Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham sat at his locker in the Novacare Complex on Thursday afternoon and assessed the next steps in his preparation to face the Dallas Cowboys.
Graham, the longest-tenured player on the defense, knows the linemen can’t afford a misstep against their division rivals, who have an offense anchored by quarterback Dak Prescott and star running back Ezekiel Elliott.
But first, Graham and his teammates had to eat.
So he pulled out his cell phone, dialed a Center City steakhouse, and made a dinner reservation for 15 people. Graham said he’d probably order something along the lines of his usual steakhouse meal: a bone-in filet mignon, crab cake, calamari, and cheesesteak dumplings.
Fuel that the 6-foot-2, 265-pound veteran hopes will help his unit contain Elliott come Sunday night.
Elliott, a former Ohio State standout, remains the league’s sixth-most-productive rusher with 491 yards, but he has averaged only 3.5 yards per carry during the Cowboys’ three-game skid. He has yet to log a run of more than 30 yards through six games.
Graham wants to ensure that trend continues.
“Just make sure [the first 30-plus-yard run] don’t happen to us,” Graham said. “We just got to make sure we stop the run, get tough up front. We got to make sure we rally to him, because he’s not going down on the first tackle.”
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox seconded that attitude.
“We got to get physical,” Cox said. “We know if they can get going running the ball, it’s going to be a long night for us.”
Strong, speedy, and skilled at pass-blocking, Elliott is undoubtedly a weapon, and historically so against the Eagles. The 24-year-old rushed for more than 100 yards in each of his last three games against them.
In the teams’ first meeting last year, he ran for 151 yards, including gashes of 32 and 35 yards. In the second matchup, he amassed 113 yards on 28 carries and added another 79 yards on 12 catches.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson considers Elliott a big part of the Cowboys attack, a part that could test a solid run defense that has been one of the few recent bright spots on his banged-up team.
The Eagles have allowed 72.8 rushing yards per game, the second-fewest in the league. In their 38-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday, they faltered early, letting running back Dalvin Cook rack up 25 yards and three first downs, and put the Vikings in position to score on the opening drive. But then they held him to 16 yards on nine carries the rest of the game.
For Elliott, some of his long-yardage woes could be attributed to the recent absences of both of the Cowboys’ starting offensive tackles, Tyron Smith and La’el Collins. Smith missed the last two games with an ankle injury, while Collins sat out last week with a knee injury. Both were spotted at practice Thursday, although their status for Sunday was unknown.
Regardless of whether one or both of those players return, Graham said the defense must get to Elliott.
“You just got to make sure you rally to the ball. I mean, he’s not going down easy,” Graham said. “Most of the time, the way they set up their blocks, they’re getting one-on-one with the [defensive backs] and you don’t want that.”
“At the end of the day, I think it’s going to come down to our guys getting to the football and getting him on the ground,” Cox added.
In the Cowboys’ 24-22 loss to the New York Jets, Elliott rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown. He told reporters Wednesday he regretted not making more of his second carry, a 12-yard gain that had the potential for a 75-yard touchdown run.
“It’s definitely a play I wish I could get back, a play that could have changed the game and a play that could have won the game,” he told reporters, according to the Dallas Morning News. “When I look back on the first six weeks of the season, I need to leave Sunday not having those regrets or not having those plays that I wish I could get back.”
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson (abdomen), linebacker Nigel Bradham (ankle), defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (foot), cornerback Avonte Maddox (concussion, neck), offensive tackle Jason Peters (knee), and running back Darren Sproles (quad) did not return to practice Thursday. Cornerback Ronald Darby (hamstring) continued to practice in a limited capacity. Cox, who sat out Wednesday with an illness, practiced Thursday and said he felt fine.
Pederson said Wednesday that Jackson and Bradham were “day-to-day,” while Peters was more “week-to-week.”
At least one Eagles player was really mad that his team passed on two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
So mad that he told ESPN NFL Insider Josina Anderson that general manager Howie Roseman “dropped the ball" by not picking up Ramsey before the Los Angeles Ram acquired him Tuesday in exchange for three draft picks.
This marks the second time an anonymous player has turned to Anderson to criticize his team.