Good morning, Eagles fans. It’s Cowboys week. Enough said. Well … I can’t just stop there. While the importance of Sunday’s game is self explanatory, it should be noted that it’s been only five years since the Eagles played Dallas this late into the season with a playoff berth at stake.

In 2014, the Eagles and Cowboys, both 9-4, met in Week 15 at Lincoln Financial Field. The NFC East was still up for grabs and a victory would give the Eagles a head-to-head 2-0 advantage in the case of a tie. The game went back and forth for three quarters until Dallas pulled ahead in the fourth. The Eagles’ playoff hopes were still alive the following week, but a loss at the Redskins was the final nail.

That the Eagles had clinched the division a year earlier in Texas at the expense of the Cowboys was little solace for fans that night. But Sunday offers a chance for revenge. A victory would move the Eagles one step closer to an NFC East title, but a loss would give Cowboys back-to-back division titles and effectively end the season for the Birds.

Preparations begin in earnest Wednesday. Eagles coach Doug Pederson gave his players off Tuesday after last week’s short week. The Inquirer will have a boatload of stories on the Birds and the big game in the newspaper and online. Stay with us the entire way.

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 @Jeff_McLane.

Jeff McLane (earlybirds@inquirer.com)

Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson celebrates a touchdown against the Bears.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson celebrates a touchdown against the Bears.

Why didn’t Lane Johnson make the Pro Bowl?

Pro Bowl rosters were announced Tuesday night and the Eagles surprisingly had five players who made the NFC team. Guard Brandon Brooks, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, tight end Zach Ertz, center Jason Kelce and long snapper Rick Lovato were the team’s selections.

The 7-7 Eagles were behind only the 11-3 Saints, who had seven, in the number of players chosen from NFC teams. While an argument could have been made for each individual, especially Brooks and Ertz, the strongest might have been for one who had been slighted: tackle Lane Johnson.

Johnson took immediate exception and tweeted out the following after selections were announced:

Johnson, whose only appearance in the Pro Bowl came two years ago, has had another strong season. He got off to a relatively slow start, and had his worst game two months ago against the Cowboys. But he has been stout at right tackle since.

Injuries, though, have kept Johnson off the field in two of the Eagles’ last four games. He missed the Seahawks game with a concussion and Sunday’s game at the Redskins with a high ankle sprain. His availability for Sunday against the Cowboys is uncertain, although he played through a similar sprain just two weeks after the initial injury last season.

While the Eagles were able to overcome his loss in Washington, thanks in part to his replacement, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, the Eagles have often struggled without Johnson in the lineup. They are 4-10 since 2016 when he’s not active; 32-16 when he does play.

Johnson’s absence when he left early in the Patriots game last month and the next week against Seattle clearly affected the performance of the Eagles offense.

Of the tackles chosen for the NFC team, all three play on the left flank. They are the Packers’ David Bakhtiari, the Cowboys’ Tyron Smith, and the Saints’ Terron Armstead. While left tackle has long been considered the most important position on the offensive line, those notions have shifted recently with more defenses lining up their top edge rusher over right tackles.

The Pro Bowl, which is voted upon by coaches, players and fans, should be taken with a healthy serving of salt. There were other notable snubs who were likely blocked by players who are given the benefit based upon their career accomplishments.

Cox, who made his fifth straight Pro Bowl, hasn’t had his best year. Kelce, who was named to his third Pro Bowl, has had better seasons. Of course, the whole enterprise is subjective and very few who vote, including the coaches and players, watch enough film to know how every player has performed.

The Associated Press all-pro teams, which are voted upon by national NFL writers, are usually a better composite of the best of the year. Voting doesn’t take place until the season is actually over.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz watches the Vikings move the ball on his defense in October.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz watches the Vikings move the ball on his defense in October.

What you need to know about the Eagles

From the mailbag

Why isn’t Genard Avery getting snaps? — 7/4/76 (@twitrunner8) via Twitter

7/4/76, if that’s your real name, thanks for the question. Avery came just before the trade deadline in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick. While I viewed the acquisition as one made mostly for the future, it is fair to question why the move was made with the Eagles still very much in contention for the postseason.

The Eagles, for one, were relatively deep at defensive end. With Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett starting, and Vinny Curry and Josh Sweat as the primary backups, Daeshon Hall and rookie Shareef Miller were hardly playing, if at all. That remains the case, but it’s not as if Avery has stolen snaps.

He has played just 24 snaps in six games. While he recorded a half sack in his very first play for the Eagles, Avery hasn’t done much since. Of course, as your question states, he’s hardly playing, and thus hasn’t had many opportunities.

Maybe Avery, who is only 24, turns out to be steal. But it was a curious decision to bring him in when the Eagles had other pressing needs in light of injuries and underperforming players at other positions.