All-22: Lessons From the First Dallas Game
The Eagles’ players and coaches have been candid about one thing all week: they don’t like turning on the tape from their Week 2 loss to the Cowboys.
“It was bad,” Sam Bradford said Wednesday. “I think we’ve come a long way from that game. So many negative plays in that game that just put us behind. We struggled to establish any sort of rhythm.”
The Eagles totaled 226 yards on offense (including just seven rushing yards), gave up a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and gave the ball back to Dallas after forcing two turnovers.
Still, it’s beneficial to watch the film to see how the defense can build on their performance and the offense can avoid another disaster.
“We go there. There’s value in any tape,” Chip Kelly said. “We’ve watched every game they’ve played. So we don’t look at one game and discount that compared to another game. You’ve got a whole body of work, seven games so far, that you’ve seen on them. We watch all seven games, break down all seven games, and use the information from all seven games.”
At the time, the damage done was unknown. But now, it’s easy to see: Jordan Hicks crushed the Cowboys’ playoff chances.
In the third quarter of the Week 2 matchup, Hicks sacked Tony Romo and forced a fumble, which resulted in Romo’s injury and the quarterback missing Dallas’ last five games. But the reason Hicks was unblocked was because the Eagles went back to something that worked for them earlier in the game: stunting.
The Eagles have had a lot of success with twists and crosses, which Bill Davis called on this play. The Cowboys had five offensive linemen to block five pass rushers, but the left guard picked up DeMeco Ryans, leaving Hicks (circled above) to run free in between he and the left tackle.
“We worked at it and we put more time into it. You get better at what you work at,” Davis said Wednesday of their improved stunting. “Year one we said, ‘Let’s get this two-gap stuff down and let’s really put our focus there.’ In my whole career, what you put your emphasis on, you’ll get. You just can’t emphasize everything at once.
“So you have to pick and choose as you go and say, ‘Ok, that’s intact and that’s intact. This is weak, so let’s dive into this and add more to it.’ That’s kind of how we grow it.”
On the Cowboys’ first passing play of the game, Connor Barwin also had a free rush on Romo. While Vinny Curry engaged the right guard on his way to attacking the right tackle, Barwin looped inside untouched as the center turned away from him.
“It definitely has to do with chemistry,” Curry said. “You have to be on the same page, know how to play with each other and know how to play off each other.”
Mychal Kendricks doesn’t like thinking back to the Dallas game because of the injury he sustained near the end of the second quarter, but prior to his exit he played a big role in limiting the Cowboys’ run game.
The Eagles held the Cowboys to just 3.3 yards per carry — Dallas’ season-low — and Kendricks recorded seven tackles in only two quarters (Malcolm Jenkins led the team with eight).
On the first play of the game, Kendricks set the tone by tackling Joseph Randle for a loss of one yard. According to the inside linebacker, the pulling center was his indicator so he followed the offensive lineman to the ball.
“Bennie [Logan] and [Fletcher] Cox do a really good job. The offensive line is so worried about them; it’s so open for me,” Kendricks said. “And there was a blown assignment on their part I took advantage of. They’re overloaded to one side; it’s a heavy run set. What usually is the tight end is a tackle, and he goes out. I sneak through the back door and he goes looking for me, but it’s too late.”
In the second quarter, Dallas faced 2nd-and-5 from their 16-yard line. Kendricks again tackled Randle, who picked up two yards.
“That’s athleticism, boy,” Hicks said. “It’s a race on the stretch between him and the right guard. Really, No. 70 has the better angle, but Mych makes the play with his athleticism, speed and lateral quickness. He gets over the top and as soon as he clears him, he gets down hill and closes ground. That’s a good play. He’s special.”
THE PASSING GAME
As good as the defense played, the offense was even worse. We wrote extensively after the game about why the run game struggled, but the passing attack had several opportunities they failed to take advantage of.
One thing that hurt the Eagles was drops — a reoccurring theme throughout the season. On 3rd-and-10 from their 20-yard line near the end of the first quarter, Bradford delivered a good ball to Miles Austin, who couldn’t come down with the catch.
“There were a couple key drops that didn’t help on a day when we are not running the ball very well,” Kelly said after the game. “You’ve got to be a lot cleaner in the pass game and we weren’t.”
The Eagles also suffered because of Bradford’s poor performance. Some of his incompletions were tough throws, but other times it was tough to tell what he was thinking. On the above incompletion, it appears he may have decided at the last second to throw the ball away, but he looked slow in reading the defense and reacting.
“When you look at the way we played over the first seven games, there were a lot of good things that we’ve done,” Bradford said Wednesday. “I think we shot ourselves in the foot too many different times. We said that after several of the games. We’ve just got to find a way to eliminate the self-inflicted wounds.”