Eagles safety Jaylen Watkins remembers Chaz Green, a teammate for four years at the University of Florida, as a "high-IQ guy," so it's no wonder that Green correctly identified his showing for the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday as a poor one.
"I feel like this is on my shoulders. I let the team down," Green said after filling in for Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith and allowing five sacks during the Cowboys' 27-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
All five were recorded by Atlanta defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who got another against Byron Bell, a late-game replacement for Green, and the six-sack day triggered a $750,000 bonus in Clayborn's contract.
"That was a tough spot [for Green], but that's what this league is, man," Watkins said. "You look forward to getting an opportunity like that, but it can go thumbs-up or thumbs-down. I'm sure he thought if he did good, he could be the successor to Tyron Smith. But if you do bad …"
Suffice it to say that among the things being predicted for Chaz Green in North Texas this week, becoming the eventual replacement for Tyron Smith is not high on the list. Then again, Green was not alone in his misery, merely more obvious. Bell gave up two sacks and even guard Zack Martin, a mainstay of the offensive line, was beaten by Domari Poe. It added up to eight sacks absorbed by quarterback Dak Prescott, and you can be sure that none of them escaped the attention of the Eagles defensive linemen who will chase Prescott around this Sunday.
"Oh, yeah. You definitely had no choice but to see that," defensive end Vinny Curry said. "But we can't get into none of that, because they might have Tyron Smith back."
Smith has been bothered all season by nagging groin and back injuries that have limited his ability to practice, but, until Sunday, had not kept him out of a game. Green, who beat out Bell as the backup, has played almost exclusively on the right side in his college and professional career, but necessity forced him in the path of danger – and a certain amount of humiliation – against Atlanta.
"The game will find you. We all have bad days," Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said. "Hopefully, they'll bounce back and be at full strength. I wish they had [Ezekiel] Elliott, because I don't want nobody making any excuses. I want everybody's best shot."
"Well, I'm being a little political right there," Graham said. "It don't matter how you win."
The Eagles defense this season has recorded 25 sacks, tied for 10th in the league with three other teams. Curry and rookie Derek Barnett, who will line up Sunday primarily against the Dallas left tackle, whoever it might be, have accounted for only 5.5 of those sacks in the team's nine games. That's fewer than Adrian Clayborn got in 60 minutes, so the opportunity for improvement is there.
"That tells you how important starters are in this league. When you lose a starter, you're going to see a drop-off," said defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who has 4.5 sacks this year, just behind Graham's team-leading 5.0. "But we have to make sure our focus this week is not about Dallas, but about us. Let's not worry what they're doing. Let's worry about what we're doing. We know they'll try to get their best alignment out on the field."
Even though the Eagles have put themselves in very good position already this season, the importance of Sunday's game in Arlington, Texas, is still obvious. They could drop the Cowboys to 5-5 and give Dallas its first division loss of the season. By comparison, the Eagles would improve to 4-0 in the division and 7-0 in conference games with a 9-1 record. That would give them a four-game lead over the Cowboys with six to play and not only all but assure them of winning the division title, but also move them a step closer to a very favorable postseason seeding.
"We have to make sure we prepare and handle business," Graham said. "We know they're going to play us how they always play us."
"They'll come out fighting and swinging," Cox said. "Everybody wants to be the team that knocks us off."
Before the season is over, there probably will be a team that accomplishes that. Every team and every player has good days and bad days in the NFL. Both Adrian Clayborn and Chaz Green would agree to that.