To add to the intrigue of the latest edition of Cowboys vs. Eagles, Dallas officially announced on Saturday afternoon that quarterback Andy Dalton has been downgraded to out with a concussion. Rookie Ben DiNucci will make his first career NFL start in prime time against the Eagles. As you take this Weekend Water Break, presented by Crown Royal, there are plenty of other stories from throughout the week to sip on.
1. Fletcher Cox knows it's time to hunt
The Eagles were able to enjoy last Sunday, as they already had their second win of the season secured Thursday night in a dramatic come-from-behind triumph over the New York Giants.
Fletcher Cox considered using the free time to hunt. But the weather wasn't going to make it enjoyable. Or, maybe, he's saving it for Sunday night.
The Eagles host the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. Cox, the team's first-round pick in 2012 and franchise player on defense, knows full well what this week means.
"Every game means a lot, but it's different. It's Cowboys Week," Cox said. "They've won two games. We've won two games. In the bigger picture of things, you can throw records out the window because we know they're going to bring it. It's another division game for us. Another game for us to get better as a team. And this week it's about keeping the main thing the main thing, make it about us. Attack the week and then attack the game on Sunday."
One of the marquee matchups in recent Eagles-Cowboys battles is Cox and the Eagles' defensive line against the star-studded Cowboys offensive line. However, that's not the case on Dallas' end this time around. Former All-Pro center Travis Frederick retired. All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith is out for the year due to injury. All-Pro right guard Zack Martin's status for Sunday night is up in the air due to injury. The Cowboys' rushing attack, led by running back Ezekiel Elliott, has struggled. Dallas ranked in the top five in rushing in three of the past four seasons, but currently stand at 24th entering this divisional clash.
"It's not the same lineup. They have a bunch of different guys. They got a few guys that are hurt. It's just one of those things," Cox said. "They do a good job of being coached. We just got to make it about us. Every week, we go in thinking, no matter who's playing, it's our D-line versus their offensive line and let's see who comes out on top. That's our mentality every week."
Cox is used to wreaking havoc on the inside and benefiting from the carnage. This year, Cox is doing the dirty work and allowing his teammates to shine.
2. Eagles will wear decals to honor two fans who made the ultimate sacrifice following 9/11
It has been nearly 20 years since the tragic events of September 11, 2001 took place. Yet, the ripple effects of that unfortunate day are still felt now.
Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives that day while millions of viewers sat in front of their televisions in awe, shock, and horror as they witnessed some of those innocent people perish right before their very eyes in real time.
It left an indelible mark on everyone alive to see it.
In the immediate aftermath, a renewed sense of pride and patriotism permeated the United States that spurred thousands to enlist in the military to defend the land so that something like what took place on that infamous day would never happen again.
Among the brave men and women to sign up to serve the country were a pair of ardent Eagles fans named Jason Jones and Robin Towns.
A native of Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, Jason watched the events, immediately found his purpose in life, and signed up for the United States Army. He eventually became a captain with many honors to his name.
Robin, an Eagles fan surrounded by Washington fans in his native Portsmouth, Virginia, had already served in the Army for 16 years and collected several honors along the way before being honorably discharged. However, after September 11, 2001, he felt it was his duty to return to the Armed Forces through the Army National Guard, where he became a decorated military police officer.
Unfortunately, neither man is alive today to share their stories, as both died in the line of duty. Jason died on June 2, 2014 in Jalalabad, Afghanistan due to wounds he received from small-arms fire. Robin died on October 24, 2007 after his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Baiji, Iraq.
They both left behind wives, Amy Jones and Sheila Towns, and a slew of family members who are still healing from their deaths, but they take the utmost pride in carrying on their respective legacies. Their favorite football team will do the same on November 1. With the help of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), the Eagles' helmets will feature a decal honoring both Jason and Robin when they host the Dallas Cowboys for an important NFC East showdown.
3. Elijah Riley and Brett Toth share a sacred bond
Sunday's game will be extra special for defensive back Elijah Riley and tackle Brett Toth. It's Eagles-Cowboys in prime time. But it's also the Eagles' Salute to Service game where the team will honor the commitment and sacrifices made by the men and women of the Armed Forces.
