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How the Eagles and Redskins have changed since their first meeting

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How the Eagles and Redskins have changed since their first meeting

Back in Week 1, the Eagles and Redskins looked like two evenly matched teams, and they wound up playing a very evenly matched game. It took Brandon Graham's stripping the ball from Kirk Cousins and Fletcher Cox's returning it 20 yards with 1:29 remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Eagles a 30-17 lead. Otherwise, the game was close.

But this is Week 7. A lot can change in the NFL in 43 days — and it has. The Eagles are on a four-game winning streak and their confidence only appears to be growing. And while Washington has won three of its last four, the injury report reads like a short story these days. These teams are not remotely the same, the Redskins in particular.

It’s worth looking at position-by-position because the differences are rather striking in several cases.

QUARTERBACKS
Do we still think Cousins is a better quarterback than Carson Wentz? If nothing else, Wentz is closing any perceived gap between the two. Cousins is completing a higher percentage of his passes for more yards per attempt, and it’s not particularly close — 66.5 percent and an 8.4 average, compared to 60.9 percent and 7.7 for Wentz. But Wentz has also led the Eagles to a 5-1 record, while Washington enters this week at 3-2. I know who I’d take, and it’s certainly close regardless — although, technically, Cousins is still the more efficient and prolific passer of the two.

Marginal edge: Washington

RUNNING BACKS
It’s almost as if Darren Sproles switched uniforms. Sproles is out for the year, depriving the Eagles of one of the most unique weapons in the NFL. Or so we thought, anyway, because Chris Thompson is doing a lot of Sproles-like things in Washington. Thompson has become the focal point of that offense, leading the team in rushing (175 yards), receiving (340 yards) and touchdowns (4). Conversely, the Eagles have shifted to a power running game led by LeGarrette Blount, who entered the week ranked third in the NFL with 5.57 yards per carry. With the statuses of Robert Kelley and Wendell Smallwood up in the air, both backfields could be incomplete.

Edge: Even

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS
Zach Ertz has 405 yards receiving and four touchdowns. Nelson Agholor has 321 yards and four scores, while Alshon Jeffery has 317 with two trips to the end zone. After Thompson, Washington’s leading receiver is Vernon Davis with 225 and one touchdown. Even Torrey Smith has 210 and a score. The Eagles have played one more game than the Redskins, but still. Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson have proven unable to replace the production left behind by DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon when the duo chose to leave as free agents. Jamison Crowder has oddly gone missing as well, and Jordan Reed just looks like a shell of his former self.

Distinct edge: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINES
For my money, the Eagles have the best offensive line in the NFL right now. They replaced Isaac Seumalo at left guard, mostly with Stefen Wisniewski, and the rest of the unit has been playing at or above expectations ever since. Washington’s O-line is pretty good, too, when everybody is healthy — but that won’t be the case on Monday night. Left tackle Trent Williams is delaying knee surgery, so he won’t be 100 percent if he suits up at all. Meanwhile, Williams’ backup, Ty Neskhe, was already ruled out for this game. This situation has the potential to take a turn for disastrous for the Redskins.

Edge: Eagles

DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN
First-round draft pick Jonathan Allen landed on injured reserve for Washington this week, joining outside linebacker Trent Murphy, who also missed the opener. Those are some of the more disruptive players up front for Washington, though defensive tackle Matthew Ioannidis has emerged as an interior pass-rusher and is tied with Ryan Kerrigan for second on the team with 3½ sacks. The Eagles have remained pretty much the same up front, boasting the No. 1 run defense in the NFL so far this season. Cox and company have been as advertised.

Slight edge: Eagles

DEFENSIVE BACKS
The Redskins’ offensive line could devolve into a mess but their secondary already looks like a disaster. All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman is out, and the other half of that tandem, Bashaud Breeland, is hobbled by a knee injury and is questionable to play. Starting safety Deshazor Everett is questionable, too, so that’s three-quarters of the secondary that either isn’t playing or won’t be 100 percent. The Eagles, on the other hand, are only getting healthier. Rodney McLeod and Corey Graham have been back after missing some time, and Ronald Darby could return to the lineup on Monday. Plus, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson and Malcolm Jenkins are all playing at a high level.

