Back To The Drawing Board For The Dallas Cowboys

Just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong yesterday.

Jason Garrett said it was lack of execution, not lack of effort, the led to the 34-7 loss to the Eagles last night.

"I don’t think there was any question about our effort tonight about our intensity, I think our guys played hard," Garrett said. "We just didn’t play well. They executed better than we did in all three phases. That’s a good football team. When you don’t play well against a good football team, things like this happen."

Rob Ryan was a little less circumspect in his assessment, and included himself in the post-game analysis, taking the blame for the defensive collapse:

"I was outcoached, out-everythinged," Ryan said. "So it was all on me. It’s a terrible game plan. I never gave our guys a chance. We got killed by the flash play over and over and over, did a lousy job adjusting to it. It’s all my fault. I never gave our guys a chance."

Just last week, we looked at the Cowboys' and Eagles' Big Play ability in a post titled "Big Plays Could Decide The Game". And those "flash plays" as Ryan calls them, proved to be the difference yesterday.

In press conference early last week, Garrett explained just how important it is to prevent big plays going against the Philly offense:

Big plays are a part of the game. One of the big things that you have to do on defense is prevent big plays, and our defense has done an outstanding job of that, both defending the run and defending the pass.

The challenge this week is a big one, because when you talk about the Eagles, they have a ton of playmakers. Starting with the quarterback, the receivers, the runners, they’ve got them all over their football team.

So it’s really important we play good, sound , fundamental defense throughout the game, and then we don’t have those handful of plays that can sometimes get you beat. Hopefully we can continue that trend.

Last week we marveled at how the Dallas Cowboys were not only putting up a very high number of big plays (plays of 20+ yards) but allowing very few on defense as well. In fact, up until the Eagles game yesterday, the Cowboys had the best big play differential in the league with +15. But that changed quickly yesterday.

Not only did the Eagles offense pull off seven plays of 20+ yards compared to only three for the Cowboys offense, but the Eagles also recorded 22 plays of 10 yards or more, versus only 11 for the Cowboys.

Those 22 plays of 10 yards or more are unprecedented in recent Cowboys history: It is the highest total the Cowboys have allowed since at least the 2000 season (that's how far my play-by-play database goes back). Here are the top six games over the last 11 years by number of 10+ yard plays given up.

10+ yard plays Year Opponent Score Defense
Cowboys Opp Total Yds Pass Yds Rush Yds
22 2011 @ PHI 7 34 495* 256 239*
20 2005 KC 31 28 493* 332* 161
19 2001 SD 21 32 475* 345* 130
19 2010 @ HOU 27 13 340 216 124
19 2010 NYG 35 41 497* 297 200*
18 2004 @ SEA 43 39 507* 398* 109
* denotes season high allowed by defense

The Cowboys entered the game as the number one ranked run defense, but were shown up by the Eagles'  number one rushing offense to the tune of 239 yards rushing.

The Cowboys' defensive strategy was fairly straightforward, but misfired badly. On the majority of plays, the defense played two deep safeties in an attempt to take away Philly's outside receivers. In exchange, the defense left the middle of the field wide open in pass coverage and often didn't have safety help against the run.

As a result, they hemorraghed rushing yards and were consistently beat over the middle in the passing game. In the first six games, the Cowboys allowed just five runs of more than 10 yards. Yesterday, they allowed five of those in the first quarter and nine over the whole game.

Ironically, by playing their safeties so far back to stop the big play, the Cowboys gave up more big plays than at any time in recent history. The Cowboys' vaunted Big Play defense failed completely and miserably yesterday. As did the offense. It's back to the drawing board for both.

In his post-game press conference after the loss to the Steelers yesterday, Tom Brady said: "There's not a lot of margin for error when you're playing a good team on the road." The Cowboys made too many errors yesterday and the Eagles proved for once to be the very good team they had been expected to be from the start of the season.

The Cowboys were outplayed from start to finish yesterday. For what it's worth, that was the first time this season that they've been outplayed in such a manner, and the first time under Garrett that they've lost by more than four points. Losses like this don't happen very often, but when they do, how teams rebound from them can tell you a lot about that team.

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