philly.com
Marcus Hayes


It’s Cowboys week. The Birds are 8-1, the Pokes are coming off a loss, and the Birds are coming off a bye.

And Dallas is in disarray.

Philadelphia is delighted.

On Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott served the first game of his six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy in relation to alleged incidents of domestic violence with a former girlfriend in the summer of 2016. Left tackle Tyron Smith, who made the last four Pro Bowls, missed the game with a groin injury, and Dak Prescott got sacked eight times. Linebacker Sean Lee, who made the last two Pro Bowls, left the game with a left hamstring injury that cost him two games last month. The Cowboys lost, 27-7, and fell to 5-4.

Also, owner Jerry Jones reportedly might sue the NFL and some fellow owners if they follow through with a lucrative extension of commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract, because Jones reportedly believes that Goodell was unjust in his ruling on Elliott over the summer.

Finally, if Jones sues, the league reportedly might try to make him sell the team. That seems ridiculous, but then, this is the NFL.

All of this will make for wonderful theater on Sunday Night Football. Won’t it, Zach Ertz?

Ertz laughed, and demurred.

“I’m just focused on trying to beat the guy in front of me. Byron Jones is a really good safety,” he said. “Obviously, you want to play a team at their best. But you’re not going to complain if they’re not out there.”

And you’re not going to complain if the Cowboys aren’t fully focused on sacking Carson Wentz or blocking Fletcher Cox.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on,” agreed linebacker Nigel Bradham, a veteran when it comes to distractions.

Bradham was part of the stuff that went on in Philly last year. He was arrested on two occasions in Miami, one of the sideshows that led to the Eagles’ staggering through a 7-9 campaign .

“It’s definitely a distraction, where you have to take your mind off football to handle those other situations,” Bradham said. “At the end of the day, it’s their problem. We can’t really worry about what they’ve got going.”

These are smart, measured responses. They’re also probably true.

The Eagles have been uncannily undistractable this season. They have won games they’re supposed to win, like this one, in which they’re favored by 3 points. They have weathered an avalanche of injuries to key players: Cox, Ertz, left tackle Jason Peters, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, cornerback Ronald Darby, safety Rodney McLeod, running back Darren Sproles, kicker Caleb Sturgis, and right tackle Lane Johnson. Sure, the Cowboys go deeper than Lee, Smith, and Zeke, but their three-game winning streak ended without them. Now three games behind the Eagles, the Cowboys almost have to win if they hope to defend their NFC East title. Maybe urgency will carry them.

“I think they’ll gather themselves this coming week,” Johnson said. “They know what’s at stake. How important it is.”

The importance of Lee, in particular, cannot be overstated, not on Dallas’ mediocre defense.

“He’s one of the more instinctive linebackers,” Johnson said. “He gets everybody lined up. He’s so smart. He can diagnose formations and sense what’s coming. He’s a lot like Kuechly, from that standpoint.”

He’s a lot like Luke Kuechly in degree of importance, too. Kuechly left the Panthers’ game against the Eagles on Oct. 12 with a concussion, which cost him the next game, too. Those are the only two games the Panthers lost in the last six weeks.

Lee’s hamstring has cost him all or part of three games. The Cowboys are 0-3 in those games.

It’s always poor form to delight in the misfortunes of others, and no one celebrates any injury, but, for a region that has a brewery selling “Dallas Sucks” beer, there will be little sympathy. Besides, the ’Boys brought some of their misery on themselves.

Elliott initially was suspended Aug. 11, but he appealed his way into playing the first eight games of the season. His legal maneuvering delayed an inevitability, given Goodell’s seemingly unilateral power of adjudication. The Cowboys would have been better off had he missed the first six games and gotten it over with.

As for Jones, who has in the past sued the league to capture more revenue from stadium naming rights and apparel sales, his latest fued with his fellow cartel members probably won’t trickle down into the locker room — but you never know. Zeke wins games, which is always popular with teammates. It would be hard to imagine that anyone wearing The Star wants Goodell, who has made nearly $300 million since 2008, to make a reported $300 million more by 2024.

That’s a lot of Papa John’s.

Needless to say, the Eagles aren’t weeping at the Cowboys’ hard times.

“I never liked Dallas,” said Brent Celek, an Eagle for 11 seasons, who preached his anti-Dallas message to his protege Ertz.

“These guys, and the Redskins, are my two least favorite teams in the league. The fans, and the battles we’ve had over the years, have instilled that in me,” Ertz said. “Their DBs, I don’t like them. Their linebackers, I don’t like them. They don’t like me, for sure. That’s been established over the years.”

Ertz was smiling when he said that. He was as transparent as any guy running a South Philly hoagie shop.

He will relish the turmoil in Texas.