Eagles vs. Cowboys Final Score: 8 Things We Learned From Philadelphia’s Loss
The Philadelphia Eagles are now 4-3 after losing to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday evening by a final score of 29 to 23. Here’s a look at eight things to be learned from this game.
1 – The Eagles lost (another) game they should have won
One can’t help but think the Eagles should have beaten Dallas on Sunday night. The Eagles looked to be in control of the game up 23 to 13 with the ball at their own 38-yard-line and 13:05 remaining in the fourth quarter. And then Wendell Smallwood, on his first carry of the night, got hit in the backfield and fumbled the ball away.
It was the second time this year the Eagles looked to be in control and had things quickly change with a running back fumble. The first time, of course, was Philadelphia’s Week 5 loss to the Detroit Lions. Ryan Mathews essentially gave the game away.
It’s a crushing loss for the Eagles because a win meant being first place in the NFC East. It was so attainable for them. Now the Birds are sporting an 0-2 record in divisional games sitting at 4-3 overall. This has to be one of the most frustrating losses in recent Eagles history, if not all-time.
2 – Doug Pederson coached his worst game
Smallwood’s fumble may have changed the game, but the rookie running back isn’t the only person to blame for the Eagles’ loss. Pederson deserves a lot of the blame for the Eagles losing to the Cowboys. The Eagles’ head coach turned in his worst coaching performance of his career in a big spot. Pederson made a number of bad decisions.
To begin, the Eagles’ offense looked way too conservative. Carson Wentz finished the game averaging 4.7 yards per attempt. The Eagles didn’t really get aggressive against a Cowboys defense that isn’t so great.
Pederson’s situational football decisions were even worse. He decided not to accept a penalty that would have given him a chance to go for a conversion on 4th-and-1 in the red zone. Why did he get so gun shy after being so aggressive at times on fourth down this year? The Eagles needed all the points they could get against a top-ranked offense.
The worst series of the game for Pederson is when the Eagles had the ball at the Dallas 32-yard line with 8:06 remaining in the game. The Eagles had a fresh set of downs and they had Josh Huff throw the ball on first down. It didn’t work. Kenjon Barner then ran for a two-yard gain to put the Eagles at the 30-yard line. Then for some unthinkable reason the Eagles ran a play where Darren Sproles was designed to receive the ball on a horizontal pass. Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee sniffed it out and the Eagles lost six yards. Instead of attempting a 53-yard field goal, Pederson opted to punt, despite the fact Caleb Sturgis drilled a 55-yard kick earlier in the evening. Instead of going up two possessions, the Eagles only had a one score lead. And so the Cowboys got the ball back and marched down the field to tie the game.
Pederson has coached more good games than bad games this year, but his performance in this game cost the Eagles a win.
3 – Carson Wentz seriously needs more help
Seriously, with the exception of Sproles, how dreadful are these Eagles “skill” players? “Skill” is used in quotes because it feels like a generous description for this group. Eagles receivers can’t catch the ball. Eagles running backs can’t hold on to the ball. Though he won’t admit it, one could figure it has to be disheartening for Wentz to have to deal with such a lack of talent.
Wentz completed 74.4% of his passes against Dallas for 202 yards, one touchdown, and a 91.4 passer rating. Six of his nine incompletions were drops. It was far from a perfect game for the rookie quarterback. He only averaged 4.7 yards per attempt and he struggled with his ball placement on short throws at times. But Wentz can’t throw the ball to himself. He’s just not getting much help from anyone.
There was no running game outside of Sproles. Smallwood, Ryan Mathews, and Kenjon Barner combined for 14 yards on eight carries. Mathews’ role was noticeably decreased this week presumably due to his fumbling issues.
The receivers are very non-threatening. They can’t really create separation and even when they do they just can’t catch the ball. 2015 first-round pick Nelson Agholor arguably deserves to be benched. He got off to a terrible start on Sunday evening with a bad block, a drop on third down in the red zone, and a route run short of the sticks. Dorial Green-Beckham had a drop near the goal-line. Jordan Matthews dropped Wentz’s first intermediate throw of the night. Tight end Zach Ertz has virtually been a non-factor this year despite signing a big contract extension in the offseason.
Last week I wrote about how the Eagles absolutely need to surround Wentz with more weapons. If reports are to be believed, the Birds might try to add a wide receiver before the NFL trade deadline on Tuesday. Torrey Smith is the name to watch.
4 – Ezekiel Elliot is much scarier than Dak Prescott
Elliott is the real deal. The No. 4 overall pick from the 2016 NFL Draft proved hard for the Eagles to stop at times. He finished the night with 96 rushing yards along with four receptions for 52 receiving yards. The Eagles will have their hands full dealing with the 21-year-old rusher for years to come.
Prescott, on the other hand, wasn’t so special against the Eagles. Yes, he threw the game-winning touchdown. But he almost threw an interception on the play before the game-tying touchdown in regulation. He finished the night completing a mere 48.7% of his passes for 287 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, and a 79.8 passer rating.
Prescott is certainly a nice find for the Cowboys as a fourth-round pick. But having such a strong supporting cast really helps him. One could only imagine if Wentz was in the same position. It’s not hard to imagine he’d be having even more success than Dak has had.
5 – Darren Sproles is still a special player
You really have to give it to Sproles. The 33-year-old veteran is the only Eagles’ explosive offensive weapon. Sproles finished the game with 86 rushing yards on 15 carries for a 5.7 average. He also pitched in with 17 receiving yards. Sproles now ranks eighth all-time in NFL history when it comes to all-purpose yards.
One can only imagine what the Eagles would do without Sproles right now. There’s no one else to count on regularly to make a big play.
6 – Brandon Graham is having a tremendous season
The Eagles’ defense did a relatively nice job against what’s arguably the best offense in the NFL. It wasn’t a perfect effort, no, but they certainly made the game winnable before a turnover and poor coaching decisions gave the game away.
The one player who has really been great on defense each and every week is none other than the once much-maligned Graham. Now playing in the 4-3 again, it’s so clear Graham is a very good player. Against the Cowboys, Graham had six tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass deflection, and one quarterback hit. Pro Football Focus notes Graham had 11 total pressures, which is the most of any edge defender in any game this season. The 28-year-old pass rusher really deserves Pro Bowl consideration for his efforts this year.
7 – Caleb Sturgis has turned into a reliable kicker
Sturgis got off to a rough start last season when he was signed in-season to replace former Pro Bowler Cody Parkey. Since then, however, he’s really rebounded nicely. Sturgis hit a 55-yard field goal against Dallas right before the end of the first half. He’s one of only four kickers in the league this year to have three field goals of 50-plus yards. He’s only one of three kickers to be perfect from 50-plus yards.
The way Sturgis is kicking only makes it more unacceptable for Pederson to have opted for a punt over a 53-yard field goal attempt.
Speaking of special teams, it was another strong outing from this unit. It feels like like it’s said nearly every week but Dave Fipp continues to do a great job. Sturgis isn’t the only special teamer who had a good game. The Eagles nearly got off to a huge start with Terrence Brooks forcing a fumble on the opening kickoff. The Cowboys were very lucky to have recovered that ball.
Donnie Jones now owns the Eagles’ team record in punts downed inside the 20-yard line with 108. He had two against Dallas. Note that Jones has only been with the Birds since 2013.
Josh Huff had a big kickoff return for 53 yards. Huff has struggled at receiver but at least he’s contributing in one phase, unlike Agholor. Huff currently owns the Eagles’ all-time record in kick return average at 27.7.
The only time that special teams came up short on Sunday evening is when Jalen Mills failed to recognize a fake punt attempt by the Cowboys. Philadelphia went on to allow three points on that drive instead of forcing the punt.
8 – Philadelphia must beat the Giants
Some might be already to give up on the Eagles, but the truth is things could be much worse. The Birds still have the best point differential in the NFC. Entering this week, Philadelphia ranked No. 1 overall in DVOA. The Eagles’ loss to the Cowboys was frustrating, yes, but it hardly makes them a truly terrible team. Put things in perspective: the Eagles lost a close game on the road to a team that was a one-point loss away from being 6-0 and that was coming off their bye.
