By Sam Bush

Okay. No more jokes about how the NFC East is the worst division in pro sports since the NL East in baseball.

But facts are stubborn things:

Nearing the midpoint of the season, the inconsistent Eagles (3-4) and the injury-depleted Cowboys (2-5) aren’t as much hanging around as they are being kept in the hunt by a middling division. The Birds even gained ground on Dallas and the division-leading New York Giants (4-4) while on a bye last week.

Now the Eagles are looking to finally take control of the East.

“We just want to win,” cornerback Byron Maxwell (above) told the team’s website. “It’s about time we get this rolling and get it going in the right direction. We need a winning streak. This is the first one. We have to start here. They’re just in the way.”

“They” being the Cowboys, who already handed the Eagles a 20-10 loss in Week 2. Dallas limited the Eagles to season lows of 226 total yards and seven rushing yards while holding them scoreless into the fourth quarter.

The Cowboys have lost five straight since that day – when Tony Romo broke his collarbone – and now look to avoid their worst losing streak since a six-game skid bridging the 2000 and ’01 seasons. They haven’t had a longer one in a single season since going 1-15 in Troy Aikman’s 1989 rookie year.

“We’re 2-5, we’ve got to live with that,” receiver Dez Bryant said. “But I’m going to continue to keep saying it’s not over.”

It is over in Dallas for running back Joseph Randle, who was supposed to take over for DeMarco Murray but was waived this week amid personal issues that have kept him away from the team.

Murray is likely itching to get back on the field against the Cowboys more than any other Eagle. The NFL’s leading rusher last season played with Dallas the first four years of his career before choosing Philadelphia in free agency.

The offseason switch set the stage for an intriguing Week 2 matchup, and Murray disappointed with two yards on 13 carries. He did have five catches for 53 yards, but the Cowboys’ dominance up front controlled the game.

Coach Chip Kelly says his team has gone back to fundamentals in blocking, and the Eagles’ offense has shown glimpses since the loss to Dallas. With quarterback Sam Bradford going up and down, Murray has averaged 74.0 rushing yards in the last four games – even breaking out for his first 100-yard game in a Week 6 victory over the Giants.

The Birds went from a league-low average of 35.0 rushing yards through two weeks to 146.2 in the last five. That surge, however, can be attributed as much to Ryan Mathews getting more touches with 338 yards on 52 carries – an average of 6.5 per attempt compared to Murray’s 4.4. Darren Sproles has 25 carries in that span after he and Mathews each received only one against the Cowboys.

“It takes a village,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “You’ve got to play all the running backs when you’re running the ball like we want to.”

Murray took a step back in a 27-16 loss at Carolina on Oct. 25. Mathews’ 63-yard touchdown run was the only scoring outside of Caleb Sturgis’ three field goals. Murray totaled 70 yards despite having 20 touches, and Bradford was sacked five times while posting a Week 7-worst 58.7 passer rating.

“Missed opportunities, drops,” Kelly said. “We’ve dropped too many balls.”

The Eagles have 18 drops on 188 catchable passes, a statistic that has played a role in their third-down percentage being at 31.9 – 29th in the league.

“We have a lot to work on and we’re all confident we’re going to find the answers,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “We have a chance to get things right against a great defense. We’re all up for the challenge.”

A wildly inconsistent offense has kept Dallas’ defense on the field plenty in five straight losses.

Matt Cassel will start his third straight game after Brandon Weeden struggled as Romo’s replacement, while Darren McFadden gets his second consecutive start in the backfield in Randle’s place.

Bryant returned last week for his first game since breaking his foot in the opener, but he caught just two passes for 12 yards. The Cowboys’ offense struggled to 220 total yards in a 13-12 home loss to Seattle.

While defense and special teams pulled their weight, Dallas’ offense was an anchor.

“That’s fair. That’s fair to say,” Bryant said. “That’s including myself. We have to get better. We have to get better. That’s the only way we can win.

The Eagles have won four of their last five games in Dallas. The Cowboys have lost four straight at home.

The Birds could be without left tackle Jason Peters due to a back injury, as he’s listed as questionable. If he can’t go, Lane Johnson would switch to the left side and backup Dennis Kelly would start at right tackle.

Johnson, who practiced all week on the left side, would likely see a lot of matchups with Greg Hardy, who has three sacks in three games since returning from a four-game suspension.

Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans (hamstring) is also listed as questionable.

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