Ezekiel Elliott

Roob's 10 observations from Eagles-Cowboys

Roob's 10 observations from Eagles-Cowboys

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OK, you thought the Raiders game was unwatchable?

This was worse. 

The Eagles finished the regular season with a ridiculously ugly 6-0 loss to the Cowboys, the first time they've been blanked at home since that Monday night game against the Seahawks in 2005 — the night they retired Reggie White's number (see breakdown).

The offense has been brutal the last two weeks, and the playoffs are up next.

So Doug Pederson, Frank Reich and John DeFilippo have two weeks to get this thing back on the rails. 

Here are today's 10 freezing observations from the Linc:

1. We talked about it all week, and this was the risk of letting Nick Foles play against Dallas to try to give him something positive going into the playoffs. By the time Pederson got him out of there, nothing positive had happened. Yeah, it was cold and windy. Yeah, Torrey Smith didn't do him any favors with that drop on the first drive (see report card). Still … this was a second straight terrible performance from Foles, and there are no more dress rehearsals. The Eagles have to be terrified internally with his inability to move the offense the last two weeks, and we all know if he's not significantly better it's going to be a very short playoff run. All I can say is Foles has a fairly sizeable career body of work, and although nobody expects him to be Carson Wentz, historically he hasn't been this bad. Just have to hope that two weeks of practice — and maybe some better weather the weekend of Jan. 13-14 — helps Foles find himself. Because what we've seen the last two weeks has been frightening.
 
2. Should Doug Pederson consider starting Nate Sudfeld in the playoffs? I know everybody always loves the backup quarterback and Sudfeld did do some good things against Dallas, but come on now. You can't just bench your backup QB — a guy who has won 16 of 21 starts in an Eagles uniform since 2013 — for a guy with three quarters of NFL experience. I know everybody is frustrated with Foles. And Sudfeld acquitted himself fine in his first NFL regular-season game, although he didn't get any points on the scoreboard. But when you're honest with yourself, the Eagles have a better chance of getting Foles back to where he was two weeks ago against the Giants than they do winning a playoff game with a kid who has thrown 23 passes in his career. It has to be Foles.   
 
3. But … if Foles doesn't play any better through the first, say, four series in the playoff opener? If he's this bad again? Get Sudfeld out there! 
 
4. What impressed me most about Sudfeld in his NFL debut was his accuracy. There wasn't anything down the field — I think the conditions have made that really tough the last couple weeks — but he did complete 19 of 23 passes for 128 yards and also showed some athleticism with a 22-yard run. Sudfeld broke the NFL record for most accurate performance by a player in his first career game (with a minimum of 20 passes). The record of 80 percent was set in 1968 by Sam Wyche of the Bengals, who went 20 for 25 against the Oilers. Definitely something to work with.
 
5. Was nice to see Sidney Jones out there running around. He did look rusty, which is understandable, considering he hadn't played in a game in exactly 365 days. But you got at least a small sense of his skill set, his ranginess and his confidence. Heck, he lined up against Dez Bryant on his first NFL defensive snap and didn't back down (see rookie report). Will Rasul Douglas move to safety? Will Jalen Mills move to the slot? Ronald Darby and Jones outside? They can all play. They're all versatile. Going to be interesting to see how this group of young corners grows over the next few years.

6. As wretched as Foles was, I have a lot of faith in this defense. Even the backups played pretty well Sunday against Dallas before they wore down in the fourth quarter. This defense is why the Eagles have a chance every time they play at home. Even with the backups playing most of the game Sunday, they still only allowed six points to a Cowboys team playing all its starters and clearly intent on trying to win the game. This defense always plays well at the Linc. They've only allowed 11 touchdowns at home this year and 23 at home the last two years, fewest in the NFL. The Eagles are going to be in every game they play at home.
 
7. Do we have to be concerned now with Kenjon Barner? He's fumbled a punt two weeks in a row now, and although he recovered both, he certainly looks shaky back there right now. Just another thing to worry about. 
 
8. He had one bad drop early, but I'm high on Mack Hollins. I see him moving right into that Smith role next year. Remember, when he was drafted, he was considered a special teamer and a big-play specialist. But he's got a well-rounded game and seems comfortable with all the routes. He just needs experience. I see him being a big part of this offense next year.
 
