Good morning, Eagles fans. Happy Friday. The Eagles are just two days away from a pivotal matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, a game that will have serious implications on whether the Birds will stay atop the putrid NFC East long-term. Games against the Cowboys are always fun, but this one will be especially important with so much on the line.
Doug Pederson will speak with reporters this morning before the Eagles take the practice field around noon. Players will be available afterward, and the injury report should follow. Be sure to follow along for updates on several players with a chance to return, including Dallas Goedert and Jason Peters.
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 @EJSmith94.
— EJ Smith (email@example.com)
Keys to the game
1. Darius Slay will have his toughest matchup as an Eagle if he ends up shadowing Cowboys star receiver Amari Cooper. The Eagles traded for Slay partly because of his history against Cooper. Last season, he held Cooper to three catches for 38 yards as a member of the Detroit Lions. Slay has played quite well in the first seven games of the season, but this will be an interesting test for him and the rest of the Eagles secondary. Dallas has issues at several offensive positions (more on that later), but the team’s receiving corps is one of the best in the league. The Eagles have used man coverage much more this season than in years past. If the trend continues Sunday, how Avonte Maddox, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and Cre’Von LeBlanc handle their one-on-one matchups will play a significant role in the outcome.
2. Jason Peters or Jordan Mailata? Who the Eagles decide will protect Carson Wentz’s blindside, and how that player fares, is one of the biggest story lines heading into the game. Peters returned to practice Wednesday after missing four games with a foot injury and getting replaced by Mailata, who flashed potential right away. Mailata hadn’t played in a meaningful football game until this season and has shown enough to make the case that he could stay at left tackle for the rest of the year. That’s not to say he hasn’t had issues. He had his worst game last week against the Giants and has allowed 15 pressures this season, second most on the team. There’s a chance Peters will be at left tackle and Mailata will fill in on the right side if Lane Johnson can’t play. Johnson was limited in practice Thursday and missed Wednesday’s session. Still, on a team that needs to get younger and healthier by next year, it might make more sense to see what Mailata can do with the game experience at left tackle moving forward.
3. Ben DiNucci could be in line to start at quarterback Sunday depending on whether Andy Dalton is cleared from concussion protocol. If DiNucci goes, it will be the rookie seventh-round pick’s first NFL start. He came in for Dalton midway through the third quarter Sunday against the Washington Football Team and went 2-for-3 for 39 yards. He made one nice throw but also took three sacks against Washington. The Eagles should have an opportunity to pressure DiNucci often. If they can force a turnover or two, it will go a long way.
4. Wentz is facing another team with a poor passing defense, and he should capitalize. The Cowboys secondary has the lowest coverage grade from Pro Football Focus, and the passing defense is in the bottom third of Football Outsiders' rankings. Wentz’s early-season slump is behind him, but he was inconsistent against the Giants last Thursday. It will be worth watching whether he can put together a complete game against Dallas.
5. Ezekiel Elliott is in his own slump. In the last two games, he has rushed for just 94 yards and has fumbled twice. His five fumbles this season are one away from matching his previous season-high just seven games into this year. The Cowboys offensive line is the worst run-blocking unit in the NFL, according to ESPN’s run-block win rate, and that has certainly played a role in the star running back’s struggles. The Eagles defense has been solid against the run, particularly against running backs in conventional running situations, so this might not be the week for Elliott to rebound.
6. Brandon Graham has yet to reach double-digit sacks in a season, but he’s off to a great start this year. The 32-year-old defensive end has six sacks through seven games and will have an opportunity to get a couple of more against a porous Dallas offensive line. Remember how the Cowboys' run-blocking is the worst in the league? Their pass-blocking is also the league worst, according to ESPN. Rookie right tackle Terence Steele has been the weakest link in pass protection so far this season, giving up a team-high 5 sacks. Graham could add a few more to the undrafted free agent’s total.
7. The Eagles' receiving targets are starting to look like a solid group. With Jalen Reagor set to return Sunday, and Dallas Goedert possibly also coming back, Wentz will soon have an above-average collection of playmakers. Reagor complements Travis Fulgham and Greg Ward well, offering a vertical threat who could also make plays in the screen game or on jet sweeps. Goedert still has the potential to be one of the league’s best tight ends if given the opportunity, which he’d have until Zach Ertz returns from his ankle injury. If both Reagor and Goedert are back in the lineup Sunday, it will be interesting to see how the Eagles offense looks.
8. CeeDee Lamb is the latest rookie receiver to have the opportunity to make the Eagles regret missing out on him in the NFL draft. There’s been a long line of rookie wideouts who have made plays against the Birds this year, including Tee Higgins, Brandon Aiyuk, and Chase Claypool. Lamb, who went four picks before Reagor in the draft, has 36 catches for 497 yards and two touchdowns this season.
What you need to know about the Eagles
Be sure to study up on the key matchups for Sunday’s game with Paul Domowitch’s scouting report.
Slay has been exactly what the Eagles hoped for when they traded two draft picks to Detroit for him, as Jeff McLane explains.
Nobody on the Cowboys offense defended Dalton after a dirty hit against Washington dislodged his helmet and left him concussed. Several former and current players criticized the lack of fight from Dallas, as Marcus Hayes details.
Mailata might be moving to right tackle, or the bench, this weekend because of Peters' return. As Les Bowen writes, choosing Peters over Mailata would be an unpopular move away from a promising young player.
Be sure to listen up to Bowen, Domowitch, and yours truly previewing the Eagles-Cowboys game in the latest Birds Eye View podcast.
This time last year, Greg Ward was still on the Eagles practice squad. Now, he’s become a vital part of the offense and a leader in the wide-receiver room. Domo writes about his progress here.
Thinking of betting on the Eagles-Cowboys game? You might want to hurry up and place your wager. Ed Barkowitz explains why the line keeps growing.
From the mailbag
Why are they trying to trade Will Parks? — from Luis (@Luis43788565) on Twitter
Thanks for the question, Luis. I’m assuming you’re referring to the Sports Illustrated report that came out Thursday that Will Parks is available. Assuming the report is true, it is a bit of a head-scratcher. Parks, a Philly native, missed the first five games of the season with a hamstring injury and projected as the third safety for the Eagles once he returned. He played 53% of the team’s defensive snaps in Week 6 against the Ravens but only 28% the following game against the Giants. He got beat deep by Evan Engram late in that game, but Engram dropped a pass that would have sealed the win for the Giants.
That play aside, Parks has versatility to play in several spots, and he’s only on a one-year, $1.5 million deal. It’s hard to imagine any team would be offering any significant compensation for half a season of Parks considering he signed for such a short, low-cost contract in the offseason. Apparently, Parks had other offers but chose to play in his hometown, so perhaps one of the teams that missed out on him is still interested?
The reason the Eagles would be willing to dump Parks after just two games is still a bit confusing. Perhaps Jim Schwartz prefers Marcus Epps or K’Von Wallace in that third safety role. But it’s not as if either guy has given an obvious case to keep the job. Still, if Parks is shopped, that’s likely the reason.