NFL Preview - Philadelphia (3-8) at Dallas (5-6)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Jeremy Maclin has played on some successful Missouri teams during his college days and even some good ones with the Philadelphia Eagles.
But this season is a new experience for Maclin and the sputtering Eagles.
"This is something that I have never experienced before," Maclin said after Monday night's 30-22 loss to Carolina. "Last year we were in same position, but this season feels a little different. As a football team and organization, we have to stay strong and stay together."
The Eagles will test their mettle when they invade the Lone Star State to take on a Dallas Cowboys team that added to their misery with a 38-23 victory a few weeks ago on Nov. 11 at Lincoln Financial Field, where Philadelphia lost for the seventh time in a row to Cam Newton and the Panthers. The Eagles rallied from a 14-3 deficit to take the lead, but costly turnovers, poor tackling and indecisive play from rookie quarterback Nick Foles reared its ugly head.
Philadelphia is riding its longest losing streak since finishing the 1994 campaign with seven consecutive defeats and hasn't lost eight in a row in one season since opening the 1968 campaign with an 0-11 mark en route to a 2-12 finish under head coach Joe Kuharich.
Current Eagles coach Andy Reid, the longest tenured in the NFL, could be counting down the days of his dismissal. Owner Jeffrey Lurie said an 8-8 finish, which the Eagles had last season, would not suffice. Well, the Eagles need to match last year's mark by winning the final five games and that doesn't appear to be in the cards. Not with quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy dealing with concussions, although Vick is progressing in his recovery. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson is done for the season with fractured ribs suffered on Monday.
Reid was asked if Vick could start against the Cowboys, who took him out of the game a few weeks ago.
"We've got to get him healthy here, see where he's at," Reid said Monday. "He took another test today, didn't pass it. I'm not going to put him at risk, that's not where we're going with this thing."
Vick failed another test taken on Wednesday and is still not able to practice.
The Eagles don't seem to be headed anywhere and have allowed at least 28 points in five straight games for the first time in team history. For how bad the offense has been, the defense hasn't done much either. Falling behind early has been a trend and the same goes with failing to pressure opposing quarterbacks. One defender won't be sporting midnight green anymore, as defensive end Jason Babin became another scapegoat to the Eagles' demise and was released on Tuesday.
The veteran was claimed off waivers by the Jacksonville Jaguars the following day.
Babin, who had a career-high 18.0 sacks last season and just 5 1/2 in 2012, was reportedly becoming a cancer in the locker room and his departure opens the door for some of the younger guys. Babin said when he saw Reid's number go across his caller id, he knew it wasn't going to be good news. But at least the Eagles can evaluate some younger talent in Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham and Phillip Hunt. The high-priced Babin was criticized for giving up on the team and not going at it 100 percent on every snap, something fellow DE Trent Cole is known around the league for doing. Cole, though, is struggling, too.
"I just feel bad for these guys," Curry said. "Look around. These dudes work hard. We're just not reaping the reward. It hurts."
The Eagles, who haven't had a losing record under Reid since a 6-10 finish in 2005, have lost four straight road games since a season-opening win against the Cleveland Browns.
Dallas didn't do itself any favors in their pursuit of a playoff berth and were beaten 38-31 by the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving.
The Cowboys have had plenty of time to adjust and focus on the Eagles. Head coach Jason Garrett gave a peek as to what the Cowboys will try to do Sunday.
"We've got to run the ball better," Garrett said. "We've got to run the ball more. We have to be effective running it more early on in the ballgame so we don't get behind. DeMarco (Murray) has been a big part of that, but we have to be able to run the ball if he's not able to go."
Murray has been out since Week 6 at Baltimore because of a foot problem and is listed as questionable this week. At least the Cowboys have Felix Jones, who ran for 71 yards and caught three passes for 22 yards and a score in the first matchup with Philadelphia. Jones, though, was bottled up for 14 yards on six carries on Thanksgiving because Dallas was behind early and forced to pass.
