Cowboys - Eagles Preview & Prediction

RB Julius Jones remains the starter for the Cowboys, but Marion Barber will continue to receive significant touches.

KICKOFF: Monday, 5:00 ET

GAMEDATE: 12/25/06

SURFACE: Sportfield Realgrass

TV: NBC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Andrea Kremer

SERIES: 95th meeting. The Cowboys lead the series, 53-41. The Eagles have won 10 of the last 13 meetings, including a 38-24 victory in Philadelphia in Week 5. The Eagles sacked Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe seven times in that game and forced three interceptions, including a game-clinching one by cornerback Lito Sheppard that he returned 102 yards for a touchdown.

2006 RANKINGS: Eagles: offense 3rd (11th rush, 3rd pass); defense 18th (28th rush, 12th pass). Cowboys: offense 4th (10th rush, 4th pass); defense 11th (7th rush, 20th pass)

PREDICTION: Cowboys 27-24

KEYS TO THE GAME: RB Julius Jones remains the starter for the Cowboys, but Marion Barber will continue to receive significant touches. His hard-nosed style should help wear down an undersized Eagles front seven, and if Dallas is successful on the ground it will open more man coverage for WRs Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn to work against downfield. The Eagles' Andy Reid is typically a pass-heavy coach, but the offense actually has one more run play than pass attempt since QB Jeff Garcia took over for Donovan McNabb. While the Cowboys are allowing 4.5 yards per carry their past three games, Garcia is going to have to push the ball downfield for the Eagles to keep pace. To beat the Cowboys, especially in Dallas, opponents have to take advantage of their struggles to defend the deep pass.

FAST FACTS: Eagles: Clinch a playoff berth with a win. ... RB Brian Westbrook (1,092) has topped 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career. ... LB Omar Gaither is the team's first rookie linebacker to record a sack since Ray Farmer in 1996. Cowboys: Clinch NFC East with a victory. ... Barber leads the NFL with 15 touchdowns overall and 13 rushing. ... Owens has 10 touchdowns in his past 10 games.

PERSONNEL NEWS
Eagles: --CB William James didn't practice Thursday and is listed as doubtful for Monday's game with a calf strain. There appears little chance he'll play. James would've been the nickel back.

--CB Sheldon Brown probably will be matched up quite a bit Monday with Cowboys WR Terrell Owens. The Eagles' corners play sides and don't match up with individual receivers. Brown does not have the turn-and-run skills that Lito Sheppard has.

--S Mike Lewis, who sprained his knee in Sunday's game against the Giants, didn't practice Thursday and is listed as questionable. Lewis was playing as a second linebacker in the team's nickel and dime packages. If he can't play, it will weaken the Eagles' run-stopping ability in the nickel and dime.

--LB Shawn Barber practiced Thursday, but is listed as questionable for Monday's game. He has a neck stinger.

--S Brian Dawkins is on the injury list with a back injury. But he practiced Thursday and is listed as probable for Monday's game.

Cowboys: --FS Pat Watkins was victimized for big plays in the first game against the Eagles, which eventually led to his benching. Watkins is back in the starting lineup and Cowboys coach Bill Parcells believes he will be better the second time around against the Eagles.

"You can say what you want but you're out there playing and when bad things are happening, you can call it what you want, but they happened," Parcells said. "So I don't know whether (it comes down to a lack of) experience, stage fright or whatever you want to call it. You choose your adjective."

--QB Tony Romo shouldn't have a tough time solving the Eagles' blitzing scheme, according to coach Bill Parcells. "It's not complex," Parcells said of the Eagles defense. In their style they try to make you decide that but you know Atlanta runs some of the same combinations as Philadelphia. I don't think we're gonna see a wholesale different picture from the Eagles. They have their philosophy and it's a good one and they put it in place and they see what you can do with it. You, on the other hand, you've gotta have a few things to combat some of the things that they do, and if you don't do it well they'll disrupt you like they intend to, and if you do do it well they'll disrupt you."

--CB Jacques Reeves missed his second day of practice with a dislocated right elbow. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells is hopeful that Reeves will get better in the days leading up to the game. Reeves can't straighten his arm right now. He said if he can't defend himself he can't play. But he too is hopeful the swelling will go down by Monday.

--DE Jason Hatcher missed practiced Thursday because his wife had a baby.

--WR Terrell Owens says Monday's game is not about him. He said the NFC East title is a much bigger deal. However, Owens and his history with the Eagles and quarterback Jeff Garcia are mitigating factors. Owens wants vindication for a three-catch effort in an earlier loss and he wants vindication for being dumped last season the Eagles. The Eagles blame Owens for dividing the team and the locker room last season. Garcia also wants revenge against Owens, who ripped him when they were in San Francisco and who questioned Garcia's heterosexuality in a magazine article.

"I think a lot is on the line especially with the playoff race in effect, so it's not only meaningful for me, but for this team as well," Owens said.

INSIDE THE CAMPS
Eagles: The Eagles can move into the driver's seat in the NFC East on Monday with a win over the Cowboys in Dallas.

It will be the Eagles' third straight road game against a division opponent. They've already beaten Washington and the New York Giants. If they can beat the Cowboys for the second time this season, they'll be able to clinch their fifth division title in six year the next week with a victory over Atlanta in their final regular-season game.

The Eagles face an enormous challenge this week. They're not only going on the road for the third straight week, but they'll be away from home on Christmas. Coach Andy Reid has talked to his team about making sure they are focused when they get on the team charter Sunday for Dallas.

"I mentioned it to them this morning," he said. "Just that you have to make sure that you have it all situated. Some of the guys have kids and you're going to be leaving your kids and it is not an easy time to do that. You just have to make sure that you have it together and that they understand."

Reid was asked whether it actually might be better to be on the road for a Christmas Day game than at home.

"I'll tell you on Tuesday," he said with a smile. "There are different ways of looking at it, I'm sure. I'm sure that the Cowboys are looking at it one way and we're looking at it another way. Bottom line is you have to go play. You have to kind of put the distractions aside whether you're at home or away."

Cowboys: Credit Bill Parcells with the Eagles being in the midst of the playoff chase.

According to Eagles coach Andy Reid, Parcells gave him a surprise phone call when quarterback Donovan McNabb went down with a knee injury, supposedly taking the Eagles' season down with him.

"I don't know, coach Parcells called me up and told me not to be pessimistic," Reid said. "He relayed to me the story about when (Phil) Simms went down (when he was with the Giants), and they had the quarterback change and they kept on winning at a championship caliber level. If I had any plan of keeping my head down, he took care of that.

Indeed.

Then 5-5, backup Jeff Garcia has led the Eagles to three wins in his four starts.

A victory against the Cowboys (9-5) Monday would put them in the driver's seat for the NFC East title.

Parcells said he has no regrets.

"Like he said the other day, 'If you've got to be doing something on Christmas it might as well be something important' and that's true," Parcells said.

Parcells said he called Reid because coaches reached out to him when he was a young coach.

"I don't know why but just sometimes, even though you don't really know a coach well, you kind of identify with the guy and there's kind of like a little kinship, even though you're rivals," Parcells said. "That happened with myself and Mike Holmgren years ago. I don't know why, it just did. I don't spend a lot of time with Mike or Andy, but the communication basis is very simple and I've enjoyed getting to know him and the competition and I think he does a good job as well.

"When I was a young coach in this league, several of the more senior coaches, several, not all but several, took time for me and I'm not trying to be corny or anything but I made up my mind that if I was ever in that spot I would always do that for any young coach and I have done that."

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