Look, the Eagles are flawed. Their deficiencies could easily prevent them from being a contender. But there’s still a little more than half a season of football to play. If the Birds are seriously going to turn things around and push for the playoffs, Philadelphia absolutely needs a win next Sunday. The Eagles simply can’t afford to drop to 4-4 overall and 0-3 in the division with such a tough slate of games coming up.
WHAT YOU MISSED
The Eagles fell to the Dallas Cowboys in overtime, 29-23. Read our instant observations.
Take a look at some of the best moments from the Sunday night game.
Bennie Logan and Taylor Hart were notable players that were inactive from yesterday’s loss.
Torrey Smith could still be drawing interest from the Eagles as the trade deadline is tomorrow afternoon.
How did our predictions fair for Sunday’s NFC East showdown?
Were you able to beat the NFL odds during this week’s games?
“He has the ability to use his legs. But you can tell definitely there’s a bright future with this kid.” Donovan McNabb says Carson Wentz has a bright future in the NFL.
Here were the three college football players we were watching this weekend, including one from the FCS level.
Malcolm Jenkins was a possibility to fill in as Ron Brooks‘ replacement this week and try to shut down Cole Beasley.
We talked to Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News for a preview of the Cowboys.
“It’s simple for him, but he says just keep working at it. It’s all about repetition.” Halapoulivaati Vaitai has been receiving help from veteran Jason Peters to improve his game while Lane Johnson is suspended.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
The Eagles’ offense is in dire need of some help for Carson Wentz, opines Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com.
2. The Eagles’ desperate need for a playmaker has never been so glaring as it was Sunday night in Dallas. Wentz can throw the ball down the field, he just has nobody who can get open. And when they do get open, they drop the ball. I’m not big on giving up a draft pick for a guy who might help you for half a dozen games by the time he gets here and learns the playbook, but the Eagles have to consider everything at this point. A trade, Bryce Treggs, re-signing T.O. [Terrell Owens] … everything. You just can’t play an entire season without throwing the ball down the field.
3. The Eagles had plenty of chances to put this game away, but their play calling and execution on 2nd-and 3rd down and short was bad. Those are plays you just have to convert, and the Eagles just didn’t have the juice to get it done on the handful of key plays that they needed to put Dallas away. This wasn’t Doug Pederson’s finest day as a play caller. Too much horizontal, not enough vertical. This was a winnable game, but too many mistakes once they took that 10-point lead caught up with them in the second half and overtime. They had chances. A 3rd-and-2 early in the third quarter where they lost two yards. A 3rd-and-2 late in the fourth quarter where they lost two yards. A 3rd-and-4 where they dropped a pass. You can’t give the Cowboys that many chances, especially here, and the Cowboys showed why they haven’t lost since opening day. They took advantage of the opportunity the Eagles gave them and it got them to 6-1.
The Inquirer’s Jeff McLane says Wentz’s supporting staff also needs immediate help in order to help the Wentz-Dak Prescott rivalry be the NFL’s next big rivalry.
If Wentz and Prescott are to be the future of the NFC East for the next decade or so, there will be plenty of time for both their offenses to change based on personnel and their evolving skills. But right now one has a much better supporting cast than the other.
Prescott can throw the ball down the field, despite the perception that he doesn’t have the arm strength. His 53-yard heave to Bryant in the first quarter proved as much. But Wentz still has the bigger gun.
You wouldn’t know it by watching most of the game. He didn’t attempt a pass over 20 yards through the first three quarters. And his one attempt in the 15-to-20-yard range was dropped by [Jordan] Matthews in the second.
But there’s no point in trying to milk a bull. It could be argued that Wentz needed to take one or two shots deep just to keep the safeties honest. But what are the odds that [Nelson] Agholor or [Dorial] Green-Beckham was going to get separation or make a play on the ball at this point? 10-1? 20-1?
Those aren’t good numbers and so Pederson played conservatively, especially in the first half. Wentz completed 17 of 20 throws before the break. That’s good, right? Well, not when your average per attempt is 5.4 yards.
Doug Pederson will speak with the media for his day-after press conference.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.