With the season on life support, the Dallas Cowboys defense stepped up to the challenge facing off against the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles, but it wasn't enough. The Cowboys offense led by rookie quarterback Ben DiNucci just weren't able to make any plays down field. It was good to see the defense finally step up, but after this loss the door on the Cowboys season is almost completely closed.
With that said let's take a look at the game and grade the Cowboys performance.
The reason this is so high is thanks in part to the defense finally helping to keep this football team in the game. They were able to create as many turnovers in this game as they have had all season with four. The reason it isn't any higher is because the offense wasn't able to convert those turnovers into anything more than three field goals. DiNucci looked in over his head, as expected for a young quarterback but the experience he gained may help him in the future.
The positive was that the defense came ready to play this weekend, the negative was the quarterback wasn't. For the defensive coaching staff they should be proud of how the young players on this roster stepped up. The offensive coaching staff did everything possible to give the rookie quarterback an advantage but it wasn't enough. They also didn't really seem to get DiNucci to stay in clean pockets at times with no need to run out of it.
Quarterback : F
Whenever you have a quarterback starting his first game in the NFL, you expect to see him struggle. The problem with DiNucci was his reluctance to stand in the pocket and throw the football. It seemed as though every snap he ran out of the pocket, either right into sacks, or scrambling and throwing balls that were off target and to receivers that were covered. He had quite a few throws that should have been intercepted last night.
He's a risk-taker and sometimes that's a good thing, but it didn’t work out.
Running back: B
The Cowboys running backs did their best to find holes against this tough Eagles front seven. They were able to find some holes, but not enough with the inability of DiNucci to get the defense to back off with his arm. They weren't able to do much on the ground. It was also good to see them step up and make the correct reads in pass protection this week.
Wide Receivers: C
This group what they could to make things easier for a quarterback that seemed to run out of the pocket on every play. With that being said, they unfortunately had a few drops as well. But overall the play of the receivers was okay.
Things will get better for them when Andy Dalton returns next week.
Tight End: B
Once again Dalton Schultz was one of the leading receivers on this team. He's really starting to turn into a quarterback-friendly option for anyone they put under center. He still needs to get stronger at the point of attack when staying in to block but outside of that another great game for him.
Offensive Line: C-
The return of Zack Martin helped this young offensive line but it still wasn't enough to help right the ship. Any time an all out blitz was dialed up they weren't able to pick up the right guy and a free rusher was able to get through to DiNucci. They still need to work on their communication when passing off blocks, if they can do that and Terence Steele can block someone at right tackle then they may finally gain some continuity.
Defensive Line: C
The only reason this wasn’t lower was thanks to the pass rush from the defensive ends that created four sacks and was able to get pressure on Wentz throughout the night. Other than that, it was all bad for the Cowboys interior defensive line that was once again pushed around and unable to shed or split double-team blocks. If the Cowboys think they still have a chance to make a run then they need to make a move at defensive tackle and bring in someone who can help the interior of this unit.
Is it just me or does it seem like Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith are reluctant to attack their gaps when trying to stop the run? Overall their play on the field was better but until they are able to hit those gaps the way we've seen them do it in the past. they aren't going to really be a factor in games as we were accustomed to previously.
Oh and it would help if they defensive tackles can actually hold their ground so opposing offensive linemen can't get to them.
This group really stepped up this week and was the stand out group overall for the Cowboys. They were led by the rookie Trevon Diggs who turned in two interceptions for the defense. Safety Donovan Wilson was also able to force a fumble on quarterback Carson Wentz early in the game. They did surrender two touchdown passes but throughout most of the game they forced Wentz to throw the ball away with their tight coverage on his receivers.
A very good sign for a young secondary that is still trying to figure out a complex defense.
A loss for any football team is always a bad thing, but the way this defense played this week provides a little hope for the future. The offense was being led by a rookie so struggles were expected, but Dalton will be returning and that will boost that side of the ball. The real question now for this team is do they close up shop and start preparing for the future or do they continue to fight and get back in the playoff hunt?