So many things to talk about as game day approaches. Injuries. Intrigue. A division title is at stake for two teams that don't much like each other, and the storylines are plenty.
With that, we delve deeply into Eagles-Cowboys, Round 2 in 2013. At the top of the list ...
- Kyle Orton gets the call at quarterback for the Eagles, as has been discussed all week. The Eagles know what they're getting with Orton: an experienced hand at the position, a big arm, a strong guy and someone who is going to get the football out of his hands quickly. That said, he does not have Tony Romo's mobility, and Orton hasn't played much at all the last two seasons. It's fair to expect a lot of running back DeMarco Murray and safe throws to tight end Jason Witten. Dallas is going to try to keep the Eagles offense on the sidelines.
- The Eagles have allowed running backs an average of 2.9 yards per carry in the last five games and just 3.8 yards this season. That's an encouraging set of numbers, attributable to an aggressive, ball-hawking defense that has emphasized running to the football all season. The defense is led by a young front that has improved greatly this season. That group is the foundation for this defense moving forward. Dallas wants Murray to move the chains in this game. A strong game by the run defense would be so important.
- I won't put too much stock into the injury report, because the belief here is that every player in the NFL is a great player, and backups relish the opportunity to get their chances to shine. That said, Dallas has some question marks. Sean Lee's absence has obviously hampered the Dallas defense, and Ernie Sims is doubtful to play with a groin injury. DeMarcus Ware has back and elbow injuries and has really been bothered by injuries this season. How do the Eagles attack the Dallas defense? Washington had a lot of success last week on crossing routes, so I could see DeSean Jackson moving around the formation and working those shallow crosses for some catch-and-run opportunities.
- This is a big game and a big moment for Nick Foles, not because of what happened in October against Dallas but because the Eagles have a chance to clinch the NFC East. "I'm excited to get out there with my teammates and play," said Foles. "These are the kinds of games you want to play." A defining game? In some ways, yes. But there are going to be many more for Foles along the way, who has 25 touchdown passes and just 2 interceptions this season.
- Nobody has said much about the special teams this week, but that phase of the game will, of course, be important. The coverage units have a tough task with Dwayne Harris healthy after missing time because of a hamstring injury. Brad Smith has stepped up as a leader on special teams with four tackles in five games. He's also averaged 31.7 yards on three kickoff returns and has chipped in with two catches for 27 yards on offense. Smith, Brandon Boykin and the coverage unit need a big game on Sunday night.
- What is the Dallas defensive strategy here? I understand the idea of bringing a safety into the box to try and limit LeSean McCoy, and playing the receivers in man-to-man coverage. It's risky, but it worked in October. This is a chance for Chip Kelly and his offensive coaching staff to work on adjustments and give Foles a chance to make some big plays in the passing game. This is going to be a great chess match. I don't expect 54-11, like we saw against Chicago. This is going to be a battle.
- Here is the key number, and we all know it: The Eagles have turned the football over just 18 times this season and are plus-10 in the turnover ratio. If the offense can keep the mistakes to a minimum, hey, let's go. We can talk all we want about matchups and numbers and every bit of data we get our hands on, but the NFL comes down to turnovers, and the Eagles need to play smart football.
- Finally, some kudos for the defense: The Eagles have allowed a quarterback rating of 75.3 in the past 12 games. That's really remarkable in the NFL these days. There have been some backup quarterbacks along the way, of course, but there have also been plenty of starters and great performances. The defense was at its best against Chicago on Sunday night. Can the Eagles reach that level of intensity and aggressiveness in a game that means the NFC East title?
- Congratulations to LeSean McCoy and Jason Peters for their Pro Bowl selections. It's nice that the Pro Bowl means so much to both of the players. You hear about the waning Pro Bowl (a game that does great in the television ratings, by the way) and it's refreshing to remember that the Pro Bowl is still a goal for every player. The Eagles did not have a Pro Bowl selection last year, and while I felt more were deserving, both McCoy and Peters earned their nods.