Very distinct edge: Eagles

SPECIAL TEAMS
Both teams suffered key losses this week, with kicker Dustin Hopkins going on IR for Washington and Chris Maragos down for the Eagles. The Eagles were also hit with the losses of Caleb Sturgis and Sproles, but Jake Elliott has since nailed down the kicking duties, while Kenjon Barner is a capable fill-in returning punts. The Redskins didn’t have great special teams before losing Hopkins and they surely aren’t going to be better off now.

Edge: Eagles

OVERALL
The last time these two teams met, the Eagles looked slightly superior on paper and wound up winning a game that was determined in the final two minutes. This time, the Eagles appear to have a rather sizable advantage, not to mention they're playing at home, so you would think the margin of victory would be greater. Granted, this is a game between two NFC East opponents and division games are usually tough, so it might not turn out that way. But given the state the Redskins are in entering this contest, there’s a reason the expectations are a convincing win for the Eagles this time around.

Edge: Eagles

Jerry Jones goes after Roger Goodell over Ezekiel Elliott suspension

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Jerry Jones goes after Roger Goodell over Ezekiel Elliott suspension

Jerry Jones, the NFL's most outspoken troll, just wants to watch the world burn.

After weeks of talk and escalation, the Cowboys' owner is ready to go to war with Roger Goodell and the league's other owners over Ezekiel Elliott's suspension.

According to an ESPN report, Jones threatened the commissioner on a conference call after Elliott's suspension was announced, saying "I'm gonna come after you with everything I have. If you think (Patriots owner) Bob Kraft came after you hard, Bob Kraft is a p---y compared to what I'm going to do."

For weeks now, Jones has tried to disrupt talks of a contract extension for Goodell, promoted objectively bad pizza in the name of football, and landed himself in hot water with the other owners. So much so that there has reportedly been talk about removing Jones as the Cowboys' owner.

It's hard to pick a side here. Jones — the long-lost twin of Emperor Palpatine — and Goodell — a man with rulings more inconsistent than Pete Morelli. You don't really want to root for either of them, but it is fun to think about the extremely unlikely chance that Jones loses the Cowboys. 

Cowboys just another inferior opponent to Eagles

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Cowboys just another inferior opponent to Eagles

It was only a few weeks ago when it appeared this first meeting between the Eagles and Dallas Cowboys was shaping up to be a battle for NFC East supremacy. Now that we’re here, the Cowboys are just trying to save their season, and the Eagles just want to take care of business against an inferior opponent.

That’s not a stretch. Are the Cowboys a good team? Well, they’re not bad, at least based on their 5-4 record. They certainly would be a lot better were it not for injuries and suspensions. But as the team is currently constructed right now, Dallas is not on the Eagles’ level.

Name one thing the Cowboys do better than the Eagles in 2017? That’s going to be a struggle, because aside from maybe punting, or maybe having a marginally superior pass rush, or maybe running the football before Ezekiel Elliott was sent packing, there’s really nowhere Dallas possesses an edge at this point.

Doesn’t mean the Cowboys won’t pose a threat to the Eagles or even win on Sunday night. It’s simply a difficult scenario to envision when we break down the matchup on paper.

QUARTERBACKS

We’re probably going to be having this debate for many years. One-and-a-half seasons certainly isn’t enough to settle it. That being said, there’s no question who’s playing better right now, as in ‘17. Carson Wentz might be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player through 10 weeks. Wentz has thrown for more yards (2,262 to 1,994), a higher yards per attempt (7.8 to 6.9), and found the end zone with greater frequency (23 to 21) – including rushing touchdowns – compared to Dak Prescott. The Eagles’ signal caller also has just one more turnover (7 to 6) and 26 fewer yards rushing (211 to 237). Ultimately, the stats are all pretty close, but Wentz also has the more important number over Prescott right now: Wins, eight to five.

Slight advantage: Eagles

RUNNING BACKS

It’s safe to say that any combination of Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith (not to be confused with Broncos great Rod Smith) is a massive drop-off from Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys simply can’t replace the explosive element Elliott brought to their offense, not with this collection of has-beens and one nobody, anyway. Not one of those ball carriers has the pure ability of a Jay Ajayi at this stage of their careers, and the Eagles wouldn’t swap LeGarrette Blount or Corey Clement with Dallas, either. Fun fact about the Cowboys backfield: The unit’s leading receiver is Smith with 38 yards.

