5 matchups to watch as Eagles head to Dallas for NFC East showdown

5 matchups to watch as Eagles head to Dallas for NFC East showdown

The Eagles (6-6) are heading to North Texas for a huge division showdown against the Cowboys (7-5) for first place in the NFC East. 

According to FiveThirtyEight, if the Eagles win this game, they’ll have a 57 percent chance to make the playoffs. If they lose, they’d have an 8 percent chance. So, yeah, this is a huge game. 

Here are five matchups to watch Sunday: 

Zeke Elliott vs. Eagles’ defense

The last time these two teams played in November, Elliott ran wild. He carried the ball 19 times for 151 yards with a touchdown and caught six passes for 36 yards and another score. Statistically, the Eagles still have the 10th-best run defense in the league, giving up 103.7 yards per game, but their standard has fallen off from earlier in the season. 

This is the most obvious one, but stopping Zeke would go a long way in slowing down the Cowboys. If the Eagles can put the game on Dak Prescott, they’d have a much better shot at sneaking out of Texas with a win. That’s no easy task, especially because two of the Eagles’ starting linebackers have broken hands and it’s already hard enough to get Zeke to the ground. 

Amari Cooper vs. Rasul Douglas 

Since getting him before the trade deadline, Cooper has given the Cowboys an offensive weapon they hadn’t had since Dez Bryant was in his prime. In the first meeting between these two teams, Cooper had six catches for 75 yards, but since then, he had that huge breakout game against the Redskins. 

Jalen Mills is still on the shelf, so Douglas is likely to get another start Sunday. He had an up-and-down game against Washington. He struggled in coverage at times but made some really important tackles at other times. This season has been up and down for Douglas and this will be a tough test in the most important game of the year. 

Lane Johnson vs. DeMarcus Lawrence 

Over the last few weeks, as he has gotten further away from that high ankle sprain and MCL sprain, Johnson has begun to look like himself again. That’s great news for the Eagles because when Johnson is on the top of his game, he’s the best right tackle in football. And Lawrence is about as good a test as there is in the NFL. 

Lawrence leads the Cowboys with 9 1/2 sacks and is about to go double digits for the second straight season. He can get after the quarterback, but he’s also really good against the run. He’s become a complete player and can wreck a game. 

Carson Wentz vs. Cowboys defense 

It just feels like if the Eagles win this game, Wentz is going to need a big afternoon. Statistically, he had a good game in the first meeting. He threw for 360 yards and two touchdowns but also threw an interception on the Eagles’ second possession of the game that led to a field goal. He needs to avoid mistakes like that Sunday, especially after a bad INT against Washington this past weekend.

Dallas has a good defense, but Wentz needs to have a big game Sunday. 

Josh Adams vs. Leighton Vander Esch 

It’s pretty clear that Adams has ascended into his role as the Eagles’ top running back and that’s happened since the last time these two teams met. Adams has been running hard and has 42 carries for over 160 yards over the last two games. He has piled up a couple injuries during that stretch, but he’s going to be the guy again Sunday. 

The Cowboys feature two young and athletic linebackers, but Vander Esch has really been the star. The first-round pick took over when Sean Lee went down with yet another injury and the Cowboys will never look back. He’s really good, but the Eagles have to stay committed to the run. I know I said Wentz needs to have a big game, but a balance will be an important part of that as well.

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Eagles leave open possibility that Jason Peters returns in 2020

Eagles leave open possibility that Jason Peters returns in 2020

INDIANAPOLIS — Jason Peters is 38 years old, will become a free agent in less than a month and the Eagles already drafted his replacement in the first round a little less than a year ago.

This seems pretty simple, right?

Yet, as Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson spoke to reporters on Tuesday at the NFL’s Scouting Combine, neither man was ready to say the team is moving on.

“I think as it pertains to all of our free agents, it’s important that we keep an open mind with everyone and try to figure out as we get more information,” Roseman said.

“A big part of this week is accumulating information. That’s what we do here. Obviously, when you’re talking about Jason Peters, you’re talking about a Hall of Fame player, a Hall of Fame person, someone that’s very special to us and played at a really high level last year. We’ll go through all those decisions this week.”

Pederson gave less of a politician answer.

“Heck yeah,” Pederson said when asked if he wants Peters back next season.

So that leads us to this: Is there really a chance the Eagles would re-sign a 38-year-old left tackle instead of playing a first-round pick they traded up to get less than a year ago?

It seems crazy.

Coming into Tuesday, I thought there was a chance Roseman would get to the podium and use the forum as a chance to make a statement about Peters. I thought, maybe, he would get up there and tell us all that the Eagles were planning to let Peters hit the free agent market, thank him for his time and give a vote of confidence to Andre Dillard as the left tackle of the future.

That didn’t happen.

In fact, Roseman and Pederson actually invited more speculation and I walked away thinking there’s actually a chance they try to bring back Peters for next season, even though it sounds pretty crazy.

