Eagles vs. Cowboys Final Score: 10 Things We Learned From Philadelphia’s Win

Here's what we learned about the Eagles in their final game of the 2016 season.

Jordan Hicks, Connor Barwin, and Brandon Graham. (USA Today Sports)

Jordan Hicks, Connor Barwin, and Brandon Graham. (USA Today Sports)

The Philadelphia Eagles finished the 2016 season at  7-9 after beating the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday by a final score of 27 to 13. Here’s a look at the things to be learned from this game.

1 – The Eagles ended the season on a high note

Less than one month ago, the Eagles found themselves down 29-0 in a must-win game to the 3-7-1 Bengals. It was an embarrassing loss for Philadelphia. The effort of players was drawn into question. Doug Pederson’s job didn’t seem safe if the final four games of the season were going to be similar to that loss.

To Pederson’s credit, the Eagles didn’t fold. They responded nicely and finished the season with two straight wins over two NFC East rivals. The two games the Eagles lost were also very winnable tilts. Philadelphia had a chance to win late in the games against Washington and the Ravens.

This wasn’t a terrible season for the Eagles, but it’s hard to say it wasn’t disappointing to some extent. Expectations were low coming into the season but they ramped up when the Birds went 3-0. The Eagles finished 4-9 in their final 13 games.

One could argue the Eagles aren’t too far off from being a good team (after the game, Pederson did). A lot of their losses came in close games. Not to mention the fact they found their franchise quarterback. Now the Eagles just need to replace some of the obvious holes on their roster and hope for progress moving forward. Improving the roster won’t be easy. This is a critical offseason for the Eagles.

In the meantime, beating Dallas was a nice finish for the team. Even if the Cowboys were just playing their backups, the Birds took care of business. It would have been embarrassing if the Eagles couldn’t beat the Dallas second-stringers. The Eagles did what they needed to do and now it’s time for the team to make evaluations and improvements.

2 – Carson Wentz finished strong

Wentz completed 62.8% of his passes against the Cowboys for 245 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 93.7 passer rating. Here’s a look at how Wentz finished the 2016 season.

Wentz made some history on Sunday. First, he broke the NFL record for most passes completed by a rookie (379). The record was previously held by former Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford.

Wentz also became the first Eagles quarterback to start all 16 games season Donovan McNabb in 2008. Since the NFL moved to a 16-game schedule in 1978, only three quarterbacks have started every week in a season for the Eagles: McNabb (2000-01, 2003, 2008), Randall Cunningham (1988-90) and Ron Jaworski (1978-81, 1983). The Eagles are hoping Wentz can bring stability to a position where the Eagles have sorely lacked it.

Wentz’s 3,782 passing yards rank as the fourth-most of any NFL rookie. Only Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, and Jameis Winston had more. Those names represent some of the best young passers currently playing in the NFL.

As is often the case, Wentz wasn’t perfect against the Cowboys. He made some bad throws, including a questionable pass over the middle on a fourth down play. The ball was seemingly intended for no one and could have been picked off. Wentz also had Byron Marshall wide open in the flat for an easy touchdown during a red zone play but he gunned it too hard. If only he had put more touch and accuracy on the ball, he would have finished with another score.

Still, this was an overall strong finish for Wentz. He continued to show his uncanny ability for recognizing pressure in the pocket. He’s crazy elusive; he regularly makes pursuing pass rushers look silly for trying to bring him down.

It must be remembered that the Eagles planned to sit Wentz in 2016 when they still had Bradford. You can bet the team is looking forward to having a full offseason to work with him. Wentz could be primed to make a real leap in Year 2.

3 – Jordan Hicks is truly a Cowboys Killer

It’s probably not just a coincidence Hicks was featured on the Eagles’ game day cover.

Hicks owns the Cowboys. In four games against Dallas, Hicks has recorded 21 tackles, four interceptions, one forced fumble, one sack, and one touchdown. Hicks tallied two of his interceptions on Sunday. Mark Sanchez being terrible obviously helped Hicks out, but the linebacker still made great plays on the ball.

Hicks doesn’t get enough national credit for how good he is. The second-year player really should have earned Pro Bowl consideration.

In any case, the 24-year-old Hicks is a promising young cornerstone of the Eagles’ defense.

4 – Zach Ertz plays his best late in the season

Every year, Ertz shines his brightest towards the end of the season. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Ertz’s big numbers have coincided with meaningless games. That’s the frustrating part. The Eagles will hope Ertz’s late-season production can carry over into next season, which is the same thing that’s been said in years past. Perhaps having continuity at the quarterback position with Wentz will help since Ertz has had to work with multiple different passers in the past (Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Sanchez, Bradford).

