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Grading the Cowboys, Dak Prescott plays perhaps the worst game of his career

It’s not pretty for Dallas - again.

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Through 30 minutes the Dallas Cowboys were competitive with the Philadelphia Eagles, taking a 9-7 lead into halftime. The second half was a different story as the Eagles outclassed the Cowboys in every phase of the game, outscoring Dallas 30-0. Let’s look at the grades:

Overall: D

This game was simply a tale of two halves. The first half we saw a scrappy unit doing enough to stay competitive. The running game was effective and the defense limited the Eagles to only seven first half points. Had Dak Prescott been anything other than terrible the Cowboys likely would have enjoyed a two-score lead going into halftime.

But Prescott was terrible. In a game when he needed to be the best player on the field for the Cowboys to win he instead was the worst player on the field. Thus, Dallas, despite turning the ball over twice, enjoyed only a 9-7 halftime lead.

Dallas then got absolutely obliterated in the second half. The Cowboys were outscored 30-0, outgained 268-99, committed two turnovers and recorded zero and gave up three sacks while recording none. It was a nightmarish half in which every single unit (coaches, quarterback, offensive line, receivers, defensive line, linebackers, secondary) was decisively outplayed by their opponents.

Coaching: D

This grade might have been an A after the first half. The coaches had figured out their offensive line woes and been able to neutralize the aggressive Eagles front seven. The running game was effective and Prescott wasn’t running for his life as he was last week. On defense, the Cowboys stifled one of the league’s best offenses. An Eagles’ first drive touchdown was followed by six drives that netted only a single first down. The Dallas coaches seemed to have found a scheme that solved the Philly offense.

Then halftime happened. I wrote last week about how badly the Cowboys have performed after halftime. Sunday night, the halftime adjustments grossly favored the Eagles. The Eagles scored touchdowns on each of their first three drives of the second half while the Eagles defense outscored the Cowboys offense 6-0. Dallas was outscored 30-0 after halftime and frankly, it wasn’t as close as the score indicated.

It’s really hard to understand what the Cowboys’ coaches are doing at halftime. There’s simply no debating the Cowboys after halftime are an inferior version of the team the rest of the game. Sunday night put that coaching failure on stark display yet again.

Head coach Jason Garrett has also been criticized for being too rigid and not adapting to game situations. This negative trait again reared it’s head Sunday, when Garrett passed up a fourth down opportunity that effectively ended the game.

This came with just under three minutes remaining in the thirdrd quarter. Dallas trailed 23-9 and faced a 4th-and-2 at the Cowboys 45. The third quarter had already been a disaster to this point. The Eagles had scored back-to-back touchdowns on 75- and 90-yard drives. Rather than go for make-able fourth down, Garrett elected to punt. While Chris Jones did his usual thing, trapping Philadelphia at their own 15, the Eagles predictably rolled over the reeling Cowboys’ defense. The 11-play, 85-yard drive was predictable and expected by that point. Garret’s refusal to roll the dice on offense left his team no hope.

Quarterback: F

An absolutely dreadful day for Dak Prescott. In the first half when the game was competitive Dak missed available throws. Screen passes to Dez Bryant were repeatedly low, throwing timing off. He was twice intercepted in the first half, including an atrocious pass into double-coverage that had no chance of success.

Perhaps his worst play came on the team’s first drive of the second half when he badly overthrew an open Beasley on a third down. Down 15-9 at the time, the Cowboys ended up punting and a few minutes later were down 23-9. Prescott later had a fumble returned for a touchdown and then an ill-advised red zone interception. He ended up with four turnovers and only 145 yards passing on 31 attempts.

This was by far the worst game of Dak Prescott’s career. It’s the first time he’s looked overwhelmed by the NFL. It’s particularly disappointing because the rest of the Cowboys (the defense and the running game) played well enough for 30 minutes that an average Dak would have probably meant a two-score halftime lead.

Running backs: B

Playing against an Eagles defense that surrenders only 66 yards per game, the Cowboys run game had 69 yards at halftime. Alfred Morris was consistently gaining yards and putting the offense in good down-and-distance situations. The running backs also helped out protecting Prescott, providing LT Byron Bell with the help the team refused to give Chaz Green last week against Atlanta. Morris ended up with 91 tough yards on 17 carries for a hefty 5.4 yards per carry; no complaint with his game.

