As if the Eagles don't have enough competitive problems on their plate right now, they're going against an opponent that has 3 weeks of game film/videotape on the Eagles rookie QB Nick Foles— and also tape on the offensive game plan that OC Marty Mornhinweg has been implementing to protect Foles.
Advantage to Dallas…
Clearly the strategy of the must-win Cowboys (5-6) will be to bring their defensive house down upon Foles and his protection formations.
My humble suggestion— get the Eagles' tight ends involved into the mix early and don't let up. Use your tight ends more often as passing targets. Let the banged up Dallas speed urchins try to cover them.
The Cowboys have probably already figured that out too, though.
Dallas (5-6) is tied for second place in the division with Washington, two games behind the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. The Cowboys went 6-10 two years ago and 8-8 last season, and haven't shown any improvement in 2012.
"I knew that we were in a league that has a lot of competition, but I thought we'd be better," owner Jerry Jones said.
At least Dallas still has playoff hopes, with the last wild-card team in the NFC (Tampa Bay) currently holding a 6-5 record.
Nick Foles has thrown for 542 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions in three games since replacing Vick during a 38-23 home loss to the Cowboys on Nov. 11. "The big thing is you just look at games and I feel like we've run the offense well and we've just got to eliminate mistakes," said Foles, who had two turnovers in the first meeting with Dallas.
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox injured his tailbone and offensive lineman King Dunlap sprained his knee Monday night in the loss to Carolina. Neither practiced Wednesday or Thursday.
Dallas has also endured plenty of injuries, although running back Demarco Murray returned to practice Wednesday, and Jones says it "looks like" he'll play Sunday. Murray has missed the last six games with a sprained right foot, and the Cowboys rank last in the league with 78.7 rushing yards per game.
"It shouldn't matter who's back there," offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau said. "We should be able to make it clean for them to make the read and hit the holes."
Now the Cowboys' defense has sustained another injury, with linebacker Bruce Carter out for the season with a dislocated left elbow. Carter was a replacement for Sean Lee, out for the year with a big toe injury.
Veteran Dan Connor will now call the plays for a defense that will also be missing cornerback Orlando Scandrick, out with a broken right hand.
The Eagles' defense, meanwhile, has allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for 13 touchdowns and no interceptions over the last five games. Tony Romo had two touchdowns in the first meeting and needs one Sunday for his 166th to break a tie with Hall of Famer Troy Aikman for the most in franchise history.
While Philadelphia faces a short week to get ready, Dallas has not played since turning in one of its worst defensive efforts in last Thursday's 38-31 home loss to Washington. The Cowboys allowed rookie Robert Griffin III to throw for four touchdowns — the first time a quarterback has done that against them since Rex Grossman accomplished the feat two years ago, also with the Redskins.
What matters: For many of the Eagles on Sunday, it's all about playing for pride now, not to mention jobs. It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that head coach Andy Reid and his staff will be gone when this season mercifully comes to a close — and a lot of the current players won't be around, either. That means they have to impress somebody else's coaching staff and this game will be on national television. Certainly, the Eagles would love to be spoilers and keep their arch-rivals out of the playoffs, too, but that's pretty weak motivation for a team that began the season with championship aspirations.
Who matters: Everything with the Eagles is about the future, in particular a couple of rookies, QB Nick Foles and RB Bryce Brown. The Eagles still don't know about Foles after he's started two games, and this will be a good test for him, playing against a good defense in front of a national television audience. Brown made a big splash in his first NFL start last week against Carolina, rushing for an Eagles rookie record 178 yards. But he also lost two costly fumbles and the Eagles will be keeping a close eye on how he responds this week. Finally, two young players on defense will be getting a long look after the Eagles released DE Jason Babin this week — third-year man Brandon Graham and rookie Vinny Curry will get a lot of playing time against the Cowboys as the Eagles find out if they were worth the high draft picks used on them.
Key matchup: The Cowboys move All-Pro LB DeMarcus Ware all over the place as he probes for a weak spot in the opponents' offensive line—the Eagles have plenty of weak spots and they also have a rookie quarterback, so Ware has to be fired up for this one. The Eagles have no chance to win this game if Ware is breathing in Foles' face all night, and don't be surprised to see the Eagles use a lot of maximum protection to keep their kid QB upright. That means TE Brent Celek will do more blocking than receiving.
So much for my master plan to use Celek more as an outlet receiver.
Inside stuff: The Eagles have to find a way to move the ball without their leading receiver, WR DeSean Jackson (on injured reserve with a fractured rib), and with a rookie QB running the show. Rookie RB Bryce Brown was impressive in his first NFL start last week against Carolina when he rushed for an Eagles rookie record 178 yards, but the Cowboys know he's the main man now and they'll stack up to stop him. So look for the Eagles to try and get the ball in his hands with lots of screens and short passes to the flat where he can use his speed and size to get past the Cowboys' second line of defense.
Stats you should know: Considering the problems the Eagles have had on defense this season, it's surprising they remain the only team in the NFL that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. … Eagles K Alex Henery has made 19 straight field goal attempts and last week broke the Eagles record of 17 that he had shared with David Akers. For his career, Henery is 44-for-48. … Dallas QB Tony Romo has thrown more interceptions (15) than any QB in the NFL this season, but the Eagles defense have just three of them in their last 10 games after intercepting four passes in the season opener against Cleveland rookie Brandon Weeden.
Cloak and Dagger stuff: The Philadelphia Eagles today have denied an ESPN report that ostensibly accuses them of lying about the recovery progress of quarterback Michael Vick in order to keep rookie Nick Foles starting in his place for the rest of the season.
"There's no conspiracy here," Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder said. "We don't grade the imPACT test, which he has not gotten back to baseline. I send that paper from the computer off to the [medical] people in Pittsburgh and they come back and say, 'He has not passed baseline.' That's an NFL rule. That has nothing to do with anything with us. He's got to pass that test before we can ever entertain the fact of his playing."
In a release issued by the team, Vick said he's following the NFL protocol for concussion recovery.
"I want to thank my fans for the thousands of well wishes," he said. "I also appreciate the support of the entire Eagles organization. I feel strong and healthy. As a professional athlete, I want to play in every game but the NFL has a specific protocol to protect players. My focus is to complete this process successfully, so I can rejoin my team on the field."
Vick, running back LeSean McCoy (concussion) and running back Chris Polk (toe) have been ruled out of Sunday night's game at Dallas. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (personal) and center Dallas Reynolds (ankle) are questionable.
Cox has been excused from the team to attend the funeral of a friend. He is expected to join the team in Dallas.
The Eagles also promoted WR Marvin McNutt from the practice squad to take one of the two open spots on the 53-man roster created when WR DeSean Jackson was placed on injured reserve and DE Jason Babin was released earlier this week.