Here’s a look at Ertz’s two touchdown receptions, which doubled his season total from the first 16 weeks of the year.

Note how Wentz stole the ball on one of Ertz’s touchdowns and gave it to MLB star Mike Trout. The three players have formed a relationship. Maybe that bond will serve the Phillies in landing Trout one day? Just a fun thought.

5 – The Eagles need new wide receivers and cornerbacks

Yeah, I know, you already know. But just in case you forgot, I needed you remind you that the Eagles really need upgrades at these positions.

Eagles receivers were targeted 11 times against the Cowboys. Philadelphia’s corps finished with three receptions for 45 yards. Cult hero Paul Turner led Eagles receivers in yards (30) and receptions (2). Dorial Green-Beckham had good catch but otherwise dropped some passes and generally looked useless out there.

At cornerback, Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin were beaten down the field at times. Carroll was penalized several times and now leads the league in pass interference penalties.

The Eagles are bound to pursue upgrades at these positions in the offseason.

6 – Vinny Curry reminded us he was too quiet in 2016

Against Dallas, Curry recorded his first full sack since Week 4. Which reminds me … where has Curry been all season? The correct answer is: the bench. He only played 42.5% of Philadelphia’s snaps entering the final week of the season. That five-year, $47.25 million contract he signed last offseason isn’t looking so hot for the Eagles. Curry finished the season with 2.5 sacks. You know who else finished the season with 2.5 sacks? That’s right: Marcus Smith, who is largely considered a bust after being selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. And note that Smith played 200 less defensive snaps than Curry.

Perhaps Curry will bounce back next season. He might be poised for more playing time if/when the Eagles decide to move on from Connor Barwin. For the Eagles’ sake, they had better hope Curry, who turns 29 in June, can step up.

7 – Dave Fipp deserves head coach consideration

For the record, I don’t think Fipp will get a head coaching job this offseason. Yes, he does a fantastic job, but the NFL just hasn’t made a hire of hiring special teams coordinators lately. Not to mention there are other special teams coordinators out there, such as Kansas City’s Dave Toub, who could be ahead of him in the waiting line.

With that said, Fipp certainly deserves an interview. His special teams unit was fantastic again in 2016. That much was apparent against Dallas.

Under Fipp, Caleb Sturgis went from being a free agent on the street in 2015 to setting an Eagles record for most field goals in a season (33) in 2016.

In other special teams news, Steven Means did a great job of blocking a Dallas punt late in the game to help seal the Eagles’ win. Means really flashed in training camp. He was arguably underutilized in 2016. He’s doing things to earn playing time.

8 – Terrell Watson’s touchdown was cool

If you’re unfamiliar with Watson’s story, please read this. In short, Watson has overcome a lot in his life to reach this point. He didn’t have an excellent performance against the Cowboys; he only rushed for 28 yards on nine carries. But he did score the game-clinching touchdown.

Kudos to Josh for catching this cool moment following Watson’s touchdown.

Watson could be a nice long-shot player for fans to root for in training camp before the start of next season.

9 – The Eagles will pick 14 or 15th in the NFL Draft

Matt Barkley was useless (surprise) and failed to help the Bears beat the Vikings. Bradford is just too good to be beaten when it’s a meaningless game.

Thanks to the Vikings’ win, the Eagles are set to pick 14th or 15th in the 2017 NFL Draft. The exact pick isn’t known because it will be determined by a coin flip (seriously) at the NFL Combine. The Eagles are competing with the Colts in the flip.

In other news, the pick the Eagles gave to the Browns for Wentz ended up at No. 12 overall. Acquiring Wentz and only moving down a few spots in the first by giving away Bradford sure seems like a good deal for the Eagles in the end, doesn’t it? Not to mention the Birds are still set to receive Minnesota’s fourth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft thanks to the Bradford trade.

For all the rightful criticism Howie Roseman deserves, he sure seemingly nailed the quarterback moves … which, of course, matter most.

10 – Regarding the story of the ejected Eagles reporter

As you may have heard about, Jeff McLane of The Inquirer was ejected from the Eagles’ press box on Sunday afternoon. Daily News writer Les Bowen recapped the incident in a series of tweets. (Scroll down a little and read from bottom up.)

For more details on what happened, check out this story.

The Eagles’ PR team typically does a great job, but this incident was certainly … something.

Bonus note:

The bad news for Eagles fans is that the Cowboys and Giants are headed to the playoffs. The good news for Eagles fans is that Washington won’t be joining them as the third NFC East team to make the post-season. Washington got eliminated while playing against a Giants team that had nothing to gain/lose. You like that?