The Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys have established one of the more intense rivalries in the NFL.
While Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Rob Ryan added fuel to the fire with some offseason trash talk, the Eagles are content with letting their play speak for itself.
Looking to stay perfect coming off a bye under Andy Reid, Philadelphia tries to slow down Dallas’ rookie sensation DeMarco Murray on Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed the Eagles as three-point home favorites, with the total set at 48 1/2.
After signing several big-name free agents to go along with four-time Pro Bowl quarterback Michael Vick, the Eagles entered this season looking like Super Bowl contenders.
Ryan, however, wasn’t impressed.
“I don’t know if we win the all-hype team,” Ryan said in July. “I think that might have gone to somebody else, but we’re going to beat their ass when we play them.”
The Eagles (2-4) have struggled to fulfill expectations early this season. After opening with a 31-13 victory at St. Louis, Philadelphia dropped four in a row before regrouping with a 20-13 win at Washington on Oct. 16.
The defense had four interceptions – three by safety Kurt Coleman – while LeSean McCoy carried the ball a career-high 28 times for 126 yards and a touchdown. McCoy is the first Eagle to score at least one TD in each of the team’s first six games.
“It was just one win,” Vick said. “I think if we get the next one, we’ll get that confidence. But we definitely feel good about where we are right now. Obviously, there’s a lot of work to be done. We’re committed to getting that done.”
Vick now hopes to make Ryan eat his words.
“It was nothing that we really paid any attention to,” he told the Cowboys’ official website, “because we know what really counts is when you step onto the football field and whoever wins or loses the game. That’s what matters.”
Given its 12-0 record following bye weeks under Reid, Philadelphia could have a leg up Sunday.
While Reid “(doesn’t) think there’s any secret” to his success after bye weeks, linebacker Jamar Chaney believes its more than just good fortune.
“The great coaches make adjustments,” he said. “Halfway through the season, you have to make adjustments and that’s one thing you do at halftime when you go in and on the sideline. And pretty much whenever you have your bye, you’re going to make adjustments, go ahead and scout your team and see what they’re doing good and what they’re doing wrong and come back and make those corrections. And I think he’s been doing a good job of that.”
During the time off, the Eagles surely focused their efforts on stopping the run. Philadelphia has surrendered an average 123.8 rushing yards and is allowing 4.82 yards per carry – the 23rd and 27th worst marks, respectively, in the league.
That may not bode well for the Eagles with Murray coming off a record-setting day.
With Felix Jones sidelined (left high ankle sprain), Murray ran for a franchise-best 253 yards – the ninth-highest total in NFL history – during Dallas’ 34-7 win over the winless Rams last Sunday.
“I think he ran hard,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He certainly made some good cuts. His vision was good and he was able to stick his foot in the ground and run through some tackles. … It’s just a sign of hopefully things to come … the first opportunity he got to get the ball like he got it in college, he took advantage of it. Now he’s just got to keep taking the next step week to week.”
Murray will likely need to be wary of Eagles defensive end Trent Cole, who is expected to return from a strained calf following a two-game absence.
“I don’t like the Cowboys,” Cole told the Eagles’ official website. “We circle these games on our schedule every year. It’s huge for the fans and for the players. That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited to get back. I want to bring home a win for the fans.”
The Cowboys (3-3) have taken four of five in this series – including a 34-14 wild-card victory Jan. 9, 2010. They sit in a second-place tie with the Redskins in the NFC East – one game ahead of the last-place Eagles.
“There will be story lines all over the place, but it’s a big game for both teams, and we all want to make a statement,” Dallas linebacker Bradie James said. “For us to achieve the goals that we set out during training camp, this is a team that we have to beat.”
Tony Romo, who recorded a season-low 166 passing yards and two scores last weekend, has thrown 10 TDs and 10 interceptions in seven career regular-season starts versus Philadelphia.