Good morning, Eagles fans. After two weeks to enjoy an 8-1 record, the Eagles visit the rival Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night to try to take a four-game lead in the NFC East. This is a Friday edition of Early Birds, which now comes to you five days a week. It's free for anyone to sign up here to receive in your inbox every weekday. 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 @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
Before the first meeting between Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott, former Eagles receiver Jordan Matthews noted it had the potential to become "like a Brady-Peyton rivalry," comparing it to the storied matchups between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
"The only difference is that you're going to get this two times a year – and possibly playoffs," Matthews said then.
Sunday will be the second time Wentz and Prescott face each other for the entire game (the Cowboys played their reserves for much of the Week 17 Eagles-Cowboys game last season), and the quarterbacks are going to be the key. The quarterbacks are important every week, but this meeting is different than recent games when the Eagles faced Brock Osweiler and C.J. Beathard. The Wentz-Prescott matchup will be one of the most anticipated all season, and both quarterbacks have established themselves among the top young players in the NFL.
You can also focus on the Cowboys trying to overcome the loss of Ezekiel Elliott against the Eagles' top-ranked rush defense, or the Eagles attacking a Cowboys defense that's expected to miss Sean Lee. But don't overthink this one. There's a reason why the quarterbacks will get so much attention, and the quarterback with the better performance should win this game.
Adding to Sunday's intrigue is that both quarterbacks could be without their Pro Bowl left tackles. This will be the third game Halapoulivaati Vaitai starts for Jason Peters, and Tyron Smith reportedly will miss another game for the Cowboys. The Eagles have survived with Vaitai protecting Wentz's blind side – Wentz has thrown for six touchdowns in the two games Peters missed. The Cowboys haven't been as successful without Smith, with Prescott's worst game of the season coming last Sunday while he took eight sacks. Look for Vinny Curry and Derek Barnett to give Prescott fits if Smith is absent.
There will invariably be debate about which quarterback is better. If judging them through 25 games, Prescott has the edge. Prescott has completed 66 percent of his passes for 5,661 yards, 39 touchdowns and eight interceptions while rushing for 519 yards and 11 touchdowns. He won 18 career starts. Wentz has completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 6,044 yards, 39 touchdowns and 19 interceptions while rushing for 361 yards and two scores. He won 15 career starts. But Wentz is having the superior season in 2017, and the upgraded offensive weapons have coincided with a major leap in development.
If I needed to pick one to have as the franchise quarterback, I'd go with Wentz. I'm buying the jump he's made this season. But an argument could be made for Prescott. That's why this has the makings of another great quarterback rivalry. Sunday will be the next chapter.
Zach Berman: What stands out to you about Alshon Jeffery's season and where have you seen the progression?
Mike Groh: "The fact that we're 8-1 and he's a major contributor and our offense is in the top five in basically every category. …Any time you're incorporating new people into a new system, there's a natural learning curve and just seeing the growth and communication with him and Carson [Wentz]. Being out there and spending the extra time we have over the course of practice when it might be a special teams period or defensive period, just getting all the extra reps and the way those two are working together."
Zach Berman: What's the reason for Nelson Agholor's jump in production?
Mike Groh: "I think Nelson is mentally tough. He's certainly very skillful. And he set out with a plan and he's executed his plan each and every day, whether it be Monday or Friday or Sunday. He has a routine he goes through and he doesn't deviate from it. He works and studies the game plan, he's really smart, and he knows who he's playing against and how to attack those guys. And we've done a good job making those plays. Even [against Denver] at the end of the game, he could have easily lost focus there, the game was really in the bag, but that guy was still out there, competing and making plays for us."
Zach Berman: What has your perspective been of this coaching staff as the newcomer?
Mike Groh: "Well obviously, being here at 8-1 … is a situation I've never found myself in in the NFL. So it's exciting from that standpoint. I'm just happy to be a contributing member of the staff. I love the staff that [Doug Pederson] has assembled here and the way everyone collaborates and works with one another."
It sounds that way. For those who didn't know, Jeffery was limited in practice on Thursday with an ankle injury. But he didn't sound concerned about the injury or his status for the game. Jeffery has three touchdowns in the past two games, so he'll look to keep that streak going against the Cowboys. He might not have big yardage output, though. Jeffery hasn't topped 100 yards this season, and the Cowboys have allowed only two 100-yard receivers.
To the first question, I certainly think they're capable of making a serious playoff run. At 8-1, you need to think that way — especially because they're in position to get home-field advantage. And with the way Carson Wentz is playing, they're going to have strong quarterback play. That's a big factor in January. This is not to say they'll play in the NFC Championship, but they're certainly capable of it. And if a team is in that conversation, then it's a Super Bowl contender. But I wouldn't bet on the Eagles winning the Super Bowl right now. I'd still take Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots in a big game against anyone in the NFL.
This question is asking which pending free agent the Eagles should re-sign. It's a tough one, and it's either Jeffery or Nigel Bradham. I'd lean toward Jeffery because I value wide receiver more than linebacker for the Eagles, although Bradham has proven that he's a three-down linebacker and an ideal fit for the scheme. It would be hard for this defense if he left, and it would force the Eagles to keep Mychal Kendricks (which isn't a bad thing) and hope Jordan Hicks can stay healthy (which isn't a sure thing). Jeffery helps out the rest of the Eagles offense, drawing attention that's opening space for Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz. And with the way Wentz is playing, I wouldn't let Jeffery go without an adequate replacement. Of course, it all comes down to price. I'd try to keep both.