9. Speaking of Douglas, he had a rough time on the Cowboys' touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter, but you have to remember he hadn't played defense since the Denver game, and it definitely showed. He looked super rusty. I like Douglas. He's tough, physical and smart. I have no idea how everything will settle with all these young defensive backs moving forward, but I'll be surprised if he's not a significant part of this defense moving forward.
 
10. Finally, I'm just really disappointed the Eagles weren't able to get Brent Celek the 15 yards he needed for 5,000 in his career. Celek wasn't even on the field for the last drive. Celek has done nothing in his 11 years here other than play hard and practice hard without fail, never complain about his role and serve as a tremendous locker room leader and mentor to the younger tight ends, and he deserved to go out with that milestone. Celek has a $4 million base salary in 2018 but would count only $1 million against the cap if the Eagles release him. Maybe he'll retire. Maybe he'll play somewhere else. Maybe he'll take a pay cut and return to Philly. But there's a chance this was his final regular-season game in an Eagles uniform, and if it was, it kills me to know he fell just two yards shy of 5,000 in an Eagles uniform.

Why Eagles-Cowboys still matters

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USA Today Images

Why Eagles-Cowboys still matters

Eagles-Cowboys
1 p.m. on FOX
Eagles +2.5

The Eagles’ Week 17 tilt with the Dallas Cowboys may be meaningless in terms of the playoffs, but the NFC East rivals have plenty to play for in the final game of the regular season.

Dallas is eliminated from postseason contention, yet still has an opportunity to finish above .500. Redemption may be on the Cowboys’ minds as well after losing the first meeting of the season 37-9 at JerryWorld.

As for the Eagles, the top seed in the NFC is wrapped up, though most of the starters will see at least some action as the squad looks to maintain its edge heading into the tournament.

The game matters, even if the outcome doesn’t.

Milestone watch
The Eagles may have more motivation to win than it would seem, as a victory would set off some cool milestones — and even put them in the history books.

They can set a franchise record with 14 wins in a season. They can go undefeated at home for the first time since 1992. And they can sweep their six divisional matchups for the first time since 2004.

Ultimately, none of those marks are as important as getting to January as healthy as possible. That being said, the Eagles probably wouldn’t mind making a little history along the way.

Bold strategy?
Some would argue the health of the team is paramount, so it would be a mistake to play the starters at all Sunday. Yet, while one more key injury has the potential to devastate the Eagles, there isn’t a whole lot of choice in the matter.

Sure, Eagles coach Doug Pederson could sit a guy or there. But with gameday rosters maxing out at 46 players, some regular players inevitably will have to take the field. For example, there are only eight offensive linemen and nine defensive backs on the roster, but often, at least five of each playing at a time.

Plus, if the goal is to get the offense some additional reps with Nick Foles under center, would you want him standing in the pocket behind anything less than the best five offensive linemen?

Pederson said he wants the team to get some work in, but also acknowledged his hands are tied to an extent. Even when a starter comes out of the game, an injury to the backup could force the starter back into the game.

Naturally, if a key starter gets hurt, Pederson is going to get torched by the fans. Regardless, the reality is some of the starters have to play.

It’s Sudfeld time
While Pederson stressed most of the starters will play, the coach also acknowledged Nate Sudfeld will replace Foles at quarterback at some point during the contest.

The chance to see Sudfeld play is arguably the most compelling reason to tune in — right up there with the debut of second-round draft pick Sidney Jones at cornerback. The difference is expectations are sky high for Jones, whereas Sudfeld is a total mystery.

Sudfeld has become an incredibly important name for the Eagles because he’s one play away from becoming the starting quarterback. And if he performs well Sunday, his profile may be on the rise.

The Eagles could opt to trade Foles if there’s a market in the offseason, and install Sudfeld as the No. 2 behind Carson Wentz. Or, another team may view Sudfeld as a prospect and try to engineer a swap for the second-year player.

A sixth-round pick out of Indiana in 2016, Sudfeld has garnered quite a bit of attention. The Eagles swiped him from Washington after training camp, stashed him on the practice squad and then added him to the 53-man roster when another team attempted to sign him. It’s time to find out what all the commotion is about.

Coming up with the inactive list
Pederson more or less confirmed defensive end Brandon Graham will not play because of an ankle injury. But in doing so, the coach also provided some insight into how the inactive list will look Sunday.

Expect players who are a little banged up right now to take a seat this week.

