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Grading the Cowboys 37-10 victory over the Eagles

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Report card time for the Cowboys, as you might have guessed they did pretty well.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys just put a thorough whipping on the hated Philadelphia Eagles and, in the process, took hold of the NFC East. The game was a complete reversal of what we saw during the team’s three-game losing streak as every unit contributed and played to their potential. Let’s go to the grades:

Overall: A

There was a lot to like in the game:

  • A prepared, motivated team that came out ready to play from the opening snap. The polar opposite of what we saw the last three weeks.
  • A return to a dynamic offensive scheme that used a ton of misdirection to put players in position to make easy plays.
  • An efficient quarterback who made plays through the air and on the ground.
  • Another big night for both Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott against the Eagles.
  • An offensive line that helped the Cowboys grind out 185 rushing yards while giving Prescott time throughout to make plays from the pocket.
  • A defensive line that relentlessly attacked the Eagles and put heavy pressure on Carson Wentz throughout.
  • Multiple turnovers and sacks.
  • Three (count ‘em) short fields for the offense after having gone six games without once getting the ball on the opponent’s side of the field.
  • A perfect night from the shaky kicker, including a record-setting 63-yard conversion.

Honestly, there wasn’t much to gripe about. Okay, there were six more penalties that allowed the Eagles to score their only touchdown and made life difficult for the offense at times. But that’s picking nits in the overall performance.

This was the best, most impressive and most entertaining Cowboys game of the 2019 season and sets them up to make a playoff run entering the team’s bye week.

Coaching: A

Jason Garrett and the entire Cowboys coaching staff is an enigma. One week after an abysmal coaching performance in New York (fielding an unprepared, unmotivated, sloppy, disinterested unit) Garrett, Kellen Moore and the rest of the staff hit all the right notes in the most important game of the season thus far.

Dallas came out with energy and purpose. On the fifth play from scrimmage Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch combined to force a Dallas Goedert fumble recovered by Maliek Collins. That play set the tone and the offense quickly took advantage, converting the turnover into a touchdown on a nice play that put Tavon Austin into space where he can utilize his speed:

Two plays later Demarcus Lawrence cleanly beat Lane Peters to force a Carson Wentz fumble that led to another Cowboys touchdown by Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott’s run to the one-yard line was symbolic of the Cowboys’ aggressive, physical style that dominated the Eagles throughout:

In short, the Cowboys were ready to play on both sides of the ball and were up 14-0 after only six minutes of football. Philly wouldn’t manage 14 points the entire night so the game was effectively over.

One pattern seems to have emerged; the Cowboys at home utilize all the whiz-bang play-calling available to them but on the road they seem to revert to Jason Garrett’s sub-optimal, conservative, play-not-to-lose approach.

I held Garrett accountable last week for the lackadaisical play of the players and similarly, he and the rest of the coaching staff deserve credit for a focused, passionate performance Sunday night.

Quarterback: B+

Prescott’s passing numbers were ho-hum:

  • 21-of-27
  • 239 yards
  • One touchdown along with one interception
  • 100.5 passer rating

In addition Prescott made multiple plays on the ground, finishing with 30 yards and a touchdown:

But anyone who watched knows that Dak was a maestro on the night. Given time on most plays he repeatedly extended drives with chunk plays and third-down conversions (the Cowboys finished 8-of-14 on third down). Dallas would score on seven of their eleven drives (four TDs, three FGs). The only thing marring the night for Dak was a poor decision to throw into double coverage that resulted in an interception and a couple of slightly off-target throws where he made life more difficult for his receivers than necessary.

Running backs: A+

The Eagles must hate playing against Ezekiel Elliott. Not only does he rack up big rushing numbers but he seems to relish physically punishing the team from Philly. Sunday was no different. Zeke would finish with 111 yards on 22 caries. He didn’t have any huge runs but seemed to be breaking off 6- and 8-yard runs all night. So it’s almost unfair when, after punishing Eagles defenders all night, he did this to poor Brandon Graham:

But Elliott wasn’t the only back making highlights. Tony Pollard’s stat line is nothing special (11 rushes for 28 yards) but no one will forget this brilliant first down run:

Pollard’s presence has been a big plus for the team. He allows the team to rest Zeke as needed and he has produced well every time he’s been given an opportunity. The Cowboys’ most reliable formula for success is to have Elliott, Pollard and Prescott running effectively as they did Sunday night.

Wide receivers: A

Amari Cooper didn’t put put up 200 yards and three touchdowns like he did the last time Dallas faced the Eagles. He ended with five catches for 106 yards and failed to find the end zone (officially, as a Cooper touchdown catch was negated by multiple penalties).

But if felt like every time the Cowboys’ offense needed a play they just dialed up Cooper for a big gain, usually of the highlight variety. There was this catch which set up Brett Maher’s first field goal:

If you’re wondering how Amari was running wide open through the Eagles defense, simply look at Cooper’s next-level route-running skills:

Finally, Cooper capped off his productive night with this amazing sideline catch:

Which is so good it deserves a second look:

Beyond Cooper, the receivers didn’t have a big night. Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb each had drops and combined to catch five balls on seven targets for 63 yards. Austin added the touchdown run before departing with an injury.

Tight ends: B

The numbers are modest. Jason Witten and Blake Jarwin combined for five catches on five targets and traversed only 34 yards. They added the easiest touchdown throw and catch that you could possibly imagine:

That’s some great scheming there as Moore’s play design had everyone thinking run and moving one direction leaving both Prescott and Jarwin with no defenders:

Witten caught three consecutive passes near the end of half and got out of bounds twice to stop the clock as the Eagles inexplicably allowed the future HOFer to work the sidelines. Both he and Jarwin seemed solid on their blocking assignments. Dalton Schultz only showed up on the stat sheet for his seemingly weekly holding call; do not understand how he continues to get playing time.

