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Cowboys at Eagles: ‘Make no mistake: the Eagles belong in the playoffs’

Taking a look at the Cowboys Week 18 game from their opponent’s view.

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

It’s Eagles week for the Cowboys, but it’s a strange one. First of all, it’s Week 18 which in itself is unusual. Additionally, the game doesn’t seem to hold real importance given the playoff position of both teams. Still, they will play the game so we talked to Bleeding Green Nation about the Eagles heading into the contest.

Blogging The Boys: Can you pinpoint a game, a moment, a coaching decision, a something that marked the turnaround for the Eagles in 2021. How did they end up making the playoffs?

Bleeding Green Nation: Things were looking bad for the Eagles after they essentially got blown out by the Las Vegas Raiders and fell to 2-5. There was serious thought that they might lose to the Lions, who were still winless at the time, in Detroit.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, an Eagles offense that previously lacked an identity quickly discovered one that has centered on running the football. It’s funny because that’s the offensive approach that many thought the Eagles should be utilizing even before the season began. But it clearly took Nick Sirianni some time to figure out that going with a pass-happy attack wasn’t the formula for winning football games. The Eagles instead needed to rely on one of the league’s best offensive lines, one of the league’s best running quarterbacks, and a more than capable backfield. Since Week 8, the Eagles have typically been able to run all over teams. They’re averaging 194.3 rushing yards per game over their last nine. As a result, the Birds lead the NFL in rushing yards per game this season with 160.4.

Now, have the Eagles benefited from a lighter schedule? No question. Prior to this run they’ve gone on, many pointed to Philly’s weaker opponents as a point of optimism. The defense has been especially strong against some really unimpressive quarterbacks (Jared Goff, Teddy Bridgewater, Trevor Siemian, Daniel Jones, Zach Wilson, Garrett Gilbert, Jake Fromm/Mike Glennon, Taylor Heinicke). Still, not just every team consistently beats the bad quarterbacks, so the Eagles deserve some credit for doing as much.

BTB: What’s your best guess as to how much the Eagles try to win the game on Saturday night?

BGN: I don’t expect the Eagles to play their starters much, if at all. In that regard, they’re clearly not trying to win.

That being said, I expect the backups to put forth a good effort. These guys will be eager to put some good film out on record. Take Gardner Minshew, for example. He probably wants to prove he’s more than just a backup.

The Eagles won’t have enough talent on the field to beat the Cowboys’ starters but they could make the game competitive … if just for a little bit.

BTB: Looks like the Eagles have some injury issues, plus COVID, can you update us on that aspect of the team?

BGN: My read on the COVID additions is that they were tactical. The Eagles likely encouraged a number of players to get tested so that 1) if they tested positive, they won’t have to get tested again for 90 days and 2) if they go on the reserve list, the Eagles can elevate more than two players from the practice squad as COVID replacements.

The names currently on the COVID list as of Wednesday night:

LB Genard Avery DT Fletcher Cox S Marcus Epps TE Dallas Goedert OG Nate Herbig RB Jordan Howard C Jason Kelce CB Avonte Maddox S Rodney McLeod RB Boston Scott LB Alex Singleton TE Jack Stoll

It’s possible a player or two might test out of the protocol before Saturday but I think most will remain unavailable to play.

As for the injury situation, Miles Sanders has a broken hand and isn’t healthy enough to play. But the Eagles wouldn’t be playing him anyway.

Starting left guard Landon Dickerson and starting right tackle Lane Johnson haven’t practiced this week and will likely miss this game. The Eagles will be starting an offensive line consisting entirely of backups.

BTB: The Eagles have three first-round picks in the upcoming draft. How should they use them, which positions are a key need and do you think they will use all three or trade?

BGN: I would be pretty shocked if they use all three.

I think the Eagles would be remiss to not at least check in on the cost of veteran quarterbacks potentially available via trade this offseason (see: Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson). Jalen Hurts shouldn’t be Plan A. But Hurts has put himself in a position to be Plan B should those trades prove to be too costly, which will likely be the case.

Assuming the Eagles are sticking with Hurts for 2022, they need to have a contingency plan. Acquiring a 2023 first-round pick feels like an entirely necessary maneuver. The Eagles need to be prepared in the event that Hurts doesn’t prove to be a franchise quarterback. Again, he’s shown promise this year, but he still has much to prove. Such as demonstrating he can lead the Eagles to victory over a good quarterback. The best starter he’s gone up against and won in his career thus far is either Teddy Bridgewater or Matt Ryan.

So, one of the three picks should be used to acquire a 2023 first. I wouldn’t mind if they traded another pick for a high-level player. Perhaps a star wide receiver, for example. If the market isn’t there for such a deal, they’d be well off sitting and making two picks.

The Eagles could really afford to add some more talent to their defense. Edge rusher is a top need when you factor in the importance of the position. Many want to see the Eagles add a linebacker and/or a safety.

BTB: What’s your feel about the Eagles in the playoffs? One-and-done or could they really make some noise?

BGN: The Eagles have the capability to win a playoff game. They’re strong in the trenches. Their running game has been hard to stop. Jalen Hurts is showing signs of improvement. The defense is capable of making some plays.

It’s hard to merely assume the Eagles will win considering their struggles against good teams. Of course, those games came earlier in the year prior to Philly really establishing an identity. But it’s hard to have a ton of faith in Jonathan Gannon’s defense against better quarterbacks considering he allowed five of them (Dak Prescott included) to complete over 80% of their passes. And one would think a playoff team might be more equipped to stop the run, putting more pressure on Hurts to carry the Eagles with his arm. Can he do that?

Make no mistake: the Eagles belong in the playoffs. They earned their spot. But they’ve yet to earn the benefit of the doubt when it comes to beating the best teams in the league. I expect their wild card will come down to the wire. If they somehow win it, it’ll be pretty tough to envision them leaving Lambeau Field with another victory.

Thanks for the knowledge, Bleeding Green Nation.