Even for September this is a Huge Eagles, Cowboys Matchup
There's barely a hint of fall in the Philadelphia air, but the Eagles are hosting the Cowboys at the Linc.
The stakes are not nearly as high as they were nine months ago, either, when the Eagles and Cowboys played for the NFC East championship in Philadelphia, a game the Cowboys dominated.
Philadelphia and Dallas will square off in September for just the 16th time in the history of the rivalry and the first time since 2008.
The two NFC East favorites will be going after each other's weaknesses. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo threw the ball 45 times last week vs. New York, and Philadelphia's defense has it's share of problems in the secondary in last week's opener.
Philadelphia's offense, on the other hand, is built around the power running game of DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles, while the Cowboys defense is without Greg Hardy, Rolando McClain who are both suspended and Randy Gregory who is out with an ankle injury.
Who's more vulnerable: Philadelphia's secondary or the Cowboys' defense? Something is going to give between these two teams that have an awful lot of history.
The Eagles and Cowboys have met 112 times, including playoffs, with the Eagles trailing the series, 49-63. The series between the two NFC East rivals began in 1960 as the Eagles defeated the Cowboys 27-25 at the Cotton Bowl and has been a fierce battle ever since.
(Listen to Eagles reporter Jimmy Kempski of Phillyvoice.com talk about the Eagles vs Cowboys rilvary)
Since Chip Kelly took over as Eagles head coach back in 2013, just about every matchup has had some meaning behind it. The 2013 season finale was a winner-take-all game in Dallas with the Eagles winning the game, and advancing to the playoffs as NFC East champs. The Eagles won the first regular-season meeting on Thanksgiving day in Dallas in 2014 rather handily, raising expectations and giving the Eagles a leg up in the NFC East. The two teams played again with the NFC East title in the balance two weeks later, and Philadelphia was dominated in a 38-27 loss to Dallas.
Dallas has won three straight in Philadelphia and that is something Chip Kelly is well aware of, it serves as the backdrop to Sunday's game, not the motivation.
"Well, we've been here going into year three, they’ve beat us on our field and we’ve beat them on their field." Chip Kelly stated.
"So we hope we can change that because we're playing on our field this time. We haven't talked about, you know -- I mean, every game is a must-win, so it's not added motivation [like], ‘Hey, we're at home, we've got to play harder.’ It's we've got to go out and play a really good Dallas team. Whether it would be in Dallas or here, we've got to play a good football game."
Sunday is the Eagles' chance to prove it. They're at Lincoln Financial Field, a place the Eagles trail the series with the Cowboys, 5-7.
The Cowboys are missing wide receiver Dez Bryant, who suffered a broken foot in the season opener. The Eagles are pretty much as healthy as an NFL team can expect to be , with only special teams ace Seyi Ajirotutu missing the game.
The secondary that has been Eagle's Achilles heel over the previous two seasons under Billy Davis and the team made an effort to trying to upgrade that area this offseason. Walter Thurmond III is learning a new position, moving from corner to safety while Malcolm Jenkins is being used in the slot with the departure of Brandon Boykin, forcing Chris Maragos into extended action at safety.
"I thought Malcolm did a really nice job and Chris did a really nice job," Kelly explained.
"But again, a lot of it was because of what Atlanta did. A lot of times [Falcons WR] Julio [Jones] ended up in the slot. We wanted a bigger, physical guy in there. So it can change this week depending on how we think -- and is Dallas going to change with Dez being out? Are they going to move some of their guys around?"
Also in the secondary, Cary Williams is gone, being replaced at right cornerback by Byron Maxwell, a $63 million free-agent addition, and Nolan Carroll is filling Bradley Fletcher's old left corner spot.
Last week in Atlanta, the Eagles allowed Julio Jones to catch 9-of-11 targets for 142 yards and two touchdowns in the Falcons' 26-24, Week 1 win over the Eagles on Monday night. The Eagles had problems in the secondary all of last season and they didn't seem to fix it after watching Week 1.
Now, the secondary wasn't responsible for surrendering all those plays. In fact, one of the biggest issues in Week 1 was the lack of pass rush they team generated against the Falcons patchwork offensive line. The Dallas front five is a much more established unit then the Atlanta's five and if the Eagles don't put pressure on Tony Romo - Dez or no Dez, the Eagles secondary may have their hands full.
One way Chip Kelly hopes can fix a lot of the issues the Eagles had is working on their technique.
"It's something you have to constantly work at," Kelly said. "We had technique problems on the perimeter blocking, we had technique problems up front, we had technique problems I think at every position. I think every team's the same. It's not just, ‘Hey, we covered that in camp, we're good to go.’ It's an ongoing process of honing your fundamentals."
And while it's only September, this is certainly a big game. For both teams.