-There was really only one possible reason for the Dallas Cowboys to even keep the game close against the Philadelphia Eagles, and that was a sense of desperation. Well, that was apparently the case. After so much misery and despair, they prevailed in a hard-fought game to escape Philadelphia with a terribly-needed 27-20 win.
The Cowboys put up their guttiest performance of the season, with a strong defensive showing in the first half followed by the offense finding real life and putting two pressure-packed long touchdown drives together. The defense would make one last statement when Leighton Vander Esch blew up a screen play as the Eagles were driving for a score. On third and two, he fought off two blockers to drop Corey Clement for a five yard loss. On the ensuing play, Carson Wentz completed the pass, but it was ruled a yard short of the sticks, turning the ball over to the Cowboys with just over a minute to play. They were unable to do anything with the ball as they were wisely very careful to not put it at risk of a turnover, and the Eagles got the ball back with 40 ticks left, but no timeouts. They got close, but the game would end on a pass completed inside the ten to Zach Ertz, who then lateraled to Golden Tate, and the clock ran out as he was surrounded and tackled.
Even thought the Cowboys dominated the first half in many aspects, it was still a mixed bag for them. They put up 218 yards of total offense, but twice stalled out in the red zone and had to settle for field goals when they of course needed touchdowns. Dak Prescott had some wide open throws he missed and also was still holding the ball too long. The most obvious example of that was on a 13 yard sack inside the two minute warning that looked like it had pushed them out of any chance for getting a score to improve on a 6-3 lead. But then he got off three very good passes, starting with a screen to Michael Gallup that the Eagles just didn’t defend well to overcome a third and 15. Then he completed passes of 21 yards to Cole Beasley, and after a one yard gain, fired another for 17 to Allen Hurns. That set up a first and goal with only seconds left and the clock running, but Prescott got the offense lined up for a quick snap and snuck the ball across the line himself. It gave Dallas a 10 point lead to start the second half, and elicited the delightful sound of boos from the always classy fans in Philadelphia.
The defense certainly came to the game with some fire in their gut. The Eagles had good field position to start their second possession of the game at the Dallas 44 after forcing a three and out, but on their first play, Vander Esch was not seen by Carson Wentz, and LVE intercepted the ball, returning it to the Philadelphia 38. It set up the first Brett Maher field goal of the game, and made Vander Esch the defensive standout of the contest (he was also the leading tackler with 13). Randy Gregory showed up with a strong sack of Wentz. Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods were strong in the first half, both breaking up multiple passes. Jaylon Smith and Jourdan Lewis combined to stop a fourth-and-one conversion attempt that set up Dallas’ second field goal. And for whatever reason, Golden Tate was pretty much a non-factor through the first three quarters, with only one reception for 13 yards.
But after holding the Eagles to no third down conversions on their first five attempts, things started to crack late in the third quarter, as Philly drove down and scored a touchdown. The drive started after Maher badly missed a 42 yard field goal attempt. He had barely made his first attempt as well, and seems to have hit something of a slump after his hot streak early in the season. They would put together another long drive after Dallas answered with their own touchdown drive, with most of the damage coming on a 51 yard completion to Nelson Agholor.
From that point on, a defensive struggle early saw a lot of offensive fireworks, as the teams started trading long touchdown drives.
It was something of a breakout game for Ezekiel Elliott. He suddenly was busting big runs, and already had 121 yards on only 12 carries at the start of the fourth quarter. And he added six catches for 36 yards, including a very easy seven yard touchdown to let Dallas regain the lead at 20-13 in the fourth quarter.
There was a real scare in the first half when Zack Martin went down with a knee injury and had to be replaced by Adam Redmond. The team was already relying on Xavier Su’a-Filo in place of the ailing Connor Williams. But Martin returned later in the half, and on a whole, the offensive line did not have a bad game at all. Anytime your top running back gets 151 yards and a touchdown on only 19 carries, those big guys in the trenches are doing something right.
As was mentioned at the beginning, the Cowboys certainly played like they were desperate, and it looked like Scott Linehan was going deep into the playbook, with plays that certainly didn’t look like the same old same old. Dak was spreading it around as well, connecting with eight different receivers. The first impression is that Prescott quieted some, but not all, of the worries about him with a strong passing performance, going 26 of 36 for 270 yards, one touchdown, and most importantly, no interceptions, and threw in the touchdown on the ground as well. The fact the Zeke was running with such authority certainly didn’t hurt, nor did the injuries in the Eagles’ secondary. But while Linehan showed far more creativity in play-calling, the question remains as to whether he did enough to affect his fate with Dallas. The thing that really begs an answer is why the team had to get to 3-5 to see this kind of a game from him? While he certainly gets props for what he did with his back to the wall, it should not have taken such a dire situation for him to try something different. This doesn’t eliminate the debate over him at all. It just makes it a bit more confusing.