Our game-by-game preview of the Eagles' 2016 NFL schedule continues with Philadelphia's Week 8 and Week 17 opponent: the Dallas Cowboys. (Click here for the Week 1 - Week 2 - Week 3 - BYE - Week 5 - Week 6 - Week 7 - previews.)
The last time these two teams met made for one of Philadelphia's most enjoyable games in an otherwise disappointing 2015 season. The Eagles were able to beat the Cowboys in overtime as Sam Bradford connected with Jordan Matthews over the middle of the field for a 41-yard walk-off touchdown (re-watch the play here).
After only winning four games last season, the Cowboys are expected to improve this year. Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are set to return from injury. The Cowboys still have a good offensive line and Dallas drafted a new rushing weapon in Ezekiel Elliott. The bad news for the Cowboys is that their defense still looks flawed. They don't have much of a proven pass rush. To make matters worse, the best pass rushers that they do have (DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory) are both suspended for the first four weeks of the season.
Here’s a more in-depth look at the Cowboys from our SB Nation writers over at Blogging The Boys.
Notable free agent additions:
DT Cedric Thornton - Expected get significant snaps at the 1-technique spot, and probably will get the majority of starts at the spot. Left Philly because he didn't think he'd be able to win a Super Bowl there and liked his chances in Dallas much better.
RB Alfred Morris - Two-time Pro Bowler who rushed for 1.000+ yards in three of his four NFL seasons. Looking for a career re-start in Dallas. He probably won't get a lot of starts behind Ezekiel Elliott, but he'll provide the Cowboys with some quality depth.
DE Benson Mayowa - Mayowa is most notable for the fact that he is pretty unnotable. The Cowboys poached Mayowa from the Raiders with a three-year, $8.25 million contract, and for that money they got a guy who has three starts in 30 games and two sacks on his resume. If they turn Mayowa into a bona fide pass rusher, they'll look golden. Odds are they won't.
Notable free agent departures:
CB Greg Hardy - Still looking for a job.
QB Matt Cassel - Landed a backup job with the Titans. Could be a short-lived job if they ever ask him to actually play.
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:
RB Ezekiel Elliott (first round pick) - He's the starter from day one, without a doubt, and behind the Cowboys' O-line he's expected to be in the discussion for Rookie of the Year.
LB Jaylon Smith (second round) - The Cowboys are holding out some hope that he'll recover sufficiently from the nerve damage in his knee to play late in the season, but that seems like a lot of wishful thinking right now.
DT Maliek Collins (third round) - A broken foot suffered in OTAs set him back, but he's expected to be part of the defensive line rotation this season.
DE Charles Tapper (fourth round) - He'll get some early looks in the defensive line rotation as a pass rush threat with Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence suspended for the first four games.
Biggest offseason addition:
Three running backs (Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris, Darius Jackson) added to what Pro Football Focus called one of the most improved backfields in the NFL.
What many may see as a luxury is a necessity for the Cowboys, who are looking to re-establish their identity as a hard-nosed, physical offense, an identity they forged in 2014 en route to a 12-4 record - and a marked departure from the pass-happy offenses of the previous years.
Switching their offensive identity to a ball-control, ground-oriented attack, the Cowboys ran the ball 50.1 percent of the time, Murray set an NFL record with eight straight games of at least 100 yards to open the season, led the league in rushing yards by a wide margin, and earned OPY honors. The new identity proved to be the cornerstone of the team's success. Romo had the best and most efficient season of his career, leading the league in passer rating, completion percentage and yards per attempt, Dez Bryant led the league in touchdowns, and the defense benefited from playing with a lot of leads by recording an unheard-of amount of takeaways.
And that's exactly what the Cowboys are looking to repeat this year.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp:
Tony Romo's health. When healthy, few doubt that Romo can be one of the top QBs in the league. Few believe he'll stay healthy.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp:
Dez Bryant is a headline magnet and every piece of news however remotely connected to his name will get a lot of airtime, but the (possible) emergence of Bryant as a veteran team leader will be something to watch, even if it goes against most of the convenient Bryant narratives out there.
Notable injuries heading into training camp:
Expected to be healthy at the start of camp: WR Dez Bryant (foot), LB Sean Lee (knee scope), DE Benson Mayowa (knee scope), S Barry Church (broken arm), CB Orlando Scandrick (ACL), TE Gavin Escobar (Achilles), DE Demarcus Lawrence (herniated disc), DT Tyrone Crawford (shoulder surgery).
Possibly out at start of camp: DT Maliek Collins (broken foot), Darren McFadden (elbow surgery)
Likely out at start of camp: Lance Dunbar (likely PUP after ACL)