the Eagles will need to contain on Sunday night when they meet with Dallas for the second time this season ...
Trends To Watch
Whose Home Is This?
The Eagles are 4-1 in their last five game in AT&T Stadium, including last year's 33-10 win on Thanksgiving day. Since the start of the 2013 season, the road team has won every meeting between the two sides.
The Big 5-0
The Eagles are looking for their 50th all-time win against the Cowboys. The rivalry with Dallas dates back to the 1960 season.
Bye Week Could Mean Bad News For Dallas
In the last 16 seasons, the Eagles have won 14 of the 16 games immediately following their bye week, and are 1-1 under Chip Kelly in those games.
- Alex Smith