By Ed Benkin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Last year, the Eagles’ bye week came after Week Three.  This season, the timing appears to be better for the bye.

The Eagles started 3-0 in 2016 but were never the same after coming back from their bye.  Most players prefer to have the bye later in the season and after nine games and an 8-1 record, the Eagles earned some time off.  With the season just past the midway point and some injured Eagles looking to return, Defensive Tackle Fletcher Cox says the timing of the bye is better in 2017.

“It’s always good to have a break,” said Cox.  “It comes at a time where we can get some guys back healthy especially at this time of the year.  I think it’s great that we had the bye week at the right time.”

The Eagles are hoping this will be the right time for a strong second half surge.  The Dallas Cowboys await the Eagles in Texas on Sunday.  Dallas is reeling after losing Ezekiel Elliott to a suspension (finally) and a blowout loss in Atlanta on Sunday.  At 5-4, the Cowboys are in desperate need of a victory to stay in the playoff race.  Meanwhile, the Eagles have a chance to open up a four-game lead in the NFC East and virtually wrap up the division title before Thanksgiving.

For Cox and many of his teammates, it’s still a one game at a time approach.

“We’re not worried about where we are standing,” Cox said.  “We’re coming off a bye week and we have a chance to go 1-0 this week.  That’s what the coach is preaching and that’s what we’re preaching all week.  Let’s go 1-0.”

A win would not only stretch the lead in the division for the Eagles, but also keep them ahead of several other teams in the NFC.  Despite the spectacular start for the Eagles, there are three teams sitting a game behind the Birds in the conference race.  The Saints, Rams and Vikings are all 7-2 and Running Back LeGarrette Blount knows one loss could dramatically change the conference standings.

“We do have the best record in the league,” said Blount. “But one game, and we’re tied with all the guys right behind us.  We’ve just got to continue to cross our T’s and dot our I’s and make sure we do everything we can to keep ourselves a step above the competition.”

The bye has given the Eagles plenty of opportunities to glance at the standings as well as check out the misfortunes of their NFC East rivals.  The Giants are finished and the banged-up Redskins have fallen under .500 with a trip to New Orleans on the horizon.  Meanwhile, the Eagles have an opportunity to deliver the knockout blow to the Cowboys on Sunday and Defensive End Brandon Graham knows the players have to keep their focus and ignore the NFC East math on Sunday night.

“You can be a realist,” Graham said.  “You look at what’s going on, but you’ve got to make sure you don’t get caught up in what’s going on.  That’s what we try not to do.  We know what’s there.  We addressed the elephant in the room.  This is what it is.  We’re 8-1 and we’ve got a target on our back.”