Maybe they just haven’t talked to Peters yet. That’s possible. In a case like this, if the Eagles want to move on, they wouldn’t want to do anything to disrespect a guy who has been here a decade and will likely end up in Canton. Even Roseman admitted that it’s important to treat guys of this magnitude a little differently.

“There’s no question,” Roseman said. “When you talk about guys who are historic players in the National Football League, guys who are going into the Hall of Fame, guys who are going into the Eagles Hall of Fame, those guys are special people and special players and you don’t have a lot of those during the course of your career.

“So you try to make decisions first that are best for the football team and at the same time have respect and appreciation for what guys have done and what guys have done going forward and have been a part of your organization for a long time.”

Peters played the 2019 season on a renegotiated one-year deal that he signed in March. And while Peters didn’t play at an All Pro level last year, he was still pretty good.

But throughout last season, it seemed like the Eagles were going to let Peters play and groom Dillard. And, sure, Dillard struggled at right tackle in his one start at the position, but acquitted himself quite well at left tackle when Peters missed a three-game stretch.

On Tuesday, I asked Pederson about the possibility that bringing back Peters could stunt Dillard’s long-term development. I mean, what would it say about a first-round rookie if the Eagles didn’t start him in Year 2 and instead re-signed a 38-year old to play in front of him?

“Andre is the guy we selected,” Pederson said. “He was our top pick a year ago. We feel like he has a bright future. Again, this is where that fine line comes in. We have to have some difficult conversations, not only for us internally but with the players.”

Pederson said his feelings about wanting Peters back are similar to the way he felt about Darren Sproles. Well, the Eagles brought Sproles back in 2018 and 2019 and he got hurt both seasons. It seems like a cautionary tale.

And unlike Sproles, who was a rotational player, if Peters returns, he’ll be the starting left tackle.

“It is that simple when it comes down to it,” Pederson said. “It’s either JP or it’s Andre and those are decisions we have to make.”

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Penn State’s KJ Hamler hopes Miles Sanders puts in good word with Eagles

Penn State’s KJ Hamler hopes Miles Sanders puts in good word with Eagles

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State receiver KJ Hamler said he wasn’t surprised to see how much success Miles Sanders had during his rookie season with the Eagles in 2019.

The two are close friends and Hamler claims he knew from his freshman year at Penn State that Sanders would be a successful NFL player.

Hamler, 20, would like to follow in his footsteps, especially if those footsteps lead to Philadelphia.

“It would be great to play with Miles,” Hamler said at the NFL Scouting Combine on Tuesday. “I hope he put in a good word.”

Hamler, the 5-foot-9, 178-pound speedster, said he has a meeting on the books with the Eagles on Wednesday. He would relish the opportunity to play with his close friend Sanders if the Eagles decide to draft him.

It’s likely Hamler will be a Day 2 pick in the draft in April. And the Eagles certainly have a need for a speedy receiver.

As a junior in 2019, Hamler caught 56 passes for 904 yards (16.1) and eight touchdowns. He did struggle at times with drops, which he claims was a focus issue. It’s something he wants to improve and show NFL teams that it’s not a problem this week. There’s also a chance Hamler runs an impressive time in the 40-yard dash.

This class of receivers has been called historic, but Hamler is a competitor and he hasn’t shied away from the competition. He wants to be the best of the bunch.

So what separates him from others?

“I’m a dawg,” he said. “That’s just point blank, period. You don’t find a lot of people my size doing some things that I do. For me, my playmaking ability and my dawg mentality just stands out.”

If the Eagles draft Hamler, he would get a chance to play with DeSean Jackson, someone whom Hamler has looked up to for a long time.

The idea of Jackson grooming a young speed receiver is certainly intriguing.

“I just love his playmaking ability,” Hamler said of Jackson. “Whenever you need him to make a play, whether it’s on special teams or on offense, he’s going to do it.”

Throughout this pre-draft process, Hamler has been in contact with his friend Sanders and the Eagles’ running back has given him plenty of advice.

The best piece of advice: “Just stay hungry is probably the main thing. It’s a grown man sport. Basically, you gotta fight for another man’s job.”

Sanders in 2019 had an impressive rookie season. He rushed for over 800 yards, had over 500 yards receiving and six total touchdowns. His 1,327 yards from scrimmage were a record for Eagles rookies.

None of that surprised Hamler. But he was proud.

“I was very proud. I think a lot of us was,” he said. “A lot of people always had this cloud over his head about him playing behind Saquon, Saquon this, Saquon that, but he wanted to be himself. He wanted to make a name for Miles Sanders. I’m proud that he’s doing real well and I’m blessed to be in this opportunity that he was in.”

The Eagles drafted Sanders with the 53rd overall pick in last year’s draft. They now hold the 53rd pick in this year’s draft. It would be somewhat fitting if they used it this year on Hamler. He really would follow in Sanders’ footsteps.

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