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Welcome to Dallas Week, Eagles fans | Early Birds

Plus, everything you always wanted to know about personnel groupings but were afraid to ask.

The Eagles need to do a better job against the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott on Sunday than they did against the Redskins' Adrian Peterson.
The Eagles need to do a better job against the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott on Sunday than they did against the Redskins' Adrian Peterson.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Good morning, everyone and welcome to Dallas Week.

On Sunday, the franchise formerly known as America’s Team will face the Eagles in a game that essentially will determine the winner of the NFC East and the fate of the free world. OK, maybe not that second one.

The Eagles defense is going to have to do a better job against Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott than it did Sunday against rookie Dwayne Haskins and 34-year-old Adrian Peterson. On Tuesday afternoon, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will speak with reporters and tell us exactly how he hopes to accomplish that, after which he’ll turn water into wine.

Offensive coordinator Mike Groh also will address the media and tell us how he is not the least bit surprised by the impressive play of Greg Ward.

If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here​. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @pdomo.

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Getting creative with formations

At his day-after news conference Monday, Eagles coach Doug Pederson mentioned that he used seven different personnel groups in his team’s 37-27 win over Washington on Sunday.

Personnel groups are the combination of running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers that a team puts on the field each play. Some teams have names for their personnel groupings, but generally, they’re referred to by the number of backs and tight ends on the field.

The two that the Eagles have largely played this season have been 11-personnel, which is one running back, one tight end (hence, the 11) and three wide receivers, and 12-personnel, which is one back, two tight ends, and two wideouts.

Their third most used personnel grouping has been 13, which is one back, three tight ends, and one wide receiver. They had typically used that in goal line and short-yardage situations. But they used it more frequently the last two weeks — 11 times Sunday and 10 times against the Giants — because of injuries at the wide-receiver position, and the fact that their third tight end, Josh Perkins, formerly was a wide receiver.

The last two games, they also began using more 21- and 22-personnel, which are two-back sets with either one or two tight ends. In their first 12 games, they had used 21/22-personnel just nine times. On Sunday, they used 21-personnel seven times and 22-personnel once. They even used 23-personnel — two backs, three tight ends, and no wide receivers — on one play.

They ran a couple of successful screens with two-back personnel. Miles Sanders gained 18 yards on a screen with 21-personnel, and Boston Scott gained 12 on a screen on the only play the Eagles ran with 23-personnel.

The Eagles have never used seven different personnel groupings in a game before under Pederson. Not this year. Not last year. Not in any season since he was hired as the team’s head coach.

They’ve used no more than three personnel groups — usually 11, 12, and to a much lesser degree, 13 — in nine of their first 12 games this season. They used four in the other three games. In last week’s win over the Giants, they used five.

“The thing is, you have so much tape out there [this late in the season], and coaches and teams are going to study your tendencies and your personnel and they’re going to have a bead on you,’’ Pederson said.

“So you have to be a little creative and move some guys around and use different personnel groups and use the strengths of each player too, to your advantage. That’s what we’ve been able to do the last couple of weeks that’s helped us.’’

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Bob Ford says the Eagles will beat the Cowboys on Sunday, even though they can’t. Confused? That makes two of us.

  2. Jeff McLane tells us about all the valuable stuff we learned about the Eagles in their win over the Redskins.

  3. This probably isn’t a surprise, but my five top reasons for the Eagles’ comeback win Sunday start with the play of Carson Wentz, who completed his last 15 passes, three for touchdowns.

  4. EJ Smith reports on Doug Pederson’s high praise for the impressive play of former practice-squadders Boston Scott and Greg Ward in the win over Washington.

  5. Les Bowen thinks the Eagles need to get healthier this week if they want to beat the Cowboys.

  6. Marcus Hayes explores how Carson Wentz and Miles Sanders could lead the Birds for years.

From the mailbag

Has Brandon Graham lived up to the contract extension he signed in the offseason? Was the D-line properly addressed? — @timhx via Twitter

Thanks for the question, Tim. Not quite sure what you mean by "lived up to.'' He signed a three-year, $40 million deal, which essentially is a two-year, $27 million deal for the Eagles’ purposes if Brandon underperforms and they decide to say goodbye to the 32-year-old defensive end at the end of 2020. I can tell you he hasn’t underperformed this season. Is he an All-Pro? No. Is he a very good all-purpose defensive end who will give you everything he’s got? Yes. He leads the team in sacks with 7½. He’s 10th among the league’s edge-rushers in total quarterback pressures with 63. That’s the same number as Khalil Mack.

With respect to the second part of your question, no, the D-line wasn’t properly addressed. They ran into bad luck with Malik Jackson, who got hurt 32 snaps into his first game with the team. But they screwed up in getting rid of Michael Bennett and letting Chris Long retire. Derek Barnett has yet to prove he can be a difference-making edge-rusher. Josh Sweat, their 2018 fourth-round pick, is taking baby steps in his development. And 2019 fourth-round pick Shareef Miller has dressed for one game this year and has yet to play a defensive snap. He needs to spend the offseason living in the weight room and eating whatever the hell the Watt brothers eat.

Getting Jackson back next year will help. But they need to draft/sign one and probably two impactful edge-rushers in the offseason. The problem is, they also need to do the same at wide receiver and, to a lesser degree, cornerback.