This is Dallas Cowboys Week, which always means something in and around Philadelphia. It means that the Eagles better win on Sunday night, or else. And to beat Dallas, a struggling team with three straight losses, the Eagles have to find some kind of magic with a defense that has had trouble covering quality wide receivers all season (and dating to last year, too).
It’s important that Eagles fans wrap their heads around these facts before kickoff on Sunday night: The Eagles aren’t on the verge of making any trades for a change-the-world cornerback. The ones they have on the roster who are injured – Jalen Mills (eligible to play this week, but he may not yet be ready as he comes off the Physically Unable To Perform List), Avonte Maddox (neck), Ronald Darby (hamstring), Cre’Von LeBlanc (on Injured Reserve, not eligible to play until after the Buffalo game in two weeks) — aren’t turning anything around against the Cowboys. What the Eagles have is what they have, and that isn’t necessarily a comforting thought with the Cowboys next on the schedule.
Now, a disclaimer here: The Cowboys are licking their wounds after Sunday’s embarrassing loss to the New York Jets and they’re hurting, and star wide receiver Amari Cooper is very questionable after suffering a quadriceps injury against the Jets. But the big picture here isn’t about what the Cowboys are, or aren’t. It’s about the Eagles and the tough times they’re having on defense.
As much as the offense misses the blinding speed and the big plays of injured wide receiver DeSean Jackson, the mounting concerns are on the defensive side of the ball. The Eagles were pushed all over the field in Minnesota. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was hardly touched on his way to a four-touchdown afternoon. He toyed with the Eagles, completing quick passes to his wide receivers, who broke attempted tackles from the Eagles cornerbacks, he embarrassed corners Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas with perfect throws to wide-open receivers, and he attacked the Eagles’ aggressiveness with the screen passing game.
“We had too many breakdowns – poor communication, missed tackles, bad technique. That is not who we are,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said.
Sounds good, but the evidence is mounting that the Eagles are who they are – a defense that stops the run and gets gashed against a good passing game. With or without Cooper, the Cowboys have weapons in the passing game. They’ve also got a running back, Ezekiel Elliott, who is dangerous as a pass catcher. Quarterback Dak Prescott is having the best season of his career and his numbers are right up there among the league’s best this year. Even though they’re banged up in a lot of areas, the Cowboys are still a threat to move the football and score points.
So what do the Eagles do?
“We learn from our mistakes and we improve,” Jones said.
Again, sounds great. It’s the right answer. Seeing is believing. The Eagles have a chance to take sole possession of the NFC East, amazingly, with a win on the road on Sunday night. To do so, the defense has to lead the way. And to lead, the defense has to change something up, anything. They need more pressure on the front end and they need better coverage on the back end. They need to play with fire and intensity. They need to make the game there and beat the Cowboys.
Or else. That’s just the way it is around here during Dallas Week. ••