Much has been made about the Cowboys return to a run game last Sunday, and the phrase “recapturing their DNA” has been thrown around after the rout of the Rams. In some corners, that has been taken as a reference to the Cowboys returning to their “run team” roots. The Cowboys have been one of the bigger believers in the running game in their recent history, so recapturing that DNA seems like a natural fit.
But that wasn’t exactly what Jason Garrett was saying. His definition of recapturing that DNA was about playing as a team and displaying physical and mental toughness.
Jason Garrett during his postgame speech: “We talked about recapturing the DNA of our team’s toughness. Toughness was on display today.”#CowboysNation pic.twitter.com/obm8B54pF9— Selby Lopez (@LopezSelby31) December 16, 2019
Given that the Cowboys did return to their running game roots against the Rams and churned out 263 yards rushing makes the option of continuing that type of offense enticing. It surely reminded many fans of games in the past when the offense bludgeoned opponents into submission and kept the defense fresh.
“I think Kellen [Moore] did a great job calling the game, getting everybody involved, and allowed us to be a physical offense,” Garrett said.
That physical edge cuts both ways. Holding onto the ball offensively helps keep the Cowboys’ undersized, yet fast, defense fresh. It allows them to play more aggressively.
Time of possession: Dallas owned a staggering edge of 12 minutes and 12 seconds in Sunday’s game. That’s nearly double its previous high back in Week 2 against Washington.
It feels very comforting. It also feels like a possible trap the Cowboys shouldn’t fall into.
The Los Angeles Rams defense and the Philadelphia Eagles defense are two different animals. Consider:
The Eagles defense ranks third in rushing yards allowed per game at 90.4
The Rams defense ranks 23rd in rushing yards allowed per game at 115.6
On the flip side:
The Eagles defense ranks 18th in passing yards allowed per game at 238.8
The Rams defense ranks ninth in passing yards allowed per game at 226.6
Granted, these are volume stats and don’t always tell the whole story. What they do tell you, though, is how teams have attacked the two defenses in general because of where they found success. If you run against a team early and it’s successful, you will generally keep doing that, and vice versa with the pass.
The Eagles are a defense that does not cover well in the secondary. That is where their main vulnerability lies on that side of the ball.
Slowing down top-end receivers has been a serious issue for this Eagles’ defense, which has been on the wrong end of 10 different 100-yard receiving performances so far this season. The Eagles have allowed 14 pass plays of 40-plus yards, tied for second most in the league. It’s an area that they have struggled to clean up -- and one the Cowboys can exploit on Sunday.
This isn’t to suggest the Cowboys shouldn’t try to run the ball on the Eagles this Sunday. Coming off a game like they just had, you would be irresponsible to not see what Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, along with the offensive line, can do in the game. You have to at least probe to see if the run game will succeed. By all means, check it out.
Just don’t wed yourself to the idea at the expense of adapting as the game goes on. In the past, we’ve seen the Cowboys continue to ram their backs into brick walls even when it’s not working. Their commitment to the run has cost them in the past. They can’t let that happen on Sunday.
The Cowboys were able to run on the Eagles in the previous meeting this year, Zeke had 111 yards on 22 carries and Prescott and Pollard chipped in with 13 combined carries. The Eagles gave up a season-high rushing total of 189 yards. Prescott only threw 27 times for 239 yards in that game. Those 27 attempts were the low for him on the year until Sunday’s 23 attempts. So in looking at the previous game, it seems like the run would be the thing.
Context is everything, though. The Cowboys built up a big lead on turnovers in that game and were leading 27-7 at halftime and were able to go conservative. Remember the Eagles fumbled the ball away on their first two possessions and the Cowboys were up 14-0 in the blink of an eye. Dallas only scored 10 points in the second half of that game and didn’t score a point in the third quarter. They were content to bleed out the clock in the second half as long as their defense was playing well.
In short, the Cowboys need to remain flexible in their offensive planning for the Eagles, and need to recognize that the Eagles defense is particularly vulnerable in the secondary. Sure, if Zeke and Pollard can make things happen, by all means go that route. Just don’t be stubborn about trying to make that happen. It worked versus the Rams, but it might not work versus the Eagles. Make sure you have Prescott and his trio of receivers ready for action.