Clear advantage: Eagles

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS

Zach Ertz is leads both teams with 43 receptions, 528 yards receiving and six touchdowns, and he even missed the Eagles’ last game. Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor are second and fourth, respectively, with 500 and 428 yards receiving, and tied for second with five touchdowns each. The Cowboys’ top receivers haven’t been as effective at getting down the field or in the red zone, though it’s a deep group. Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley are essentially possession receivers at this point, and even speedy Terrance Newman is averaging a career-worst 11.8 yards per catch. Dallas’ best deep threat has been Brice Butler this season with 10 receptions for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Otherwise, the vertical game has been nonexistent.

Advantage: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINE

In retrospect, the Cowboys’ issues this season were easy to see coming. The retirement of right tackle Doug Free started a game of musical chairs up front, while the departure of guard Ronald Leary in free agency hurt the unit’s depth. Going from guard to tackle has been an adjustment for La’el Collins, and whether at left guard or left tackle, Chaz Green has been an abject failure. Dallas needs Tyron Smith healthy and covering Prescott’s blind side for this to even have a prayer of working. Meanwhile, the Eagles’ O-line keeps on ticking despite losing Jason Peters, which is a credit to Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s development. Peters or no, this continues to look like the best unit in the league.

Advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE LINE AND LINEBACKERS

The Eagles may have the best front four in the NFL, or one of them at least, but don’t discount the Cowboys here. Dallas is tied for fifth with 29 sacks, and Demarcus Lawrence leads the league with 11.5. The defense isn’t great against the run – 4.3 yards per carry allowed is tied for 23rd – but Lawrence, David Irving and Tyrone Crawford can all get after the quarterback. Of course, it’s not as if the Eagles aren’t scary rushing the passer, with just four fewer sacks, plus Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and company boast the No. 1 run defense as well. Even if the lines are considered even, there’s going to be some separation at linebacker, as the Cowboys are without the heart soul of their defense, Sean Lee (hamstring).

Slight advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Despite a solid pass rush, teams have thrown on the Cowboys’ secondary. In terms of opponents’ quarterback rating, Dallas ranks 23rd (96.4). It’s a young backfield, with rookies Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods and Chidobe Awuzie – the latter returning from a hamstring injury – in outsized roles. The Eagles are young at corner themselves, with Ronald Darby finally back from an ankle and rejoining Jalen Mills, but have seasoned safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod over the top. The unit will give up some ground, coming in at 26th in terms of yards per game (249.4), yet is ninth in quarterback efficiency (81.2). Teams throw against this group because they have to, not because they want to.

Advantage: Eagles

SPECIAL TEAMS

At one point, Dan Bailey may have been the best kicker in the league, but he’s coming off his worst season as a pro and is now sidelined by a groin injury. That was the Cowboys’ primary strength on special teams. Now unreliable Mike Nugent is handling the kicking duties. Dallas punter Chris Jones has been pretty good at pinning opponents deep, which is nice, because he’s getting a lot more opportunities this year. The Eagles routinely grade among the top units in all phases, and will get the nod over most opponents, even if there is a Pro Bowl kicker.

Advantage: Eagles

COACHING

Jason Garrett is the reigning NFL Coach of the Year. He doesn’t call the plays. He doesn’t run the defense. Heck, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones probably decides when to call a timeout or throw the challenge flag. Yet, Garrett has hardware saying he’s the best. To his credit, there is a good staff in place around him, particularly defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. But as of now, Doug Pederson is well on his way to winning Coach of the Year in ’17, and will do it while actually running a team, nor are there any weak links on his staff. With an unconvincing 62-49 record, including playoffs, we’ll go ahead and chalk up Garrett’s 2016 campaign as an anomaly.

Advantage: Eagles

OVERALL

The Cowboys went 13-3 in the regular season in ‘16 on the strength of a dominant offensive line, punishing ground attack and well-coached defense. While the latter is still in place, even that aspect of the equation benefitted from ball-control offense. But Dallas’ line is an injury away from being in shambles, and the NFL’s reigning rushing champion is suspended. That leaves a young quarterback with aging weapons and adequate protection at best, and a defense that can rush the quarterback but does little else. Meanwhile, the Eagles have the best record in the league right now at 8-1, and they were firing on all cylinders heading into their bye. This is a week-to-week sport, so everything can change in the blink of an eye on Sunday night. Going in, however, there’s no denying which side is superior.

Distinct advantage: Eagles