PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Darius Slay learned quickly how much Eagles fans dislike Dallas long before he walked into the locker room this week and heard teammates say: “It’s Cowboys Week.”
“I understand how big it is,” Slay said. “It’s like Super Bowl or die. Y’all are serious about this. Let’s turn up then. I’m excited for it.”
Slay, a three-time Pro Bowl cornerback, is in his first season with the Eagles after seven in Detroit. The Lions faced Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota twice per season in the NFC North. But Eagles-Cowboys is different.
“I think we considered all our teams rivals,” Slay said. “But over here it’s just they really didn’t like nothing about the Cowboys. Nothing. And that’s just funny. I’m like loving it.”
Slay gets his first taste of the bitter rivalry Sunday night when the Eagles (2-4-1) host the Cowboys (2-5) in a battle for first place in a woeful NFC East.
Safety Jalen Mills found out his first day in Philly how badly fans want to beat Dallas.
“I was out eating a cheesesteak and I remember I had a fan tell me, ‘Man, I don’t care if you lose every game, as long as y’all beat Dallas twice a year, my year is made,’” Mills said.
Slay, Mills and the rest of Philadelphia’s secondary could have their hands full against one of the league’s best receiving corps. Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson have combined for 122 catches for 1,624 yards and seven touchdowns.
“They do have multiple playmakers on the outside,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “It’s not a game where you just take one guy away and you’re going to limit them. So I think that is an important part of it. They are explosive, they are productive at all those positions, and it’s going to take a group effort.”
But they’ll likely be catching passes from rookie Ben DiNucci, a seventh-round pick from James Madison, on Sunday night. Dak Prescott is out for the season and Andy Dalton is in concussion protocol.
“He’s pouring everything that he personally can into this opportunity that may be in front of him,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said of DiNucci. “I’ve been through injury situations. At the end of the day, you’ve got to make sure you give the football team a chance to win. We can’t just play down to that.”
The Cowboys traded defensive end Everson Griffen to Detroit and released defensive tackle Dontari Poe and defensive back Daryl Worley this week. All three were free agent additions for a defense getting ready for a scheme change under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
The unit is last in the NFL in run defense and scoring and on pace for allowing the most points in franchise history.
The departure of Griffen should lead to more snaps for Randy Gregory, back after a fourth substance-abuse suspension, and younger players Dorance Armstrong and Bradlee Anae, a rookie. Poe’s release is a chance for Justin Hamilton, recently promoted from the practice squad.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz rallied the Eagles from a 12-point deficit in the final six minutes of a 22-21 victory over the Giants last week, throwing an 18-yard TD pass to Boston Scott with 40 seconds left. He led the offense to 22 points in the fourth quarter only to fall short on a 2-point conversion in a 30-28 loss to Baltimore the previous game.
Wentz’s numbers in the fourth quarter are significantly better than his first three quarters.
“Being able to improvise and go off-schedule is a big part of what I do and what we do as a team, and maybe two-minute brings that about, I’m not sure,” Wentz said. “There’s a lot of big plays to be had in those moments.”
NO CENTURY MARKS
Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott doesn’t have a 100-yard day seven games into the season. The two-time rushing champion had never gone more than two games without one at the start of the season.
Part of the reason is the Cowboys falling behind by at least two touchdowns in all but one of their games, including the two they won. The other is an offensive line in shambles.
“I think it’s just a little bit of everything but I think getting back to the run is definitely something we’re going to focus on this week,” said Elliott, who has 458 yards and five touchdowns.
REINFORCEMENTS ON THE WAY
Dallas should get help on the offensive line. All-Pro right guard Zack Martin (concussion) and offensive lineman Joe Looney (knee) are expected to return. Philadelphia is expecting rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor (thumb) and offensive lineman Jason Peters (toe) to return.
AP Pro Football Writer Schuyler Dixon contributed to this report.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL