Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
IRVING, Texas -- It seems a little early in the season for an NFC East showdown, but that's exactly what we have with the Eagles and Cowboys on "Monday Night Football."
Despite their lack of success in the playoffs over the past 12 seasons, the Cowboys have been penciled in on many ballots as the eventual NFC representative in Tampa. The Eagles, a team that began this decade by winning five of seven division titles, appear back on track after a disappointing 8-8 campaign in 2007.
The health of 31-year-old quarterback Donovan McNabb has been an issue for this franchise since it reached the Super Bowl in 2004. However, he appears to be in top form. McNabb is not the same quarterback who orchestrated one of the most iconic plays in MNF history in November 2004 (the 14-second scramble), but he thinks injuries forced him to become a more complete player.
The last time the Eagles visited Texas Stadium, the defense badgered Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo into three interceptions and McNabb evoked good memories for Eagles fans with nine carries for 53 yards in leading the Eagles to a 10-6 victory.
The win was part of a four-game streak to end the season and it's the reason the Eagles feel confident heading into Monday's game.
"If anything, it let us know we could get the job done," starting weak-side linebacker Omar Gaither told me via phone Saturday. "But that game has no bearing on what will happen Monday. We have to go down there and handle our business again."
The Eagles watched a few clips from last December's game to remind them why they had so much success against one of the top offenses in the league. Gaither said he watched the entire game because it is part of his weekly routine. So, what was the Eagles' secret to slowing Romo?
"We were able to get pressure on him," Gaither said. "You have to bring the heat with him, and I think they got in the red zone three times and didn't come away with any touchdowns. That was big for us."
Rest assured that Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson won't borrow the Cleveland Browns' defensive game plan from last Sunday, which allowed Romo to loiter in the pocket throughout much of a 28-10 victory.
The Giants and Eagles have shown what can happen when you throw Romo out of rhythm. Johnson will blitz him from all over the field, and the fact that Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett rarely calls for screens and extra blockers makes Romo vulnerable at times.
Since Andy Reid took over as head coach in 1999, the Eagles have dominated this series (13-5), and they don't mind going on the road. Since 2000, the Eagles are tied with the Patriots for the best regular-season road record (43-21), and they're riding high after the most lopsided season-opening win in club history.
Eagles fans didn't need any more reasons to hate the Cowboys, but their former wide receiver, Terrell Owens, has become an easy target. His messy divorce from McNabb and the organization in 2005 is still a topic of conversation in both cities. McNabb expressed regret last month that he and Owens weren't able to work things out, and on Thursday, the wide receiver responded.
"It became too overwhelming for Donovan," Owens said. "Other than that, I think at one point in time, I will say that we had a good relationship. I think I got too big for Philly, too big for him. But here, Tony and I have a great relationship."
Owens went on to say that Romo "gets me" like no other quarterback he's ever played with, a statement that belongs on "The View", not in a sports section. No matter who was at fault for the breakup, McNabb and Owens should play key roles in Monday's game.
On the injury front, Reid said Saturday that he's encouraged by the progress that starting wide receiver Reggie Brown made in practice and is hopeful that he'll play. Brown is listed as questionable for Monday.
For the Cowboys, Pro Bowl cornerback Terence Newman has indicated that he'll be ready to go against the Eagles. On Saturday, I was told that the Cowboys coaches thought there was a "75 percent" chance Newman would play, but that he won't start.
Newman's replacement in the starting lineup, Adam Jones, played well against the Browns, but he's still annoying his coaches by refusing to focus on the little things that will make him successful. The Cowboys will keep a close eye on Eagles rookie DeSean Jackson -- both at receiver and in the return game.
Last season, Bruce Read's special teams unit struggled in coverage, but Dallas had a nice effort against a Browns team that was playing without the dangerous Josh Cribbs.
This is a good measuring-stick game for both games. For the Cowboys, it's an early test to see if the team can live up to its immense hype. For the Eagles, it's a chance to serve notice that last year was an aberration.
McNabb told me during trai
ning camp that the Eagles were the best team in the NFC. On Monday, he'll have an opportunity to back that up.