The second half the running game didn’t have much chance. They helped the team move effectively on the team’s first drive, but the next time they had the ball the team was down 14 points and the Eagles didn’t have to worry about the run game.

Offensive line: B-

The offensive line’s performance improved significantly from last week despite facing what many consider to be the best front-7 in the NFL. Byron Bell was a dramatic improvement over Chaz Green (again making us wonder what the coaches saw that led them to make Green the primary backup to Tyron Smith). The coaches used more two tight end formations and helped Bell with running backs. The end result was an effective running game and better protection for Dak Prescott.

The second half things fell apart once the Cowboys fell behind. The running game was again effective the first drive of the thirrd quarter, gaining 32 yards. From that point forward the ground game would net only 21 yards, Prescott would be sacked three times and the offense looked completely inept.

It’s hard to be harsh on the group as the Eagles defense could ignore the run game and just attack the quarterback by that point. A much better game from the OL than last week.

Wide receivers/tight ends: D

A very disappointing performance from the skill players. On the occasions when Prescott was able to get them the ball they either dropped it or did nothing with it. I’m resigned to the fact none of the wideouts represent much of a downfield threat. Dez Bryant had another drop on a key play; he now has seven drops on the season and leads the NFL in percent of dropped passes.

Terrance Williams had another ball bounce off his hands for yet another interception. Jason Witten had only one catch for seven yards. The Cowboys have now passed for 140 or fewer yards in three of the last four games. Prescott obviously bears blame, but it’s also clear the receiving crew isn’t all that talented.

Defensive line: D

Again, a tale of two halves. The first half, the Cowboys were able to contain the Eagles running game, limiting it to only 35 yards. They also were able to get enough pressure on Wentz to throw the Philly passing game off. They did not, however, make many plays. For the first time all season the defense failed to record a sack. Multiple times Dallas defenders were able to get to Wentz only to have him shrug them off and then make a play. The defense also failed to force any turnovers.

David Irving had a bad game as the Eagles used his aggressiveness against him. They repeatedly called for plays where they simply let Irving’s backfield penetrations take him out of plays without so much as a block. Demarcus Lawrence was held in check and wasn’t nearly as disruptive as he’s been most of the season. Beyond that I don’t remember any DL having their name called.

Linebackers: C-

A terrific first half that featured perhaps Jaylon Smith’s best football we’ve seen was followed by a second half when the Eagles simply ran over the Cowboys. Philadelphia netted 187 yards on the ground in the second half, including a 71-yard Jay Ajayi run. That came on a back-breaking 90-yard Eagles’ touchdown drive that made the score 23-9 10 minutes into the third quarter.

That was the 3rd 90-yard touchdown drive the Cowboys have surrendered in their last three games, with Atlanta and Kansas City also performing the feat. The linebackers without Sean Lee are providing replacement-level performance and teams will continue to attack this unit.

Secondary: B-

Hard to judge this unit. On the one hand, Wentz and the Eagles gained only 168 yards in the air and, during the first half, they repeatedly got third down stops and got off the field.

The second half, however, they made zero plays. While the Eagles weren’t lighting up the secondary, every time they needed a third down conversion they got it, going 5-for-8 overall. An embarrassing touchdown pass-and-catch that featured a keystone cops performance by the Cowboys’ defense was only nullified by the Eagles wideout being called down.

Anthony Brown continues to look lost in coverage and benefited from several Eagles drops. He also badly played what should have been an easy interception right before the half. Looking at the tape had Brown simply kept his feet and caught the ball he would have had an easy touchdown because the entire Eagles team was behind him or on the other side of the field. That would have given the Cowboys a 16-7 lead at halftime and a huge momentum boost. Instead Brown looks a lot like a scrub, sixth-round pick and not the rookie surprise he was in 2016.

Byron Jones continues to have trouble tackling, getting carried for yards on multiple plays and badly whiffing on a 2-point conversion. Xavier Woods seemed to hold his own in his first start.

Special teams: B

Ryan Switzer started the game off with a terrific kickoff return that put the Cowboys in Eagles’ territory to start the game. But he then failed (again) to catch a catch-able punt, costing the offense good field position.

Mike Nugent nailed all three field goal attempts, including two from beyond 45-yards. Chris Jones also trapped the Eagles inside their 15-yard line on multiple occasions. Otherwise, nothing noteworthy on the special teams.

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