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Film review: Dallas defense - Eagles game

What a lump of coal! I watched the Cowboys/Eagles game again - in agonizing detail - and it told me what I already knew, almost every Cowboy had a bad game. Or at least didn't do anything to help us win. Usually in a film review I find a few players who played really well -  in this game, not so much.

This review is about the defense, the offensive review will follow later. If you put a gun to my head and said name a defensive MVP, I would go with Jason Ferguson. Outside of that, only Terence Newman comes to mind as a guy who held up their end of the bargain.

Ferguson was complicit in a few bad plays by the defensive line against the run, but he was the only guy who consistently worked off his blocks to make a tackle. Just check the stats, Ferguson tied for the team-high in tackles with seven. He even managed to flush Garcia out of the pocket on one play. The rest of the play by the defense was mostly average to awful.

The defense was a no show for most of the first half. On the Eagles first drive, they converted four 3rd down plays on the way to a TD. Four third downs on one drive, that's very hard to do. Those plays encapsulated the Cowboys defense on the evening. On 3rd and 10, the Cowboys got zero pass rush, and Garcia waited for his receiver to clear the coverage and beat Roy Williams. On a 3rd and 1, Marcus Spears and Al Singleton got man-handled and the Eagles rushed for a first down. On a 3rd and 7, Dallas blitzed and got nowhere close to Garcia, and Aaron Glenn was playing so far off his man that it was a simple pitch-and-catch slant for a first down. On another 3rd and 1, the Eagles spread the defense out with 4 WR, and ran the ball against the Cowboys 3-man front. There you have it, in a nutshell; the defense couldn't get a pass rush, they played soft in coverage, they couldn't stop the run, and the Eagles coaches were able to get the Cowboys into the formations that they wanted, not what the Cowboys coaches wanted.

Even the guys that usually play well even when we lose games were not getting the job done. DeMarcus Ware had two off-sides penalties that were both declined because the result of the play was better than the foul. He was pretty much a no-show in the pass rush, save for one play where he beat a TE and a RB to get to Garcia for a sack and cause a fumble. He got totally fooled by a naked bootleg and Garcia ran for good yards, and he got caught inside on a few runs that led to big gains. Overall, a bad game for Ware's standards.

Chris Canty actually had a couple of nice plays in the game, and a lot of the yards by the Eagles' running game were coming away from his side. He managed to get to Garcia on one play and force a quick throw that was incomplete, and got pressure on another pass play. He had a couple of excellent tackles in the run game. But like every Cowboy on defense, there were times when he was getting blocked off the line. At the other defensive end spot, Marcus Spears was having trouble staying on the line and fighting off his blocks. In the second half, the Eagles ran to the left-side of the Dallas defense a lot, and Spears was getting beat badly. He did have a couple of good plays against the run, but overall he was a liability. I liked Kenyon Coleman's play in this game better than Spears.

Up the middle, Akin Ayodele and Bradie James were getting blocked at the 2nd level far too often in the running game. James did manage to make some tackles, but most of them were after five yards. Ayodele was largely absent this game, reversing a trend of improving play from him. James was getting blocked badly when the Eagles started running off-tackle to the left-side of the Dallas defense in the second half. He also figured in an important play which will be discussed later.

Al Singleton wasn't awful, but he was guilty of getting caught inside on runs a couple of times and he was getting pushed back in run support. Bobby Carpenter actually had a few plays that showed he was improving, but then he had some plays that showed he's a rookie. He had some good tackles in the run game and was doing a good job of keeping outside contain and reading the pass or run. He also managed to get pressure a couple of times on Garcia, it was late pressure and kind of weak, but at least he was getting closer. But towards the end of the game, he was part of the defense that allowed the Eagles to run at will, and he also got beat by an out-and-under route by the TE.

Roy Williams was largely absent from the game. He did get beat in coverage a couple of times and on the Eagle's first TD, he was playing over the top and James was playing underneath in a zone, and the Eagles laid the ball perfectly in between the two. Unfortunately, his prowess in the running game and game-changing hits was nowhere to be found. Pat Watkins got beat for a big Eagles pass completion from deep in their own territory. After the Eagles made their goal line stand, they had the ball on the 2-yard line. On the first play, Garcia got nice protection, Donte' Stallworth ran a double-move and abused Watkins. He also got beat for a first down later in the game. He did make some tackles, but he also missed one that resulted in 10-extra yards for the Eagles. Anthony Henry had the big interception and broke up a couple of passes, but he got beat a few times, too. He didn't play badly, though.

The Cowboys tried to blitz on occasion, but were largely unsuccessful. Most of the time they blitzed either one or both MLB's in combination with the OLB's and the Eagles picked them up easily. Dallas wasn't very creative with their blitz packages. But on one occasion, they decided to bring the house, and the Eagles beat it for a huge play. It was 3rd and 7 on the first drive of the second half, and the Cowboys had 3-man coverage with Roy and the LB's on the blitz. Kevin Burnett was responsible for the TE, who started to block at first, Burnett read this and started to rush. But the TE then went into the pattern, Burnett back-tracked but it was too late, and Garcia hit the TE for a 5-yard catch that went for 65 yards by the time it was over. Just a huge play in the game.

Then there was the breakdown at the end of the first half. Dallas had just cut the lead to 10-7, when the Eagles got the ball back at their 36-yard line with about 30 seconds to play. The Cowboys went into a dime-prevent, with a 3-man rush. The Eagles inched the ball downfield but faced a 3rd and 6 from outside of FG range with 8 seconds left. The Cowboys coaches thought a Hail Mary was coming, moved everyone back off the line, and even put Terrell Owens in as a safety. The Eagles lined up two receivers on the left. One was covered by Henry and the other had no one within 10-yards of him. Bradie James was the underneath guy but he paid no attention to the inside receiver who just trots 10 yards downfield, waits for the ball to come and runs out of bounds. They had no timeouts left, so the Cowboys should've been protecting the sidelines, but we didn't even cover the guy. All we were looking for was a Hail Mary. They kicked a FG before the half and the Cowboys just gave up three points without a fight.

OK, after all that bashing of the defense, which played terrible, they did manage to make a few stops with the game still in doubt - although it never seemed to be in doubt. After the Eagles grabbed a 16-7 lead early in the 3rd quarter, the Cowboys defense made two straight stops, forcing punts. The Cowboys offense had the ball immediately following the FG that gave Philly 16 points, and then two more times as the Cowboys defense held, but they did nothing with any of those chances.

Here were my two main problems with the defense. On almost every running play the Eagles were blowing us off the line. The Eagles were re-establishing the line of scrimmage 2-3 yards into the Cowboys side, so every running play at least gained a few yards, even when someone eventually broke through to make a tackle. There was no penetration into the backfield on running plays; no one was disrupting the blocking scheme. The other problem is that Dallas couldn't get a pass rush, even when blitzing, and they couldn't contain Garcia when he scrambled. Our front seven on defense simply got whipped.

P.S. - Dallas finally figured out how to play the pass to the running backs in the flats. DeMarcus Ware, Al Singleton and Bobby Carpenter can be seen on multiple plays peeling off the pass rush and covering the back sliding out into the pattern. Not that it helped any in this game.

Offensive review later tonight.

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