NFL Wire News

Eagles prepare for desperate Cowboys


The Sports Xchange

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles return to the practice field Tuesday to start getting ready for Sunday night’s important divisional road game against the Dallas Cowboys.

The Eagles (3-4) are still very much in the hunt in a division where none of the four teams has a winning record.

The New York Giants are 4-4, Washington is 3-4 and the Tony Romo-less Cowboys are 2-5 after dropping their fifth straight game Sunday to Seattle.

Romo, who fractured his collarbone against the Eagles in the Cowboys’ 20-10 win in Week 2, can’t be activated for two more games, which means the Eagles will face Matt Cassel.

But Cassel has had success against the Eagles. Two years ago when he was with Minnesota, he threw for nearly 400 yards against them and engineered a Vikings victory.

But the Eagles’ pass defense is dramatically better than it was in Chip Kelly’s first year in Philly. They are sixth in the league in opponent passer rating (79.1), sixth in opponent yards per attempt (6.7), third in interceptions (11) and 10th in touchdown passes allowed (10).

Three of those 11 interceptions came in the loss to Carolina.

–Tight end Zach Ertz had his best game of the season against Carolina. He had five catches for a season-high 63 yards. More importantly, all five of his catches picked up first downs. He has 10 first-down receptions in the last three games. He had three in the first four games. Last year, Ertz had 42 receptions for first downs.

–Rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks was expected to spend his first NFL season earning his keep on special teams and getting few defensive snaps. But injuries to veterans DeMeco Ryans (groin, hamstring), Kiko Alonso (knee) and Mychal Kendricks (hamstring) changed all that. Hicks, a third-round pick out of Texas, has played 87.3 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps since Week 2.

Last week against Carolina, for the second time this season, Hicks never left the field, playing all 61 defensive snaps in the 27-16 loss to the Panthers. It will be interesting to see what defensive coordinator Bill Davis does this week against Dallas with Ryans and Alonso expected back. Kendricks returned before the bye week.

–Linebacker Kiko Alonso, out since injuring a knee in Week 2, could return to practice this week and possibly be available for Sunday’s game against Dallas, and linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who missed the Carolina game because of a hamstring injury, had two weeks to heal thanks to the bye week, and hopes to return to practice this week and play Sunday.

–Tight end Zach Ertz had five catches against Carolina, all for first downs. He has 10 first-down receptions in the last three games.

–Wide receiver Nelson Agholor missed the Carolina game with an ankle injury and it is not known whether the rookie will be able to practice this week.

–Left tackle Jason Peters is expected to return to practice this week and play against Dallas after leaving the Carolina game because of severe back spasms.


–RUSHING OFFENSE: C plus. After a slow start, the Eagles’ ground game has become more productive. The Eagles are using more two-tight end sets. The bigger formation seems to be helping. So far, RB Ryan Mathews has been much more effective than 2014 NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray. Mathews is averaging an NFL-best 6.1 yards per carry, but is getting half the carries Murray is.

–PASSING OFFENSE: C minus. Quarterback Sam Bradford’s first seven games with the Eagles have been rough. He has had decision-making and accuracy issues and has struggled to get in synch with his receivers, who lead the league in dropped passes. Bradford has thrown 10 interceptions, three in the red zone. He played his best complete game in the loss to Carolina right before the bye.

–RUN DEFENSE: B plus. Even with a swarm of injuries at inside linebacker, the Eagles have done a good job against the run. Their deep defensive line is one of the best 3-4 fronts in the league. Defensive end Fletcher Cox and nose tackle Bennie Logan both are disruptive forces who do a lot more than occupy blockers for the linebackers. The Eagles’ one bad game against the run came against Carolina right before the bye. The Panthers broke three long runs and finished with 204 rushing yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry.

–PASS DEFENSE: B plus. The Eagles’ secondary is dramatically better than it was a year ago when it gave up 30 touchdown passes and a league-high 72 passes of 20-plus yards. After a rough start, Byron Maxwell has done a decent job at one corner, and Nolan Carroll has been consistent at the other. The best offseason addition on the back end probably was Walter Thurmond, who was switched from corner to safety and has teamed with Malcolm Jenkins to give the Eagles one of the best safety tandems in the league. The Eagles’ pass rush hasn’t been as consistent as they need it to be. They have only 15 sacks, but have 11 interceptions, the third most in the league.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B plus. The Eagles lost kicker Cody Parkey to an injury early in the season. His replacement, Caleb Sturgis, has done a decent job after a rocky start. Punter Donnie Jones is ninth in the league in net average. Darren Sproles is one of the league’s most dangerous punt returners. And the Eagles’ coverage units once again have been outstanding.

–COACHING: C plus. Chip Kelly’s biggest mistakes have had to do with his other job as general manager, more so than as head coach. But opposing defensive coordinators clearly have made adjustments against his spread offense, and he’s been slow to make his own adjustments. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has done a good job integrating a unit that has a ton of new faces.

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