Cowboys-Eagles: Pederson Ponders Rest vs. Rust
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The argument is a simple one: rest vs. rust.
At 13-2 with the No. 1 seed in the NFC wrapped up, the Philadelphia Eagles don't have anything to play for Sunday against a Dallas Cowboys team that was in the identical situation last season.
The rest side of the argument is based on common sense -- the bumps and bruises of an NFL season are real and significant this time of year, so much so that Doug Pederson has scaled back his practice schedule over the past two weeks, implementing more walk-throughs to help nurse his veterans toward the regular season finish line.
By resting some key players against the 'Boys, Philadelphia would ensure it would be completely healthy after its bye week for the divisional round of the playoffs on the weekend of Jan. 13-14.
One of those players resting would presumably be Fletcher Cox but the Pro Bowl defensive tackle offered up the rust side of the argument when discussing things at his locker on Wednesday.
“I cant afford to not play a game for two weeks," the big man said. "Some people may say that's the dumbest thing but it could be the smartest thing to keep guys in game shape."
And Cox's side of this discussion is buoyed by Dallas' ultimate fate a year ago, when the Cowboys rested their stars against the Eagles in Week 17 and never won again, dropping a 27-13 decision to Philadelphia and resting a week before running into the buzz saw of Aaron Rodgers.
The Eagles' current situation differs a bit because it has been forced to turn to backup quarterback Nick Foles in the wake of Carson Wentz's season-ending ACL injury.
While the Eagles have continued to win against bad teams -- the New York Giants and Oakland Raiders -- with Foles in the lineup, things got downright ugly from an offensive standpoint against the Eagles on Christmas night.
From that perspective, there is little doubt that getting Foles some much-needed repetitions against the Cowboys is probably a prudent idea even if third-string QB Nate Sudfeld is a play away.
Veteran receiver Torrey Smith, who has been through a successful Super Bowl run in Baltimore, believes everything that would be accomplished against the Cowboys with Foles in the game for at least a bit could also be replicated in practice, however.
"We can get more reps in practice and I don’t think the risk is worth it," Smith explained.
Pederson hasn't revealed his actual plan just yet but did explain that those looking for a preseason environment have to realize the limitations of the 53-man regular-season roster, which is then pared to 46 on game day, vs. the 90 men that can dress in August.
"Listen, you're only limited to 46 [players], and you can only put seven guys down," the coach said Monday. "If you do the math, some of your starters are going to have to play."
It's a good bet that defensive end Brandon Graham, who suffered an ankle injury against Oakland, will be one of those players down. Another on that list is left guard Stefen Wisniewski, who has missed the past two games with his own ankle injury.
Others dealing with some kind of injury issue this week are rookie defensive end Derek Barnett (groin), Mike linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (quadriceps), cornerback Jalen Mills (ankle), and left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee).
Some of the star players that could be limited include receiver Alshon Jeffery, tight end Zach Ertz, running backs LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, center Jason Kelce, right tackle Lane Johnson, safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, linebacker Nigel Bradham, cornerback Ronald Darby and Cox.
"Those are some of the age-old questions that teams in that situation have been asking for a long time," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said when asked about his thought process last season during a conference call with the Philadelphia-area media. "You never truly know what the answer is. Ultimately, you do what's right for your team."
For Garrett last season that meant resting star running back Ezekiel Elliott, and Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith while also pulling quarterback Dak Prescott after the first quarter.
"We had a number of guys who had been nicked up, so for those guys it didn't make sense for them to play," Garrett said. "For the other guys, we just felt like a good week of practice and limited time in the game would be fine."
Pederson seems ready to walk down a similar path.
Rookie defensive tackle Elijah Qualls, who hasn't dressed for nine of the previous 10 games, was told to be on notice.
"[They are] telling me to be ready," Qualls told 973espn.com on Thursday. "They are expecting me to get some playing time. I'm not sure how much. I mean, I'm ready for anything."
973espn.com Prediction: Cowboys 23, Eagles 14 (2017 Prediction Record: 12-3; vs. spread: 9-6)
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen