For Eagles, DeMarco Murray is Dallas' top threat

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For Eagles, DeMarco Murray is Dallas' top threat

They don’t have Tony Romo to worry about, but the Eagles have spent the entire week preparing for another weapon in the Dallas offense whose status was never in doubt.

Not only is Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray healthy, but he’s also the single biggest threat to the Eagles’ pursuit of an NFC East title.

If you haven’t noticed, Murray has emerged as one of the NFL’s more impactful ball carriers. In his third season, the former Oklahoma record-setting running back has cracked the 1,000-yard barrier for the first time.

His 1,073 yards rank 10th in the league, but his average of 82.5 rushing yards per game ranks fourth. His 1,384 total offensive yards are eighth-most among NFL running backs.

Murray isn’t often mentioned in the same breath as LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles and Marshawn Lynch, but over the past few weeks, only McCoy has more rushing yards than Murray, an impressive feather in Murray’s cap given McCoy’s 217-yard effort a few weeks ago against the Lions in the snow and his 133-yard performance against Chicago.

McCoy’s 388 rushing yards in that span lead the NFL, but just 12 more than Murray.

“He’s a powerful back,” defensive tackle Bennie Logan said. “He can break tackles. Once he gets to the edge on stretch plays, he can take it to the house. The main thing is, we have to make sure we set the edge and don’t allow him to get started. Once he gets started it’s pretty hard to stop him.”

An MCL injury kept Murray from playing against the Eagles earlier this year, a 17-3 Dallas win at the Linc, but the Eagles figure on seeing heavy doses of him Sunday as the two teams battle to decide the NFC East title at AT&T Stadium.

Without the services Romo and with an NFL-worst defense that has to figure out how to stop Chip Kelly’s offense, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett might elect to put the ball in Murray's hands frequently in an attempt to execute a clock-control game plan.

If that’s the plan, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said he’s ready for it.

“We were anticipating them to do that anyway,” Davis said. “But they might do more. Only they can answer that question. We've got to prepare equally for the run game and the pass game. Each game takes on its own life. Whether they gave him the ball more or not, we'll be prepared to it.”

A third-round pick in 2011, Murray has always been a game-breaking halfback with plus speed and breakaway ability. He ran a 4.41 at the Scouting Combine. Injuries were always his Achilles heel. He suffered various injuries in college, but still set the school’s record for touchdowns and all-purpose yards.

He played 13 games his rookie season in Dallas, sharing carries with Felix Jones, but fractured his ankle in late December. The Cowboys made him their No.1 halfback last year, but he missed six games.

This year, after a brief MCL scare that ended up being just a two-game absence, Murray has finally shown his potential. He busted loose for 175 yards in Week 3 against the Rams. Since Nov. 10, he’s had just one game under 65 rushing yards. Murray’s 5.4 yards-per-carry average is the league’s highest among running backs with at least 110 carries.

The Cowboys are 11-0 when Murray carries the ball at least 20 times, 12-2 when he gets at least 18 carries. When he rushes for just one touchdown, Dallas is hard to beat. The Cowboys are 10-3 in games when Murray finds the end zone.

“We’ve got to stop the run. That’s the No. 1 thing,” outside linebacker Brandon Graham said. “We didn’t see him in the first meeting. He’s very good. He’s somebody we’ve got to attack early. We can’t get him going at all, because he can beat us.

“He’s patient, somebody who waits on the hole to open up. He’s s a 4.4 (speed) guy and you know you don’t want to get him out there in space. He’s somebody you don’t wanna play with.”

Murray has brought some stability to Dallas' offense down the stretch, with 136 yards against Chicago and 134 more against the Packers in consecutive December games, both Cowboys losses in which the play calling drew criticism for ignoring Murray down the stretch.

Last Sunday, Murray rescued Dallas’ season in the final moments of the fourth when he caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Romo on 4th-and-goal that propelled Dallas to the 24-23 comeback win that set the stage for Sunday’s winner-take-all showdown against the Eagles.

Murray’s 48 receptions yards are seventh-most among starting running backs, giving the Eagles another dimension to guard against.

“We just have to make sure we get all 11 hats to the ball,” Logan said, “and just just slow him down from the beginning of the game. We don’t want to give him any momentum going into the second half.”

Eagles wise to bring Jason Peters back, even with full salary

Eagles wise to bring Jason Peters back, even with full salary

This isn't a big surprise, but Jason Peters will be back with the Eagles -- big salary and all -- for the 2017 season.

While the Eagles approached the veteran left tackle about his contract in January, Peters has not restructured his deal, according to a league source. 

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport on Thursday morning reported that Peters will be back next season on his normal contract. 

Yes, Peters is expensive in 2017. His base salary after hitting another Pro Bowl escalator written into his contract is up to $10.45 million for next season (plus a $250K workout bonus), which comes with a big cap hit of $11.7 million. That cap hit is the highest on the team, but not outlandish for a high-caliber left tackle. 

The Eagles could have very well cut Peters and moved on. It would have saved them significant cap space to use elsewhere. They just wouldn't have found any player more valuable to pay with that money. 

Peters, 35, is still their best option to protect Carson Wentz's blind side. He made his ninth Pro Bowl in 2016 after playing all 16 games. The team hasn't been shy about wanting him back and Peters toward the end of the season said he wanted to return for another year. 

"We certainly want to have him back," Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said of Peters in early January.

“I love him. I want him on the team,” head coach Doug Pederson said with two games remaining this past season. “I don’t want him to go anywhere."

With Peters back, it means Lane Johnson's eventual trip to left tackle will be held off for another year. Eventually, he'll take over that spot … just not right now. 

During the season, Peters opened up about his future, saying he hopes Wentz can be the guy who finally gets him a Super Bowl ring (see story).

Eagles Mailbag: Restructuring Barwin, Allen Barbre, Jason Kelce's importance

Eagles Mailbag: Restructuring Barwin, Allen Barbre, Jason Kelce's importance

We answered half of your questions in the first mailbag this week (see story)

But there are plenty more to go. 

With free agency just around the corner, let's not waste any time jumping into today's questions: 

I don't think so. 

Yeah, moving on from Connor Barwin is going to be tough. He's a great guy and has been a tremendous asset in the community. His foundation is amazing. But on the field, his production dropped while his price tag soared. That's a problem. 

Barwin has said publicly that he'd be willing to take a pay cut to stay in Philly. He's a smart guy and knew there's no way the Eagles are going to keep him around with an $8.35 million cap hit, especially when they can save $7.75 million of that if they cut him. ... So maybe they would keep him at a reduced rate. There's logic in that, but it's time to move on. I don't think Barwin would really want to stay for the pay cut it would probably take. 

Right now, Barwin is blocking Vinny Curry from seeing significant playing time. And while Curry didn't have a good year in 2016, he's getting paid a lot, so it's time to see if he can live up to that contract. 

And for Barwin, while he loves Philly and has made this his home, he deserves to be in a defense that fits him better.

I'm a little surprised more haven't come already. To me, this likely means the Eagles are trying to exhaust any trade options first. Why cut a guy if you can get some kind of return, even a late-round or conditional pick? 

There's no real harm in waiting right now, and maybe the team will find a trade partner for one of their players on the chopping block. 

I always like these hypotheticals from Drew. Basically, I'd keep the youngest and most-talented players:

Carson Wentz, Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson, Jordan Hicks, Malcolm Jenkins. 

Wentz, Cox and Johnson were pretty easy. Then I really struggled. Jenkins is the oldest guy on the list, but he's so important to the team. I left off Brandon Graham and Zach Ertz and Brandon Brooks and Jordan Matthews, which I'm not so sure about. This was harder than I anticipated. 

I guess you're talking about Allen Barbre's hamstring injury. Yeah, barring something I don't know about, he should be completely healed and ready to go. 

Here's something to think about, though: Barbre will be 33 when the 2017 season starts and I wouldn't put him down in pen as the starter at left guard next year. If Jason Kelce is still on the team, he'll be the center, but why not let Isaac Seumalo battle for the left guard job? 

If Seumalo wins the spot, then Barbre is still a relatively inexpensive and really good backup option. 

I honestly think Jason Kelce is better than most fans in this city think. People see him get blown up a few times in a year — really blown up — and think he's an awful player. He's not. No, he can't go 1-on-1 with nose tackles, but he's still great at getting downfield and into the second level. 

And then there's the importance of the center. I don't know exactly how important he is in terms of calling the shots on the line, but he didn't miss a single snap in 2016. I know cutting or trading Kelce would save significant cap space, but I wouldn't do it. The Eagles have shown they'll do whatever it takes to develop Wentz; I think keeping his veteran center for a second year would help.