That includes Riley and Toth.
Riley and Toth played together at Army, although their paths to the service academy were quite different.
Toth was born into a military family. His father, Douglas, is a Navy veteran. Toth has a family member who served in each branch of the Armed Forces. The Charleston, South Carolina native was inspired by the brotherhood and camaraderie he witnessed when he made his official visit to the U.S. Military Academy while attending West Ashley High School.
"You realize that there's something out there more than football," said Toth, who made his NFL debut against Baltimore. "I saw that West Point was that opportunity to show and use your platform for something. When I went on my official visit there and you meet some of the brotherhood, Chuck Schretzman and Greg Gadson, just guys that have played in the past, it changes your perspective. After going to visit there, there's no doubt that you're going to want to commit."
Riley had dreams of playing in the NFL, but Long Island, New York isn't exactly a hotbed of football talent. Army recruited Riley hard out of Newfield High School. After doing his research, Riley decided it was the perfect place to improve as a person, a leader, and as a football player.
"The more I got to learn about the school and the more I learned everything that West Point is about, obviously the service aspect of it, the leadership component, the Ivy League education, and then the ability to play FBS football was exciting to me," said Riley, a member of the practice squad who was called up for two games this season. "I wanted to do something that was bigger than me. I felt like Army was the best opportunity to do that. I could maximize leadership, academics, and football."
4. Defense ready for 'full arsenal' from QB Ben DiNucci
Rookie Ben DiNucci will make his first NFL start against the Eagles on Sunday night as veteran Andy Dalton remains out of practice. DiNucci, who has taken all of the reps this week in practice, is set for his first start in 300 days when he quarterbacked James Madison in the FCS Championship Game loss against North Dakota State.
What do we really know about DiNucci? He's not particularly big at 6-foot-3, 209 pounds. He ran the read option very successfully in college, so he has some athletic ability. His arm is average, by NFL standards. DiNucci entered last Sunday's game against Washington in the second half and completed 2 of his 3 passes for 39 yards.
And now he's set to start what could be a must-win game for a desperate 2-5 Dallas team in prime time at Lincoln Financial Field.
"We definitely took a lot at some of those things (college tape) to see what we're gonna get," said linebacker T.J. Edwards, scheduled to return to action on Sunday night after missing three games with a hamstring injury suffered in the win over San Francisco. "He's a guy really comfortable in a zone read and things like that. He did that in college. I think we're really kind of expecting the full arsenal in this game, so we really have to be on our reads and on our cues at all times just because they're in the same boat as us – nothing to lose and we both want to win this game, so we're expecting just about everything from him."
The last quarterback to make his starting NFL debut against the Eagles? How about Brandon Weeden, who completed 12 of 35 passes with four interceptions and only 118 yards passing in the 2012 season-opening game. The Eagles won that game, 17-16. Michael Vick also threw four interceptions in that game and needed a touchdown pass to tight end Clay Harbor with 1:18 remaining to turn back the Browns.
5. Game Preview: 3 keys to victory
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro offers his three keys to victory. Here's No. 3:
Ezekiel Elliott's numbers in six career games against the Eagles are impressive: A 5-1 record, 4.7 yards-per-carry average with 621 rushing yards, and two touchdowns, along with 38 receptions for 278 yards and a touchdown. As dangerous as the Cowboys are at wide receiver with Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, Elliott is what makes everything go. So, the Eagles need to stop him and not let Dallas use its hammer on the defense. Dallas will try to ride Elliott with 25 to 30 touches in this game, so the Eagles must swarm him and keep their focus on where he is.
6. Darius Slay is no stranger to Amari Cooper
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro looked at one of the key individual matchups on Sunday night – Eagles Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay vs. Cowboys Pro Bowl 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."
7. Jalen Reagor ready to move past early injuries
Jalen Reagor had never experienced injuries through his high school football career, nor his time at TCU. But he's missed the last five games with a left thumb injury, which followed a shoulder injury suffered in Training Camp. Reagor believes, no, he knows, that now that he's on the road to playing again – hopefully, he thinks, as soon as Sunday night when the Dallas Cowboys come to town – good health will follow.
"It's just a little bit of adversity. A test. I feel like I passed them," he said. "I'm not going to let them get me down, or get me in a funk. It's all about how you respond. It's all about being resilient."
Reagor had five receptions for 96 yards, including a 55-yard gain against Washington in the opener, on eight targets in two weeks before suffering a torn ligament in his left thumb that required surgery. In the weeks that followed, Reagor attended practice and team meetings and position meetings every day. He took mental reps.
All of that, he thinks, will pay dividends when he's on the field.
"I was doing a lot of rehab, a lot of conditioning, just staying in shape," he said. "Just focusing on the small things, the details, the things I wasn't able to do with my hand. Honing in on the small things, being able to see things from a different angle and applying it now, when I'm able to get back."
8. Meet Eagles Cheerleader Adriana Alfaro, a 13-year veteran of the Air Force
Adriana Alfaro is a first-year member of the Eagles Cheerleaders. Prior to joining the squad, she served 13 years active duty in the Air Force. She is currently employed at DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Adriana earned a B.S. in Human Resource Management and a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Maryland University College.
Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in the Air Force?
A: "During my senior year of high school, I was still very undecided on a career path. I wanted to do everything and anything, which made me feel unfocused and overwhelmed. At the same time, I happened to do exceptionally well on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test. It was the first time I considered military service as an option. I figured that if I let the military tell me what to do, I wouldn't have to decide for myself immediately. I knew the Air Force offered great technical training and numerous benefits. I could pick up valuable skills and continue my education while exploring career options. Although I initially enlisted in the Air Force because of what it could do for me, I stayed for 13 years because of what I could give back."
9. Where are they now? CB Al Harris
It was quite a week for Al Harris.
Originally chosen by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1997 NFL Draft, he spent that season on their practice squad and was waived a week before the 1998 regular season got underway.
Claimed by the Eagles the next day, Harris started in the opener against Seattle six days later in place of Bobby Taylor, who was sidelined with a fractured shoulder blade.
"Tampa was a great place, great staff, but just to get a shot to play ... I was thankful that I went to a place where I kind of got to play the style of defense that I was accustomed to in college," Harris says. "Emmitt Thomas, who was the defensive coordinator, he basically just gave me the guy to my side. 'Whoever lines up in front of you, you just cover this guy and we'll do what we need to do to adjust around it.'
"Going from the practice squad, getting waived, to starting that week, learning the playbook. Really, I'd just got there, and so it was pretty much like surreal, but it was also like a whirlwind."
Starting seven games in his first year in Philadelphia, Harris' whirlwind calmed down thanks in part to learning from his new veteran teammates in the secondary: Troy Vincent, Brian Dawkins, and Taylor.
"They taught me to be a pro," Harris says. "Just watching those guys, I was young, and they taught me the ropes on how to practice, how to prepare."
10. Eagles find a way to continue annual Halloween tradition at CHOP
The Eagles were not going to let the COVID-19 pandemic stop them from the annual Halloween visit to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
"Our patients and families look forward to this event every year," said Matt Piontkowski, patient media and events supervisor at CHOP.
Due to the pandemic, the hospital has strict limitations on outside visitors. However, the hospital admits new patients every day. Families are uprooted from their sense of normal. The Eagles had to find a way to visit. And they did.
The team provided two remote-controlled robots – dressed in Eagles jerseys, of course – that look like a Segway transportation device that can move from room to room. A tablet is mounted on each robot to allow for the player to see the patient face-to-face virtually. This past Tuesday, Jordan Mailata and Joe Ostman donned silly hats and drove the robots around the hospital, bringing smiles and laughter along the way.
"It's things like this that make me grateful for the job I have, to be in the position that I'm in, and have the platform that I have," Mailata said. "I think it's really important now, especially for kids, to try and spice up their day, especially with what they're going through. It's really sad. Even with the robot, you can see all certain types of machines and devices in their room. I was quite taken aback by it because I wasn't expecting that kind of machinery just sitting in their room, the stuff that they need to survive every day."