Joining Graham could be cornerback Jalen Mills, who has also been dealing with an ankle injury. Running back Jay Ajayi could also make the list. Though Ajayi is not on the injury report, his chronic knee condition might be reason enough to give him a rest.

Pederson also said left guard Stefen Wisniewski will play after missing the last couple games with an ankle, so maybe it’s not so simple.

Whatever the case is, the inactive list is the place to stash the few starters who won’t be taking the field at all. With that in mind, it might not be a bad idea to stash key players like defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and linebacker Nigel Bradham there, too.

How ‘bout them Cowboys?
Whether the game matters or not, what would Dallas week be without a little trash talk?

With a 21-12 loss to the Seahawks last week, the Cowboys were eliminated from the playoffs, and the Eagles have a chance to leave their divisional foe stranded at eight wins for the season. And while All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott has returned from a suspension, Dallas still looks like a mess.

The Eagles may very well beat the Cowboys while using the back end of their bench, including a bunch players who are ordinarily inactive. Who wouldn’t get a kick out of that?

Just one more reason to tune in at 1 p.m.

5 key Eagles matchups vs. Cowboys

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USA Today Images/AP Images

5 key Eagles matchups vs. Cowboys

The Eagles don't have anything to play for this weekend. They're already the top seed in the NFC, which comes with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

But there's still a game Sunday against the Cowboys.

The Eagles will always want to beat the Cowboys. And a win Sunday will give the Birds their first 14-win season in franchise history and just the 30th such season in NFL history.

The real question is about playing time. How much will everyone get? It seems likely the Eagles will play some starters but keep out guys who have injuries. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are expected to play everyone who is healthy.

Here are five matchups to watch:

Nick Foles vs. Cowboys starters
It's a good thing Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett wants to play most of his starters in this game because Foles could certainly use the work.

After a terrible performance that has placed doubt in the minds of a ton of Eagles fans, a few good series against the Cowboys could do wonders for Foles. Not only could it help with the chemistry along the offense, but it could also be good for his confidence going forward.

The Eagles are going to need Foles to play better if they want to win in the playoffs. It's a no-brainer to play him this weekend.

Nate Sudfeld vs. Cowboys defense
Foles should get to start the game and play for a while, but it's also pretty important to get the new backup quarterback into an NFL game for the first time in his career. The Eagles have been high on Sudfeld all season and even protected him when the Colts tried to sign him away from the practice squad. Sudfeld had a good week of practice after getting bumped up to No. 2, but some actual game reps would be nice.

Could the Eagles survive if Foles went down? Probably not, but if Sudfeld plays well against the Cowboys' starting defense, it would give folks a little bit of hope if that scenario ever unfolded.

Ezekiel Elliott vs. Eagles' run defense
The Eagles gave up a season-high 137 yards on the ground in last week's win over the Raiders but still have the NFL's best rushing defense. They've given up 75.9 yards per game through 15 games. The next closest team is the Vikings, who have given up 87.1.

The Eagles missed Elliott in their first meeting down in Dallas when the Pro Bowl running back was serving his six-game suspension. Elliott has played nine games this season and has gained 80-plus yards in eight of them. The Eagles have had just four guys go for 80-plus on them this season: Todd Gurley, Kareem Hunt, Marshawn Lynch and Alfred Morris. They have not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season.

Elliott will try to be the first to put up 100 yards against them this season. No matter who is in there for the Eagles, they'll try to stop him.

Byron Bell vs. Derek Barnett
It seems pretty likely that Tyron Smith (knee) won't play in the regular-season finale, so his backup, Bell, will probably get the start. This would be a good time for Barnett to have a big game heading into the playoffs.

Barnett hasn't had a sack since he picked up half of one in the Seattle game back on Dec. 3. He hasn't had a solo sack since the last Dallas game on Nov. 19. Barnett has five sacks this season, which is seventh in Eagles history for a rookie. If he gets one more, he'd move into a tie for third. If he gets two more, he'd be all alone in third place behind Corey Simon (9½) and Reggie White (13).

Dak Prescott vs. Eagles defense
Prescott had a terrible game the last time these two teams played. He threw for 145 yards with three interceptions and was sacked four times. His 30.4 passer rating was by far the worst of his two-year career.

This game doesn't mean much, but Prescott is going to want to put together a much better performance this time around.