The Eagles have hit rock bottom, and they haven't been afraid to say so.
When Marty Mornhinweg spoke about the challenge in motivating his players with the Eagles 3-8 and essentially out of the playoff picture, he played the only card he had left.
"We certainly are in a spoiler-type role here," the Eagles' offensive coordinator said last week, "and that can be very rewarding."
Unfortunately, the Eagles couldn't reward themselves when it actually mattered. A win over 5-6 Dallas will provide little solace for fans, even if it's the Cowboys and it hinders their playoff chances.
What would be most rewarding is for Nick Foles to perform like a quarterback who may have a future leading the Eagles. The rookie will start for the third straight week with Michael Vick still sidelined with a concussion.
When the Eagles run
Last week against the Panthers, Mornhinweg called a balanced game that relied on Bryce Brown in his first career start. The rookie running back finished with 19 carries for 178 yards and two touchdowns and would have been a candidate for NFC offensive player of the week if not for two second-half fumbles. As Mornhinweg might say, "He's got to get that taken care of." Brown, who will start again in place of LeSean McCoy (concussion), had most of his success running to the left, although his 65-yard touchdown came when he ran through a giant hole opened by right guard Jake Scott and right tackle Dennis Kelly. The offensive line may be shaken up again. Dallas Reynolds, who had his best run blocking game last week, may not play with an ankle sprain. Evan Mathis would move from left guard to center, and Danny Watkins will would fill in for Mathis. Watkins missed five games with an ankle injury. The Eagles say he's healthy enough to start again. The Cowboys will be without inside linebacker Bruce Carter, who dislocated his elbow on Thanksgiving. Carter had 10 tackles in the last meeting. Dan Connor, of Strath Haven High School and Penn State, didn't play in the first meeting because of a neck injury, but he's returned. Ernie Sims, who caused Vick's concussion last month, will take Carter's spot.
When the Eagles pass
Foles dropped back to throw only 22 times last week. None of his attempts traveled more than 20 yards, except for a deep throw to Jeremy Maclin that drew a pass-interference penalty. Andy Reid isn't likely to ask much more out of Foles this week, although his best numbers came when he relieved Vick against the Cowboys. Dallas has tape on the rookie now, though. Foles will also will be without receiver DeSean Jackson, who was placed on injured reserve with fractured ribs. Maclin will play more of Jackson's flanker role and a combination of Riley Cooper, Jason Avant, and Damaris Johnson will handle the other spots depending upon whether the Eagles go with two- or three-receiver sets. Dallas rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne was called for three penalties in the first game. Cooper also caught a 2-yard, jump-ball touchdown over Claiborne. The Eagles should continue to utilize the 6-foot-3 Cooper in the red zone. DaMarcus Ware was kept in check for an extended period, but the Cowboys' outside linebacker made several big plays down the stretch, as did his counterpart, Anthony Spencer. Tackle King Dunlap will have to contend with Ware, who lines up over the left side 71.6 percent of the time. Dennis Kelly will often face off with Spencer, who rushes off the right 49.6 percent of the time. Mathis will have his hands full contending with nose tackle Jay Ratliff on passing downs.
The Eagles finally had a decent kick return when Brandon Boykin zoomed 44 yards in the fourth quarter last week against the Panthers. But the rookie's fumble at the end of the run exemplified the Eagles' lost season. Johnson, meanwhile, has improved as a punt returner. In his first five six games, he averaged 6 yards a return. In the last four games, he has a 12.0 average. Dallas' Dwayne Harris returned a punt 78 yards for a for a touchdown in the last meeting. The Cowboys' cover units are fourth in the league on punt returns and 10th on kick returns. Eagles kicker Alex Henery has connected on a franchise-record 19 straight field goals.
The Eagles face another team coming off an extended break. They've already faced four teams after the bye week. The Cowboys haven't played in 10 days. . . . The Eagles (-17) are 31st in the league in turnover differential. The Cowboys (-11) are 29th. . . . The Cowboys are the second-most-penalized team in the NFL. . . . The Eagles have converted only 13 of 33 red-zone possessions (39.4 percent) into touchdowns.