|by Ryan Messick
The Eagles head into Dallas to take on the Cowboys without a pair of key players. Cornerback Asante Samuel and right tackle Winston Justice both stayed behind in Philadelphia when the team left yesterday, due to MCL sprains for each. It’s a bad time of year for the Birds to be missing key players, as they’re tied with the Giants for the division lead with just four games remaining, and the runner up is on the outside looking in at the wild card picture.
The Cowboys are already mathematically eliminated from the postseason, but interim head coach Jason Garrett has them going in the right direction since taking over. The Cowboys are 3-1 under Garrett and hope to play spoiler against the rival Eagles, who they face twice in the last month of the season.
Dallas ended Philadelphia’s season last year with a pair of lopsided defeats, 24-0 in the final game of the regular season and 34-14 in the wild card round of the playoffs.
“They got after us last year,” said Eagles head coach Andy Reid. “You learn from your mistakes and then you move on, and like I said, every year is different in the National Football League. But if you worry about all of that, or you play outside of yourself instead of playing your game and focusing in on the process of getting yourself ready as a football team and a football player, if anything distracts that, then you have problems.”
If anything is likely to cause problems for the Eagles, it’s the absence of Asante Samuel. In three games without the league leader in interceptions, opposing quarterbacks have put up a rating north of 112. In nine games with Samuel, opponents’ passer rating is 68.
Meanwhile, with Justice out at right tackle, King Dunlap will be filling in. The 6-foot-9, 330 pound tackle started on the left side in place of Jason Peters earlier this year, but Reid says he’s fine on the right as well.
“I think he’s comfortable on either side,” Reid said. “I would tell you that he’s probably more comfortable on the right side than the left.”
While both Philadelphia units are dealing with injuries, it’s the Dallas offense that’s been battered this season. Quarterback Tony Romo is out with a broken collarbone, wide receiver Dez Bryant is out with a broken ankle and running back Marion Barber is out with a strained calf. Still, the Cowboys have averaged more than 33 points per game in their last four contests under Garrett.
Philadelphia will need to slow the unit down, or outscore it, in a critical NFC East game. Not only would a win be critical to keep the pressure on the Giants, but it could factor into a division record tiebreaker at the end of the season, depending on how things shake out.