Dallas has been plagued by injuries up front, but what team hasn't? The Cowboys can look across the field and see Philadelphia's banged-up o-line, which is missing four of its starters. Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith is nursing an ankle injury and is questionable. Jermey Parnell would get the start if Smith is still bothered by the problem, while centers Phil Costa and Ryan Cook were inactive with separate injuries. Mackenzy Bernadeau was moved from guard to center and Derrick Dockery started at guard.
Cowboys QB Tony Romo will need protection if he wants to pull off a miraculous comeback toward the postseason. Romo was sacked three times against the Eagles and has been taken down 12 times in the past three weeks. Romo threw for 441 yards with three TDs and two INTs last Thursday.
Dallas had lost two straight and three of four meetings with Philadelphia before its win a few weeks ago. The Eagles have won two straight as the visitor in this series, but are 2-3 in the last five at Dallas, including a playoff setback on Jan. 9, 2010.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Since the Cowboys have been without Murray, they have been handing the ball off much less and relying on Romo. In the loss to the Redskins, Jones had six carries for 14 yards and Lance Dunbar had one carry for eight yards.
So what's up with Murray this week? Since the running game has been nonexistent for almost a month, Dallas was happy to see Murray return to practice. Murray was back at practice Wednesday in pads and a helmet, giving the team hope he'll be back versus the Eagles. If he's unable to go for some reason, receiver Dez Bryant can carry the load. Bryant has posted back-to-back games with 145 yards receiving and has a touchdown catch in three straight.
Garrett wasn't falling for the bait.
"For us to say Dez Bryant has it all right now I think would be an injustice to him and it wouldn't be real good coaching," Garrett said. "It wouldn't be a real good approach by him. He's got to get better at everything he does just as every player on our team and certainly every member of our coaching staff has to get better. So we don't live in the world of 'we got it all down pat.'"
Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley played well last week after Miles Austin left the game in the first half with a hip injury. Kevin Ogletree, who blew up in Week 1 against the New York Giants, was out with a concussion. Austin took the field in pads and a helmet on Wednesday and was working with a trainer.
To prove the Cowboys have been passing a lot, Romo has thrown for 1,721 yards in the previous five games. Get those legs ready Sunday, Dallas receivers. As they should because Philadelphia's secondary has been playing below average.
With McCoy more than likely to sit out another week, the Eagles will hitch their wagon to rookie Bryce Brown. Brown had a team rookie-record 178 rushing yards and two touchdowns versus the Panthers, but two costly fumbled spoiled possible scoring drives. Brown was making his first start since high school and still needs some polishing before people go overboard on what he can do.
"My performance doesn't mean anything to me at all. The important thing to me was for us to get a win and that didn't happen tonight," Brown told the team's official website. "I feel like a lot of that has to do with my two turnovers that happened to really cost us.
"You get caught up in the moment. You're trying your hardest. You're going out there trying to do it all and just fight for your team. When you're doing that, you have to remember the little things count. Protecting the ball is key."
Brown's 65-yard touchdown was the seventh-longest rushing score by an Eagles rookie. He also was one of seven first-year players in the starting lineup.
Brown was told before the Carolina game he would see plenty of carries to help Foles out, leaving many scratching their head as to why the Eagles didn't do that with a healthy McCoy. Foles needs some help and hasn't lived up to the hype from his preseason debut. Remember, Foles was playing against fellow third and fourth-string players in the preseason and not No. 1 defenses that are designed to stop him.
Foles came in against the Cowboys a few weeks ago and played well despite some bad breaks. Dallas came into the first meeting prepared to face Vick, but a concussion forced Reid's hand to go with the rookie. Dallas stud LB DeMarcus Ware has 9 1/2 sacks in his last four games against the Eagles. Foles better have his chin strap buckled for this one.
Dallas' playoff hopes are on life support and another loss would pull the plug on any chances of making a postseason run in the crowded NFC. That said, the Cowboys must keep Philadelphia's tumultuous season spinning on its lopsided axis. Much like in real estate where location, location, location is key, the Cowboys' path to success Sunday will be defense, defense, defense. Foles, the possible future of the Philadelphia franchise, may have thought the 2 1/2 games in which he's played in were tough, but now things will get even worse in his first trip to Big D.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cowboys 24, Eagles 10
11/29 14:39:42 ET