Patrick Robinson

5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat Cowboys

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5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat Cowboys

The Eagles didn't play last weekend but they still gained ground in the NFC East as all three teams lost. 

The Cowboys were one of them, falling to the Falcons 27-7 in Atlanta. 

But the Cowboys (5-4) will still be a tough test for the Eagles (8-1). This is a nationally televised Sunday night game down in Jerry's World. 

The Eagles are favored, but winning these matchups would go a long way in helping them get a win:

Cole Beasley vs. Patrick Robinson 
Beasley's numbers are way down this season. He has just 24 catches for 188 yards. The little shifty slot receiver is a tough matchup for Malcolm Jenkins, but Robinson seems much better equipped to shut him down in the slot. 

Remember, Beasley had a nine-catch 112-yard, two touchdown game against the Eagles in 2015. 

"[Beasley] looks exactly the same," Eagles DC Jim Schwartz said. "He's tough. He's a tough out. He's quick. He runs great routes. He's got speed to get down the field. I think that's one thing that's underestimated with him. He's a little bit sneaky, but he can get down the field too. " 

While it's easy to forget about Beasley on a team with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten and Ezekiel Elliott (when he's not suspended), Beasley has the ability to hurt teams. He's done it to the Eagles in the past. 

Jason Witten vs. Malcolm Jenkins 
Witten is 35 years old and he's not the Pro Bowl player he once was. But he still has 42 catches for 378 yards and three touchdowns this season, so the Eagles can't sleep on him. 

This season, the Eagles have given up some yards to tight ends — 47 catches for 500 yards and four touchdowns. Just nine teams have given up more yards to opposing tight ends. 

But this is a much more manageable matchup for Jenkins than covering the shifty Beasley. Jenkins means so much to the Eagles and this weekend will prove another reason why. 

Lane Johnson vs. Demarcus Lawrence 
Two weeks ago, Johnson did a great job against Von Miller when the Broncos were in town. Things don't get any easier for him this week. Now, he'll go against Lawrence, who leads in the NFL with 11 1/2 sacks in nine games. Lawrence has just one game this season without a sack — it came against Kansas City a couple weeks ago. 

When the Eagles elected to keep Johnson on the right side after Jason Peters' injury, this matchup against Lawrence was one of the reasons why. Miller, Lawrence and Khalil Mack were the names thrown out because they all typically line up on the right tackle. For most games, that's an advantage. Against the Eagles, it's a pretty clear disadvantage because Johnson has been playing at a Pro Bowl level. 

Zeke-less 'Boys vs. top run D
The Cowboys are without Elliott this week and that's an absolutely huge loss for them. Elliott will be back by the time the regular season finale comes around, but he won't play Sunday thanks to his six-game suspension that finally kicked in last weekend. 

Alfred Morris was once a two-time Pro Bowler in Washington but he's just simply not Elliott. He's actually averaging 6.8 yards per attempt after just 25 carries this season, but we'll see what his numbers look like after a few more weeks. 

This week, he'll have a really tough test against the Eagles, who have the best run defense in the NFL. They've given up just 66.4 yards per game on the ground. The Eagles are the first team to give up fewer than 600 yards on the ground through nine games since the 2010 Steelers. They're just the 11th team in NFL history to do it. 

And teams just aren't running against them anymore (see story). But if the Cowboys can't run, it would put a lot of pressure on Dak Prescott to carry the team, something he hasn't really been asked to do so far in his career. 

Zack Martin vs. Fletcher Cox 
Martin is one of the best offensive guards in football, but he actually gave up a sack last week. It was the first sack of the season he gave up after he gave up just two all last season and one in each of the two previous years. Martin has given up just five sacks in his four-year career, according to ProFootballFocus. 

It doesn't happen very often, but Cox is one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. It's obviously not all about sacks, Cox can change a game by simply getting pressure. The problem is that Martin doesn't give up much pressure either — just five QB hurries and one QB hit all season. 

The interesting part of this matchup is that teams elect to double Cox so often, but with an All-Pro guard against him, the Cowboys are much more likely to leave him 1-on-1. This is a heavyweight bout. 

Bonus matchup
It looks like Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith won't be able to play on Sunday night. That's a big deal because Chaz Green and Byron Bell were worked over against the Falcons — Bell will reportedly get the start on Sunday. Keep any eye on Vinny Curry and Derek Barnett in this game. They might have a chance to do some damage.

What Ronald Darby's return means for rest of Eagles' secondary

What Ronald Darby's return means for rest of Eagles' secondary

There are going to be a lot of moving pieces in the Eagles' secondary very soon.

Most likely this weekend.

Ronald Darby will move from a long-term injury layoff back into the starting lineup at left cornerback. Jalen Mills will move from left corner — where he's played very well in Darby's eight-game absence — back over to right cornerback. And Rasul Douglas will move from right corner to a lesser role. This from defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who warned that he's still not positive Darby will be ready to return this weekend.

