HOW IMPORTANT will it be for the Eagles to grab an early lead Saturday against the Cowboys? Well, consider this: In the Eagles' six wins, they outscored their opponents 49-14 in the first quarter and 123-36 in the first half. In their eight losses, they were outscored 49-17 in the first quarter and 117-94 in the first half.
They are a team built to play from ahead. Seize the lead, make teams abandon their ground game and then let their pass rush tee off on the quarterback.
In their 34-7, late-October win over the Cowboys, they scored touchdowns on their first two possessions and never looked back. Led 24-0 at the half. The Cowboys ran the ball just 10 times the entire game. Quarterback Tony Romo was sacked four times and completed a season-low 51.4 percent of his passes.
"We've got a lot of talent in our secondary and on our d-line," cornerback Joselio Hanson said. "When we can make teams become one-dimensional and put them in [favorable] down-and-distance situations, it plays to our strengths. It's a good formula. But it's easier said than done."
In the Cowboys' seven games since their lopsided loss to the Eagles, Tony Romo has been on fire. He's completed 68.8 percent of his passes, averaged 8.4 yards per attempt and thrown 18 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. He's got a 116.7 passer rating in those seven games and a 102.6 rating for the season.
"He's playing at a high level," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said yesterday on a conference call with reporters. "He's seeing the field really well. He's understanding what we're doing against what defenses are doing. He's been very decisive. He's been very accurate. When things aren't there, he's been making good decisions. He's able to get out of the pocket and use his feet to make positive plays for us running the football, but also keep his eyes up and making plays down the field throwing it once he gets out in space."
With two games left, LeSean McCoy trails Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew by just 60 yards in the NFL rushing race. Jones-Drew has 1,334 yards. McCoy has 1,274.
Just one Eagles running back ever has won the league rushing crown. That was Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren, who won it four times.
While the Eagles' main priority is making the playoffs, McCoy's offensive linemen would love to help him win the rushing title as well. "Having him win the title and getting him those yards would be big because it would translate to a win for us," said left guard Evan Mathis.
"It's not something we're thinking directly about. It's one of those things you can reflect on after the season. It would be cool to say we had the leading rusher after the season. But it's not something that's going to cause us to change what we're doing right now. We're going to go out and do our best to get him all the yards we can. But we're doing it to get a win, not to get [McCoy] the rushing title."
Said center Jason Kelce: "We want LeSean to get it, but not at the sacrifice of the season. I'm all for him getting as much notoriety and publicity as he can because he should get it. He's one of the best in the league."
Cornerback Asante Samuel, who left Sunday's game against the Jets late in the first half after straining his hamstring, said that he practiced yesterday and expects to play against the Cowboys. Asked how his hamstring was feeling, he said, "Cool." Asked if he expected to play Saturday, he said, "Is Christmas on Sunday?" which apparently means the same thing as "Is the Pope Catholic?"
The Eagles held a light practice yesterday and weren't required by league rules to release an injury report. But in addition to Samuel, right tackle Todd Herremans (ankle), wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (hamstring) and defensive tackles Cullen Jenkins (groin) and Trevor Laws (knee) all participated in the workout to some degree. Defensive end Darryl Tapp, who missed Sunday's game against the Jets with a fractured rib, said he intends to play against the Cowboys.
The last two games, the Eagles' defense occasionally has lined up with just two down-linemen, usually tackles Jenkins and Mike Patterson, and ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole floating around as standup linebackers. Two of Babin's three sacks against the Jets came out of that front. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has seen it on tape and said yesterday that he's not overly concerned about it. "Our defense does that a lot, so we saw it a bunch in training camp," he said on a conference call with reporters. "We're going to have a plan for that. We've already got some stuff set up and will be prepared to handle them if they start moving guys around."
With one running back, DeMarco Murray, already out for the season with a fractured ankle, the Cowboys' other top back, Felix Jones, sat out practice yesterday with a hamstring injury. Jones has had back-to-back, 100-yard rushing performances. He had a season-high 22 carries in last week's win over Tampa Bay. The Cowboys have little depth behind Jones. Backup Phillip Tanner also is hurt. If Jones can't play, that would leave only 34-year-old Sammy Morris, who just signed with Dallas last week.