Eagles-Cowboys Instant Observations
ARLINGTON, TX — The Cowboys beat the Eagles, 29-23. Here’s what we saw:
*The Eagles got off to a slow start on offense as several players took their turn making mistakes. Carson Wentz was inaccurate on a couple of early throws, the offensive line was inconsistent and Nelson Agholor dropped a key third-down throw in the red zone. Wentz ended the first half by completing 17 of his 21 pass attempts for 107 yards and an 87.9 passer rating. The rookie finished the game by completing 32 of his 43 pass attempts for 202 yards, one touchdown and a 91.4 passer rating.
*Wentz’s 4.7 yards-per-attempt average is an accurate reflection of how the Eagles consistently settled for quick throws while not testing the Cowboys’ secondary. Several of Wentz’s short completions were run-pass options when he didn’t have deep options, but there were also plays he did have targets open on intermediate and deeper routes. However, it’s unclear what Wentz’s progressions on those plays were as they may have been designed to get the ball out of his hand quickly to underneath receivers.
*Doug Pederson did a great job of employing a no-huddle, hurry-up offense in the third quarter, which really helped the Birds on their 12-play, 69-yard touchdown drive. The Eagles’ tempo left the Cowboys scrambling before the snap multiple times, including on Jordan Matthews‘ 5-yard touchdown catch. Because Dallas was out of position, Wentz had Matthews open on a short, easy toss for a score.
*However, Pederson made at least a couple of very questionable decisions. Toward the end of the fourth quarter, he declined to call timeouts to make the Cowboys punt the ball before the clock expired. It’s unlikely the Eagles would’ve scored, but they have arguably the best punt returner in the NFL, so it’s surprising Pederson wouldn’t want to at least give his special teams unit a chance. In the middle of the fourth quarter, facing third-and-8 from Dallas’ 30-yard-line, Pederson called a play involving Sproles going in orbit motion behind the line of scrimmage. Wentz threw the swing pass to Sproles, who lost six yards and put the Birds just outside of what Pederson deemed to be field goal range.
*Ryan Mathews didn’t play in the first quarter, while Darren Sproles carried the ball 15 times for 86 yards, his highest total since 2011. Mathews carried the ball just four times for 10 yards and a touchdown, while Wendell Smallwood fumbled on his only carry in the fourth quarter.
*Ezekiel Elliott burned the Birds in the first quarter as he racked up 75 total yards on just eight touches, which played a big role in the Cowboys scoring 10 early points. Jordan Hicks missed a tackle against Elliott on two of Dallas’ third-down conversions in the first quarter, although the second one was a very difficult play to make in space.
*However, Hicks read Prescott perfectly near the end of the second quarter as he picked off a pass in the end zone and prevented Dallas from picking up easy points. The second-year middle linebacker has now forced a turnover (two interceptions and one fumble) in each of his three games against the Cowboys.
*Dez Bryant’s 53-yard reception against Leodis McKelvin set up the Cowboys’ first-quarter touchdown as Bryant beat McKelvin by a few steps and Dak Prescott delivered a beautiful deep ball. Jim Schwartz dialed up a blitz, so the Eagles were in cover-1 and McKelvin was without much help over the top.
*However, McKelvin had a good pass break-up in the red zone against Bryant on a fade near the end of the second quarter on the play before Hicks’ interception. McKelvin also made a great play to break up a pass on third down in the fourth quarter against Bryant. McKelvin rebounded very nicely after the big early completion he allowed.
*Nolan Carroll gave up Bryant’s 22-yard touchdown catch, but Carroll’s coverage wasn’t bad. Bryant made a great play, and he showed how helpful it can be for a rookie quarterback to have dangerous weapons at receiver.
*Brandon Graham showed up to play in the first half in Arlington, particularly on his three-yard tackle-for-loss that helped force Dallas to settle for a field goal early in the second quarter. It appears Graham knew where the play was going before the snap as he jumped inside several seconds before the play.
*Marcus Smith stood out in the Eagles’ first defensive series as he recorded a sack and tackle on back-to-back plays. He used a very effective spin move against Tyron Smith to reach Prescott, and he continued his improved play against the run he displayed last week against the Vikings.
*Caleb Sturgis made a career-long 55-yard field goal as time ran out of the second quarter to give the Eagles the lead at halftime. After missing a field goal in the first week of the season, Sturgis is 14-for-14 in the games since Cleveland, including three kicks of at least 50 yards.
*Cowboys punter Chris Jones ran for 30 yards on fourth-and-8 toward the end of the third quarter, but I’m not so sure it was a designed fake punt. It looked like Bryan Braman was almost surely going to block the punt because of his penetration up the middle, so Jones just took off. We’ll try to get clarity in media availablity after the game.
*The Eagles didn’t become the first team in NFL history to return a kickoff for a touchdown in three consecutive games, but Josh Huff’s 53-yard return near the end of the third quarter did give the Birds the ball in Cowboys territory, which set up a short Sturgis field goal.