The Eagles coaches did not need to exhaust themselves updating their game plan for their rematch with the Dallas Cowboys. They supplemented what they compiled two weeks earlier with the film from their win over Dallas on Thanksgiving and the Cowboys' win over the Chicago Bears last Thursday.
Every NFL team plays its division opponents twice in one season, so seeing a team a second time is part of the NFL routine. The Eagles' final three games of the season are all division rematches. But it's rare to play the same team twice within a three-week span. Eagles coach Chip Kelly warned that you can "paralyze yourself by trying to overanalyze it."
He knows that the Cowboys will give the ball to running back DeMarco Murray often, that they'll try to throw to Dez Bryant, and that they'll find Jason Witten on third downs. The Eagles will hand the ball to LeSean McCoy. There aren't many secrets in any game, and especially not when the teams played 21/2 weeks earlier. Which is why Kelly said the message is: "Just go play."
"I mean, it's kind of similar to what happened the last time," Kelly said. "It's just about really going out and executing, and which team can execute better, and which team can block better, and which team can tackle better."
Put that simply, you wonder why coaches treat their game plans like state secrets. But the Eagles have underplayed the rematch story line throughout the week in an effort to avoid overthinking a game that could determine the NFC East.
"If anything it's an advantage for both of us that the game plans and the familiarity is so close together," center Jason Kelce said. "I think it's important to treat it like a normal week and don't put too much into the fact that the games are close together. I doubt they are going to come out in exactly what they did last time. They'll probably have some new stuff, but that's just the way it goes."
The Eagles won, 33-10, on Thanksgiving by dominating the line of scrimmage and winning the turnover battle. They expect the Cowboys to be more competitive Sunday.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez said the way the Cowboys played on Thanksgiving "wasn't indicative of the kind of talent they have and the kind of coaching and players they have."
On offense, the Eagles' emphasis is on improving in the red zone, where they were 1 of 5. They also need to duplicate their effectiveness running the ball; LeSean McCoy had a season-high 159 yards in that win.
"I think they'll look at the Seattle tape and try different things [Seattle] did, and also, I feel like they'll come into this game trying to stop the run," McCoy said. "Last time we played them, it got bad. I'm sure they're not happy about it, and they want to make that statement." He doesn't foresee another blowout.
The Eagles defense held Murray and quarterback Tony Romo to their worst games of the season. Defensive end Fletcher Cox, who has excelled in recent weeks, said the Cowboys "are not going to stop handing the ball" to Murray. Linebacker Connor Barwin said the Cowboys might add some wrinkles, but it will ultimately come down to the Eagles' execution.
The biggest difference this week is more time leading up to the game. The Cowboys played a Sunday night game in New York before Thanksgiving, arrived in Dallas early Monday morning, and played three days later. The Eagles practiced one day after a home win over Tennessee and flew to Dallas on Wednesday for the Thursday game.
The Eagles are back in their normal routine. The game plan was introduced Tuesday. They focused on third downs Wednesday. They focused on red zone Thursday. They have their walk-through Friday before their final practice Saturday.
"At this point in time, having played 13 games, I think they kind of understand what they have to do from a preparation standpoint," Kelly said.
An Eagles-Cowboys game comes with inherent intensity. But adding to the theater Sunday are the postseason implications.
"If we play how we're capable of, I think we'll be fine," tackle Lane Johnson said. "I think they come in with a little more intensity than they did last time, so it will be a good game."
Every player except quarterback Nick Foles was a full participant in practice Thursday. Foles will not play Sunday.