The Dallas Cowboys didn’t show up on Sunday in a crucial game against the Philadelphia Eagles. It was disappointing because we know this team is better than what they showed us, and they couldn’t pull it together with the division on the line. What went wrong for Dallas? How did a banged up Eagles team pull this off? Those are the questions many of us have, so we went to the game film to try to find answers.
Reviewing the tape, the defense actually played pretty well. Yes, there were times when they got turned around by some creative schemes by the Eagles offense. Credit Philadelphia for doing an outstanding job finding creases and their players were making plays. Even still, the Cowboys defense made some really good plays to give their team a chance to win the game. Several tackles for losses stalled Eagles drives and pushed them back far enough to cause kicker Jake Elliott to miss a couple long field goals. They got pressure on Carson Wentz and made some great open field tackles that kept smaller gains from turning into bigger ones.
While the defense held up okay, the same is not true of the Cowboys offense. They were horrific. Even more specifically, Dak Prescott had one of the worst games of his career. Despite not turning the ball over, the Cowboys quarterback did things so poorly in this game that it just derailed the offense. He had good protection, they weren’t getting behind the chains due to penalties, and there we so many well-designed plays where the coaching staff set him up nicely for big gains. Unfortunately, Prescott just couldn’t make the plays.
From check downs and not seeing wide open guys deep to several off-target throws, it was a horrendous day for Prescott. Sure, there were several drops and his receivers had a hand in the offensive struggles; however, Prescott’s poor performance crippled any chance the Cowboys had to win this game.
The thing that really stings about this is that when you go back and look through the tape, you’ll find that the missed opportunities were plentiful. The Cowboys offense really could’ve had a field day against the Eagles defense and to not find the end zone even once is really disappointing. Let’s look at the tape.
Summed up in one play
We are going to break things down and examine several things that didn’t go well for Dak, but it didn’t take long for mistakes to start happening. In fact, on the third play from scrimmage, the Cowboys had a golden opportunity to score a 76-yard touchdown when Randall Cobb blew passed his defender. Unfortunately, Prescott never was looking his way and he got locked on to Amari Cooper on a short crossing route. Not only did Prescott miss a chance for a big play and opted for the shorter play, he was off-target with this throw and the defender was able to knock the ball away.
Instead of a quick strike to take an early 7-3 lead, the Cowboys offense went three-and-out on their opening possession.
Playing it safe
Prescott’s tendency to take the shorter play made some wonder if his shoulder was a factor during the game. Reports afterwards don’t indicate that his shoulder was an issue. But Dak’s decision making to lay up short gave the offense no chance to keep drives going, and that was frustrating to watch. Despite many receivers sitting down in their routes far enough to get the yards needed for the first down, Prescott passed up on many of them and instead dumped the ball off to Ezekiel Elliott.
There were times were he even looked right at the receiver and pumped the ball his direction, but he just didn’t pull the trigger. It was some very questionable decision making on the part of Prescott.
Throws behind the receiver
When Dak did look up the field, he really struggled to connect. Watching the film closely showed so many great opportunities where his receivers gained plenty of separation, yet Prescott couldn’t capitalize. His touch on the ball was just not there on Sunday. This presented itself on the Cowboys third possession of the game as a couple under-thrown balls prevented Michael Gallup from coming up with big plays.
The receivers did a great job finding the holes in the Eagles zone coverage as there were plenty of clean throwing lanes for good gains. For some reason, Prescott just came in too high with some of his passes and his receivers couldn’t climb the ladder and bring them down.
Dak missed Cooper on a would-be 20-yard gain on a third down play, and then he sailed another high throw on Cobb on a crucial drive in the fourth quarter.
Dak is no stranger to having struggles as every quarterback has them, but what makes Prescott so great is that he usually snaps out of it. Despite missing so many chances early, Dak had clean chances to make plays down the stretch. The most blatantly obvious one when Tavon Austin blew by his defender leaving him wide open for what would’ve been a potential game-tying 75-yard touchdown. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be as Prescott overthrew his receiver.
Poorly placed balls
Even on positive plays, Prescott made it hard on his receivers. Cobb made a great catch on a critical 4th-and-9 play, but he had to dive for it, ruining any chance for a big yards-after-the catch play. And looking at the film, he might’ve scampered off to the end zone if he doesn’t fall down.
And although there were plenty of drops, Prescott did not help his teammates out with good placement of his passes. Gallup had a costly fourth-quarter drop, but re-watching that play showed how it could’ve been a touchdown if the ball is thrown where Gallup was running.
If you are keeping score at home, that’s a lot of missed opportunities that could’ve been touchdowns. There is absolutely no excuse for this offense to not score a touchdown. The plays were there. It was just a really bad showing by Prescott and instead of doing a number on the Eagles defense, he just threw the game away.
Prescott has had a great season. The body of work is still there, and this game shouldn’t serve as ammunition to suggest he shouldn’t receive his big pay day. He should. He’s the future of this team. But he’s certainly not infallible, and on this day - his performance contributed in a big way in costing his team the division title and another trip to the playoffs.