VERO BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Ray Rhodes, who brought his Philadelphia Eagles to Florida in part to escape the bad weather back home, was greeted by torrential rain at the site of this week's workouts.

It wasn't exactly what Rhodes had in mind, but he was trying to put the best spin on it.

The Eagles, who play the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in an NFC divisional playoff game, won't actually begin practicing until Wednesday, and Rhodes has been following the forecast.

``It's supposed to blow over and we should have good weather starting tomorrow afternoon and Wednesday will be fine,'' Rhodes said Monday, hours after arriving in Florida.

One reason the Eagles decided to practice at Dodgertown, 70 miles south of Cape Canaveral, is obvious.

A storm is forecast for Philadelphia later in the week. Both of the Eagles' grass practice fields next to Veterans Stadium are covered with snow. And, up until last Thursday, the artificial surface in the stadium itself was snow-covered and unavailable for practice.

That left the team's indoor practice bubble as the only place available for a workout, but it is only 60 yards long, making it difficult to practice the kicking game or work on deep pass routes.

And life inside the bubble, with its stagnant air and poor lighting, was beginning to chafe on the players, a few of whom were also jittery about the ice and snow that was weighing down the air-supported roof.

``We need to be able to go outside and practice on a normal football field and not worry about the ice and the snow,'' Rhodes said. ``The bubble is OK for certain things, but when you've been there so long, it really hurts your team.''

But there's an even bigger reason in Rhodes' mind. The Eagles, who looked very beatable in their last five games of the regular season, surprised the NFL with their 58-37 rout of the Lions, who came into the game on a seven-game winning streak.

In dismantling the league's hottest team, the Eagles earned some respect _ although that's the last thing Rhodes wants his team to believe.

``After a win like that, you know there's going to be some things said that could probably swell some people's heads,'' he said. ``And I think if we go down there, we don't have to read that. We'll get an isolated situation and I think that will help us out a little bit more.''

Rhodes has shown himself to be a talented motivator who has used his team's underdog role to foster an ``us vs. them'' mentality. The trip to Florida will help reinforce that, he believes.

``Everybody hates us,'' Rhodes said. ``I want to make it a tough two days down there to get acclimated to what we have to do, because if we're going on the road, it's going to be a dogfight wherever we go.''

Most of the players felt the trip would help the Eagles focus on the considerable task of beating the Cowboys.

``The bottom line is to bring guys closer together even more so,'' center Raleigh McKenzie said.

But many of the team's veterans said there was a clear danger in leaving Philadelphia for warmer climates.

``Going to Florida is not a vacation time,'' defensive end William Fuller said. ``This is the time when we've got to have each and every person commit even more. We've got a great opportunity here.''

Added wide receiver Fred Barnett, ``The veterans and leaders on this team should go to the young players and let them know this is a business trip.''

From the way Rhodes is talking, none of his players will mistake the trip to Florida for a vacation.

``I want to try and turn it into a training camp atmosphere,'' he said. ``It's like training for a heavyweight fight.''

There will be a nightly bedcheck. And the practices will be conducted in full pads as Rhodes tries to duplicate the high-quality workouts that led to Saturday's dissection of Detroit.

``The pads don't come off. We're going to keep hitting,'' Rhodes said. ``I want to make sure we are focusing on football only.''