As the Eagles get healthier … as the Cowboys shake up the roster and wait for their quarterback picture to emerge … we're on the verge of a different-yet-the-same Cowboys-Eagles game on Sunday night. It's a battle for first place in the NFC East, as everyone kinda sorta expected when this game was listed on the 2020 schedule. That the teams have been so up and down through seven games is the surprise. Some things to discuss on this Thursday …
1. Dallas cleaned out some veterans it considered dead weight in the last few days, trading defensive end Everson Griffen, and waiving defensive tackle Dontari Poe and cornerback Daryl Worley. Griffen was a valuable pass-rushing piece and the Cowboys will miss his presence. Poe started every game but hardly filled up the stat sheet and Worley had four starts and very little playing time after giving up an 80-yard touchdown pass to Arizona wide receiver Christian Kirk a couple of games ago.
Dallas will turn to Randy Gregory, the troubled veteran recently reinstated by the league, to add some punch in the pass rush. Justin Hamilton, promoted from the practice squad, helps at defensive tackle. Chidobe Awuzie is in the 21-day practice window and he could start at cornerback on Sunday night. A defense that is last in the NFL in points allowed, 34.7 points per game, actually has a chance to get better even with the release of some veterans. Don't take Dallas lightly.
2. That said, the Cowboys have been horrible against the run. They could have linebacker Sean Lee back, and he'll help. But check out these numbers – 40 carries, 307 yards, and three touchdowns from Cleveland in Week 4; 27 attempts, 89 yards, and two touchdowns from the New York Giants in Week 5; 35-261-3 from Arizona two weeks ago; and then 39 attempts, 209 yards, and a touchdown from Washington on Sunday.
The Eagles, then, have a chance to really establish the running game, something that has been improving – a 74-yard touchdown run at Pittsburgh, 194 yards against Baltimore, and then 96 yards on the ground in the win over New York – but a lot depends on Miles Sanders, who remained out of practice on Wednesday with a knee injury. Keep an eye on Jason Huntley, who has had three carries and 14 yards in limited duty. I like the way he attacks the line of scrimmage.
3. Eagles cornerback Darius Slay has had success working against Dallas wide receiver Amari Cooper – Cooper had four catches for 42 yards on 12 targets in games against Detroit in 2015 and 2019 – and Slay gives a scouting report: "Going against guys like him, Keenan Allen (Chargers wide receiver), Davante Adams (Packers wide receiver), some of the best guys that kind of release off the ball, prepared me for a guy like him. Definitely Davante and Keenan Allen and Amari are the best guys off the ball with their releases … I knew I had to do good at the line of scrimmage. … It's hard. You've got to be out there patient and understand that guys like that are going to win a couple off the line of scrimmage. They're going to win some routes. You've just got to keep fighting."
4. Slay was effusive in his praise for the Dallas wide receiving corps of Cooper, rookie CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup, saying, "A very talented unit. Three guys who could be No. 1s anywhere, I feel like. Fast, quick – guys who can go deep, you got guys who can be the slot guy. They're all versatile. All of them can play every position. They're a good group, man. I look forward to the challenge."
5. OK, so the Eagles are happy to welcome some players back to practice, but what will it mean for Sunday night? It's hard to say right now, but from what Head Coach Doug Pederson said, it sounds like wide receiver Jalen Reagor, linebacker T.J. Edwards, safety Rudy Ford, and offensive tackle Jason Peters have a real chance to play. Right tackle Lane Johnson? He didn't practice on Wednesday. Tight end Dallas Goedert? He looked good during the limited window the media watched practice on Wednesday. Solidifying the offensive line, adding depth at wide receiver, and making the linebacker corps better are all three areas that improve this football team.
6. Who plays quarterback for Dallas on Sunday night? Rookie Ben DiNucci is taking all of the practice reps as the Cowboys wait to see if Andy Dalton will be cleared from concussion protocol – Dallas doesn't expect Dalton to be cleared until late in the week "at the earliest," said Head Coach Mike McCarthy. It helps Dallas that standout guard Zack Martin, who missed last week's game at Washington because of a concussion, is back at practice. Center Joe Looney has had his 21-day practice window activated. Dallas will be better along the offensive line on Sunday night.
7. The key to winning against the Dallas offense is running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is 5-1 against the Eagles with 674 rushing yards (4.74 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. In the passing game, Elliott has done damage with 38 catches, 278 yards, and a score. Dallas is struggling, no doubt, but Elliott remains the key player to contain. In last December's win, the Eagles held Elliott to 47 rushing yards on 13 carries and 37 yards on seven receptions.
8. Never once have the Eagles pointed fingers or complained in the uneven opening seven games of the season.Center Jason Kelce has a theory why the locker room has stayed intact: "We've had some guys who have been here for a long time, a head coach who has demonstrated an ability to win in this league and has had a lot of success here. We've had a lot of success in the building, obviously, over the last few seasons and that all helps.
"Having some leaders – me, JP (Jason Peters), a lot of us have been here for awhile and have been through the ups and downs and you know that if we just stay the course and keep grinding and keep trying to get better and try to do your job just that much better, this is a long season and you have plenty of time to continually improve. Obviously, we wish we were sitting better than where we're at right now, but all we can do to correct that and all we can do is try to get better and improve each and every week."