Darby, who the Eagles acquired from the Bills a month before opening day, hasn't played since suffering an ankle injury in the opener in Washington.

Although he's been practicing for a few weeks, Schwartz said his status for the Eagles-Cowboys game Sunday night in Arlington, Texas, won't be determined until the defensive coaches see him practice this week.

"There's really nothing set in stone right now because we don't 100 percent know if he's going to be back," Schwartz said.

"He's trending the right way, he was back on the practice field (Monday). He was back on the practice field last week doing some scout team stuff. So that will sort of develop as we go."

And when Darby does return, he'll go back to left corner, where he played in Buffalo and where he opened the season.

"Most likely, most likely," Schwartz said. "He's played the left a long time. Those guys can all play both positions. They can all play both sides. I think that's important.

"Again, this is further on down the line, but if we get in positions where we want to match a receiver, he has the ability to do that. Last week, on the practice field, he took turns at both sides, and I think that's just for overall development.

"The one thing is, if there's two wide receivers and the corners have to match, you're going over to the right side anyway, so both guys have to be able to play both positions. But that's the position we sort of settled on to start the season — the left corner, and I would anticipate when he's healthy and ready to go that he would go back into that spot."

Douglas, the third-round pick from West Virginia, is tied for second among NFL rookies with two interceptions after being inactive in the opener.

Schwartz said the 22-year-old Douglas will still have some sort of role even when Darby does return.

"We've gotten contributions from a lot of different guys this year," he said Tuesday. "I would expect that to stay the same.

"The way those DBs work, it's just a matter of time before they're out there. Everybody has a role somewhere along the line, and we'll try to keep that in place and keep a lot of people involved. We've done that by necessity and also by plan so far this year."

Patrick Robinson will remain in the slot, where he's been all year, other than the second half of the 49ers game, which he missed with a concussion.

His reps were taken that day by Dexter McDougle, who was released last week, coinciding with Darby's anticipated return.

Rasul Douglas likely to hit Eagles' bench after Ronald Darby's return

Rasul Douglas likely to hit Eagles' bench after Ronald Darby's return

For the last eight weeks, Eagles rookie cornerback Rasul Douglas would let himself be a fan briefly during pregame warmups. As he prepared for each game on the field, he would take a moment to admire some of the NFL wide receivers he once watched while dreaming of playing in the NFL. 

Then he spent the rest of his afternoons trying to shut them down.  

"After that, it's me against you," Douglas said. "Us against y'all." 

For the most part, Douglas has held up during his rookie season. Sure, there were some miscues along the way, but over the last two months the third-round pick from West Virginia has been proving he belongs in the NFL. 

It just seems like he's now destined to retake his seat on the bench. 

Ronald Darby is expected to return to action this weekend against the Cowboys and the only reason Douglas ever got a chance to play was because Darby suffered that ankle injury in Week 1. With Darby back (see story), he'll start on the outside with Jalen Mills, while Patrick Robinson continues to hold down his slot corner spot. 

That leaves Douglas as the odd man out. 

"It's football. It happens," Douglas said. "One of the reasons I'm playing is because he got hurt, so he's back, we'll see how it goes. 

"Of course [it's tough]. You always want to play, but at the end of the day, my job is to help the team win any way I can. If that means I have to get the water for the guys when they come off the field or if I have to play 60 snaps or I have to play one snap. However much I play, I have to do my job the best I can."

Douglas, 22, was actually inactive for the season opener against Washington, when Darby got hurt, but he's been active in every game since. And he's played a significant role for the Eagles on defense. He has played 336 out of 578 defensive snaps (58 percent) on the season. 

In the last eight games, Douglas has started four. He has 30 tackles, nine passes defensed and two interceptions.

"Listen, he's made some rookie mistakes and he's given up some plays here and there," defensive backs coach Cory Undlin said, "but I think with the expectations we have in our room with this defense for this team right now, there's not an option to go out there and not play [well]. If he didn't, he wouldn't be out there. We'd go to the next guy. I think he's come in and he's grabbed his position. Whatever role he's in, he knows when he's out there, he has to play well. It's not going to change going forward."

The play of the entire cornerback group — Douglas included — is probably one of the reasons the Eagles didn't feel tempted to rush Darby back into action. Originally, the team thought he would be back in 4 to 6 weeks, but he missed a total of eight games. The Eagles went 7-1 in that stretch. 

On Monday, Darby said having depth at corner will allow him to be honest about when he might need to take a break during games as he gets back into football shape. 

"Yeah, I noticed how good [Douglas] was when I first got in," said Darby, who joined the team through a trade in August. 

The Eagles were chugging along without Darby but they're about to begin a pretty tough part of their schedule as they make a push to become the NFC's top seed. They're happy to have Darby back. 

But they're also pretty happy to know they can rely on Douglas if anything happens again.

"I just try to display what I can do," Douglas said. "Coach knows now what I can do. He knows if he needs me to play a few reps, snaps, one snap, 60 snaps, that I can do it."