Of all the problems the Eagles had matching up with the Cowboys while getting outscored 58-14 in their final two games last season, one of the biggest, literally and figuratively, was Jay Ratliff.
The Cowboys' 6-4, 303-pound nose tackle helped shut down the Eagles' running game and keep Donovan McNabb unsettled in the pocket. He symbolized Dallas' superiority in the trenches. Ratliff, who was selected for his second Pro Bowl, would have been a tough matchup even for regular Eagles center Jamaal Jackson, but Jackson tore his ACL against Denver, right before the back-to-back with the Cowboys. Guard Nick Cole was the Birds' center, thrust into a really unfortunate situation.
"We had some problems there. Not with Nick. Nick played pretty well, but we were just off a little bit," Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said yesterday. "Crowd noise, basically a dome, we were just off a little bit. So hopefully we can do a little bit better that way."
Current Eagles center Mike McGlynn has never faced Ratliff, who certainly has Mornhinweg's respect.
"Ratliff is a special player. They've got several - you can keep going," Mornhinweg said. "But Ratliff chews people up. He's a special player."
McGlynn was asked if he feared getting "chewed."
"I'll let you know on Sunday, after the game," McGlynn said. "He's a good player. He does some things you've got to be ready for . . . we'll see what happens."
Of course, the guards will figure into blocking Ratliff as well.
"He's real opportunistic. If you take the wrong step on him or something, he can take advantage of that," left guard Todd Herremans said. "We usually double-fan, to take care of the known [pass] rushers on the edge. A lot of times that's hard on the center, because he's man on man in the middle."
Herremans said Cole played well, but the rest of the line being unfamiliar with him in the middle made things less natural and intuitive.
"Even though he was out there [before] as a guard, and he knows exactly what the calls are and everything, it's still different, because you've got to think about everything else," Herremans said.
Herremans doesn't see the current line getting dominated Sunday night, by Ratliff or by his linemates.
"I would like to think that we should be able to run and pass on them," Herremans said. "I don't really think there's any reason why we shouldn't be able to. I feel like we're an explosive offense. I feel like we're one of the best offenses in the league. I feel like the only thing that can stop us is ourselves."
DeSean Jackson caught six passes for 110 yards the very first time he played against the Cowboys, Sept. 15, 2008. That was the game where DJax tossed the ball away just before he crossed the goalline. In four games since then, including last year's playoff embarrassment, Jackson has never caught more than three passes vs. Dallas, for more than 46 yards.
The Cowboys especially did a notable job shutting down the Birds' most potent weapon in the back-to-back losses that ended 2009, Jackson totaling five catches for 50 yards.
Anyone looking for insight on that phenomenon from No. 10 yesterday was out of luck.
"It's last year. I'm focusing on this year. Whatever they did last year, it's a good job. Give 'em all the credit. But it's a new year and a new game," Jackson said.
Right tackle Winston Justice (knee) said he planned to practice, and Justice did some individual work, but he took no reps with the line and was listed as not having practiced . . . Eagles special teams coordinator Bobby April called the season-ending injury to Dez Bryant "a big loss of talent" for the Cowboys and their return game.