THE EAGLES' defense always is built on the shoulders of its defensive ends and cornerbacks.
Two weeks ago, the defense lost Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel and starting defensive end Juqua Parker.
They subsequently surrendered 55 points in two games to quarterbacks who combined for a 125.2 passer rating.
The defense had just limited Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb and Eli Manning to a combined 63.5 passer rating in three straight wins.
"They're a big part of our defense," said Eagles coach Andy Reid. "I was proud of the guys who stepped in for them. On the other hand, I welcome these guys back."
Samuel's work at practice yesterday was limited, and, while he indicated that his knee felt fine, he declined to address his status further.
Parker practiced all-out yesterday and declared himself fit afterward.
The Eagles might need one as much as the other.
Rookie end Brandon Graham lacks the experience and the ferocity of Parker, now in his 10th season in the NFL and his sixth as an Eagle. With five sacks in his first 10 games, Parker was on track to match his career high of eight set last season. He had reclaimed the starting spot Graham won in training camp. He was playing the best he'd ever played.
However, a hip flexor strain Parker suffered Oct. 24 at Tennessee worsened over the next 4 weeks until, after a win against the Giants, Parker no longer could play.
The result of the loss of Samuel is obvious. With seven interceptions this season, and with a league-best 36 picks since 2006, Samuel affords his defense freedom to blitz and dares the opposing passer to throw in his direction.
Parker's contributions can be more subtle.
"People underestimated how important Juqua was to the defense," said safety Quintin Mikell.
Despite Parker being listed as 18 pounds lighter than Graham, the Eagles' run defense was arguably better with Parker starting. Only once in his five starts did teams rush for more than 100 yards, and that was because the Redskins, hopelessly trailing, chose to run the ball in the fourth quarter.
And now, in Dallas, they will face a team rejuvenated by re-committing to the run. They have rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the four games directed by interim head coach Jason Garrett, in which they have gone 3-1.
"They're really running the ball. We've got to stop the run," Parker said. "That's been our problem last week and the week before. Once we stop the run, I think we can get to the quarterback."
Parker aggravated the injury trying to prepare for the game in Chicago 2 weeks ago. He had not been significantly injured before, he said, and he has learned his lesson.
"I'm going take it easy," Parker said.
He will find himself gladly received.
"I'm happy to see him back," said Graham. "I tried to hold it down for him while he was gone."