Offensive line: A

This was a tale of overcoming gaffes as the OL would repeatedly put the team in difficult situations with penalties. There were four in total on the night (though only three on the OL). But they made up for it with a huge night in the run game. The Eagles are one of the most difficult teams to run against, ranking second in run defense. Yet the Cowboys repeatedly gashed them for effective runs throughout the night.

In addition, they gave Prescott time throughout the game to make his reads and find the open man. Tyron Smith did struggle, as he was cleanly beat for a sack and was twice called for holding:’

But Tron held up over the long run and by the end the Cowboys OL imposed their will on the usually fearsome Eagles front seven. When this offensive line can do that the Cowboys will win virtually every time.

Defensive line: A+

This was, without question, the best performance from this group in 2019. The Eagles would finish with 283 yards but they felt like empty calories. Even their lone touchdown drive came with an asterisk as Dallas forced what seemed like a 3-and-out but a touchy roughing the passer call gave the Eagles’ life. Then an unnecessary roughness penalty on Xavier Woods helped the Eagles out yet again. This eventually led to Philadelphia’s lone touchdown on the night:

Otherwise, the Dallas front four was terrorizing Carson Wentz and punishing Eagles runners. I don’t know what the final numbers were, but midway through the fourth quarter NBC showed a stat that showed Wentz was under pressure on 53% of dropbacks. That’s twice the NFL average for that stat, and was indicative of how the DL performed all night.

Dallas ended up with “only” three sacks, but don’t let that number fool you. Wentz repeatedly escaped near-sacks (as he does) but rarely was afforded time the way Prescott was to make his reads. The Cowboys’ front four was so good they almost never blitzed and were getting to Wentz playing straight up. Robert Quinn notched his sixth sack in four games but also departed due to a rib injury:

This was a dominating performance from a group that has really struggled most of the year. More of this please.

Linebackers: B

It was nice to see Jaylon Smith looking much more like the heat-seeking, indestructible force-of-nature he was in 2018. He would end up with seven tackles, a forced fumble and a pass defensed. He just looked better than what we’ve seen most of 2019.

The same cannot be said for Leighton Vander Esch. LVE did have one nice tackle for loss but was beaten on the Goedert touchdown (a tough assignment, but still) and again looked out of sorts. His night ended early after suffering a scary-looking neck injury that apparently isn’t too serious.

Sean Lee being your third linebacker is a luxury and, playing every down after LVE’s injury, he looked like more like Sean Lee. Will be interesting how playing time plays out after the bye.

Secondary: B

If the Eagles threw the ball at Byron Jones I don’t recall it happening. They threw at Chidobie Awuzie a few times but were generally unsuccessful. The Eagles wideouts, a notoriously inept group without Desean Jackson, finished with only four catches for 62 yards.

Jones, Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis weren’t stressed that much and Lewis, as he’s prone to do, came up with a big play:

Xavier Woods also showed the ball-hawking skills he was known for in college, with a fourth quarter interception:

That’s only the Cowboys’ second interception on the year, but it’s also the second in as many weeks. The only dark spot was the play of Jeff Heath. Heath would leave the game with an injury but prior to that had looked shaky. The Eagles’ tight ends are good and they didn’t have big nights. But whenever they did make plays they seemed to be wide open with Heath five yards away. Wentz also just missed an 80-yard touchdown when he couldn’t connect with Nelson Agholor after the Eagle’s wide-out managed to turn Heath around 30 yards down the field and was running wide open.

Heath generally lines up 25 yards behind the line of scrimmage and his number one priority is to not let opponents get behind him. He was late reacting last week when the Jets scored from their own eight-yard line and he botched the coverage against Agholor on what should have been a touchdown.

Heath has never been a top-notch safety but his play in 2019 is a step below what he’s provided in the past. Makes you wonder if it isn’t time to let Darian Thompson start seeing time at safety.

Special teams: A-

Brett Maher is as much of an enigma as the Dallas coaching staff. He’s missed several short (less than 45 yards) field goals this season but was perfect Sunday night, converting three field goals and four extra points.

Of course, what everyone remembers is his booming 63-yarder near the end of the first half that would have been good from 66 yards:

Maher has now converted three field goals from beyond 60 yards in the last eleven Cowboys games. No kicker has previously hit three kicks from beyond 60 yards in NFL history, so it’s a bit weird because every time Maher lines up Cowboys fans are crossing their fingers and praying to the deity of their choice. He’s a roller coaster ride but on this night it was exhilarating.

Chris Jones, on the other hand, seems to have declined swiftly and substantially. He’s nowhere close to what he was two years ago and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cowboys look to replace him in the offseason.

Summary

Had the Cowboys lost this game their season would basically have been over. Only 14% of teams with 3-4 records eventually reach the playoffs. The Cowboys have virtually no shot at the wild card because they’ve lost to the Packers and Saints and there are a lot of good NFC teams this year. So this was as close to a must-win October game as you can have.

They aced the test. They played their best game against their primary division foe. In addition, the Eagles did this:

That’s pathetic and the league should look at such acts and punish them accordingly.

So for one week all is good in #CowboysNation as the team finally played a complete game and lived up to their potential. This will make the bye week much, much more enjoyable than what our defeated opponent is facing over the next week.