The Charge of the Practice Squad Brigade has been thrilling to watch the past two games, as the Eagles have mounted late comebacks to beat the Giants and the Redskins, two of the NFL’s least-accomplished teams.
But this is the week Dallas visits, with the Eagles’ NFC East title hopes on the line.
So, Doug Pederson, as fun as this has all been, several of the “real” Eagles are coming back this Sunday, right? Right tackle Lane Johnson? Running back Jordan Howard? Wide receiver Nelson Agholor? Defensive end Derek Barnett?
“Everybody is trending in the right direction. I'm optimistic,” Pederson said Monday. “Lane, obviously is going to be a day-to-day thing. He is getting better. Don't expect him to do a whole lot [Monday, Tuesday], Wednesday, right now. We'll see where he's at later in the week.
“Nelly is in the same situation. Jordan is in the same situation. So really no change or anything further with them. Barnett is doing better. We expect him to do something later in the week. See where he's at, get him on land and get him going.
“Everybody’s getting there. It’s a slow process, but they’re healing.”
To veteran Pedersonologists, the coach’s recap seemed to indicate that Barnett (ankle) has a good chance of playing this week. Those other guys, maybe less so, though NBC Sports Philadelphia has reported that Howard (shoulder) is close. Johnson (high ankle sprain) was wearing a walking boot on the sideline Sunday at FedEx Field, though.
Will we see one or more Eagles hobble out onto the field and give it a go, regardless, since the season hangs on winning this game?
“Bottom line is, I'm not going to risk further injury with anybody for a game,” Pederson said. “But if they are capable of playing in this football game, then we'll make that determination later in the week.”
Of course, sometimes players aren’t risking further injury by playing, but they still can’t perform at full strength. We didn’t get an answer on whether anyone might fit in that category.
As they look to nail down the division title, the Cowboys aren’t missing any of their top three wide receivers from the season opener. (Against Washington, the Eagles were missing all of their top three receivers from the season opener.)
In fact, as Dallas rolled over the Rams Sunday, 44-21, the only significant Week 1 contributors who didn’t play were left guard Connor Williams, who is on injured reserve after knee surgery, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who has a neck problem but might play this week, and cornerback Anthony Brown, on IR after suffering a triceps tear.
For the Eagles at FedEx, missing were wideout DeSean Jackson (core muscle, IR), defensive tackle Malik Jackson (foot, IR), wideout Alshon Jeffery (foot, IR), running back/returner Darren Sproles (hip, IR), Agholor, Johnson, Howard, and Barnett.
Maybe you recall, Dallas defeated the visiting Eagles, 37-10, on Oct. 20, back when the Birds had Johnson, Jeffery, Agholor, and Howard but were missing left tackle Jason Peters, and were banged up in the secondary. Anyone who watched the Cowboys that evening knew the more talented team definitely won, though the Eagles contended that their turnovers on the first two drives distorted the outcome.
“Listen, they got us the last time and they kicked our tail and they had a great game plan,” Pederson said. “We just have to come prepared each day this week and study the tape. Coaches have to have a great game plan, obviously, and our players have to understand the game plan, either how we are trying to attack or defend the Cowboys and then go play.
“We're here at Week 16 … there's a lot of tape out there, another division opponent. There's probably a little more, obviously, on the line this week than most weeks, but it's where we are right now, and we've dug this hole, but we're slowly climbing out of it, and we're excited for the opportunity.”
Dallas is a 2.5-point favorite in the rematch, for good reason. To keep their playoff hopes alive, the Eagles need healthy difference-makers, and they might have exhausted the practice squad’s supply.
Former Eagles defensive end Chris Long was asked Monday on Twitter what he thought the mindset would be for Eagles players, given the talent situation.
“Dallas is the better team at this point from a personnel standpoint,” Long replied. “It’s one game at home in Philly for the division. [People] would do anything for this opportunity. Defense has to play angry and lean into the bad blood.”
That you could score 37 points with only one wide receiver catching any passes?
The Cowboys are averaging 24.3 yards per game more than the Baltimore Ravens, who rank second in the NFL to Dallas in total offense. The Ravens are 12-2, the Cowboys are 7-7. (Whispers: John Harbaugh coaches the Ravens.)
It was interesting to see linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill get only five defensive snaps against Washington (nine more on special teams). Where’d the snaps go? Duke Riley got six, rookie T.J. Edwards eight.
Doug Pederson said Grugier-Hill was not being punished for concealing the concussion that kept him out of last Monday’s Giants game.
Grugier-Hill had only logged fewer than half the defensive snaps in one of his previous six games. Pederson said Monday’s rotation had to do with “the structure of the [Washington] offense, and then also, T.J. Edwards has been playing well, too, when he's getting some opportunities. … Keeping all those guys as fresh as possible, plus, they are all playing special teams, so just keeping everybody as fresh as we can.”
Pederson’s reference to offensive structure probably means the Eagles were loading up to stop the run, something they did well only sporadically (Washington rushed for 101 yards on 23 attempts). Edwards is more of a run-stopper than Grugier-Hill.