It wasn’t just a Dallas Cowboys win over the Philadelphia Eagles. The 41-21 stomping was a statement to their opponent, the rest of the NFC East, and the NFC as a whole. After managing a 1-1 split in the first two games of the season, they showed they can score in bunches on offense, add a defensive score to pile on, and control a game from start to finish. It took a true garbage time touchdown from Jalen Hurts to keep it from being an even more dominant score.
ESPN really overplayed the return of Dak Prescott from his devastating injury last year, but we know that is yesterday’s storyline. He was already functioning at a high level in the first two games, and he didn’t let up at all against the Eagles. He did get surrounded in his own end zone and gave up a fumble for a sack, but much of the game the green-clad defenders just did not have an answer for him. Aided by a very efficient running game, the game was badly tilted in the Cowboys’ favor. Although “badly” is not the word we might choose. Kellen Moore at times was just running an offensive coaching clinic, befuddling the opponents, going no huddle, and orchestrating long drives down the field. The defense was also strong, continuing the streak of taking the ball away and frequently taking advantage of a quarterback that was just not up to the level of his counterpart. On at least two plays, big passes were negated by ineligible man downfield flags that happened because he was off on the timing of his throws.
He did have some moments, however. Facing a 20-point deficit in the third quarter and needing to find any kind of a spark for his team, he had a hero moment. Somehow evading Osa Odighizuwa, who already had one sack, he uncorked a great 41-yard throw to Quez Watkins that led to an eventual Zack Ertz touchdown and cut things to a two-score lead for Dallas. The Cowboys offense had back-to-back three and outs spanning halftime before that. A couple of Prescott bullets got them quickly across midfield, but a sack halted that drive and suddenly Philly had a real opening to get fully back into the game. Bryan Anger just avoided having a punt blocked, which could have really made things interesting. The defense got another three and out. Then with a combination of short passes, Ezekiel Elliott power running, an offsides penalty, and going for it on 4th and 2, the Cowboys got a Cedrick Wilson touchdown to push it to a three score lead early in the fourth quarter, and it was looking more and more like a statement game for Dallas as they pushed to take the undisputed lead in the NFC East.
This was a great example of empty stats, as Hurts wound up with significantly more yards than Prescott, but the latter had a much more effective game, and the aid of that high-powered run game that debuted a week ago. When the backup quarterback for one team comes in for the last drive, you know who is in control and who is just watching themselves get run over.
The Cowboys went into halftime with what should have been a pleasing 13-point lead, but it felt like they repeatedly left points on the field. The first time was really not their fault. After driving 74 yards down the field, Prescott tried a QB sneak from the 1-yard line, but the officials ruled he was stopped short. The replay showed him still fighting and reaching the ball across the line, but the congestion blocked good camera angles and the play stood. Later, as they pushed out to a two score lead, Greg Zuerlein showed he is much more reliable from long range than short as he shanked the extra point.
Still, this was a half dominated by Dallas. They had 19 first downs to only three for the Eagles. They ran 42 plays to just 18. They had a 262 to 121 yards advantage, and a better than two-to-one edge in time of possession. The only points Philadelphia scored were on a sack/fumble in the end zone on Prescott, when Kellen Moore may have gotten a bit too cute going empty backfield inside their own 5-yard line. Except for another drive from deep in Dallas territory, the Eagles defense just could not get a stop. And Prescott almost pulled that out with a deep ball to Cedrick Wilson, but he could only get one foot down near midfield.
Speaking of deep balls, there was some worry that Prescott was only feeding off the short stuff. But he uncorked a 44-yard heave to CeeDee Lamb that led to the first touchdown on a one-yard dive by Ezekiel Elliott. On that play, Connor McGovern was in at fullback, and it was not the only time Moore used it to get his five best linemen on the field.
If there was a concern for Dallas, it was that Tyler Biadasz repeatedly got shoved back into Prescott’s lap. Javon Hargrave seemed to have his number. Connor Williams also was flagged for three holding penalties, although one was a bit questionable.
But the offense was cooking, with Prescott throwing for 148 yards and a Dalton Schultz touchdown. (Schultz would later add a touchdown on a play that showed amazing footwork from the big tight end.) Thunder and Lightning were back. Elliott had 60 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns, while Tony Pollard carried the ball 10 times for 56 in the first half. Elliott also chipped in three catches for 21 yards and nearly scored a TD on the play before the ill-fated Prescott sneak. Meanwhile, the defense was very solid with just a couple of long plays surrendered. Jaylon Hurts was just 7 of 12 for 102 yards and a pick by Anthony Brown, while they only had 30 on the ground. To a large extent, only their own mistake and a questionable call by the officials was unable to stop the Dallas offensive onslaught.
If there was one concerning thing, it was the somewhat curious clock management by Mike McCarthy at the end of the first half. He could have used his remaining two timeouts (one was taken on a failed challenge for the failed quarterback sneak) to get the ball back with at least a minute to work to try and let his red hot offense try for some more points. But he was content to go into half with a 13-point lead.
The only way the Eagles were going to get back in the game was to get something going on offense. They got the ball coming out of halftime, but after a long pass to Dallas Goedert, Trevon Diggs gave a quick jolt to any resurgence with a beautifully timed pick-six, stepping in front of a stumbling and falling DeVonta Smith and going 59 yards to the house. If you lost count, that is three interceptions for Diggs in the first three games. It built the Cowboys’ lead to 27-7 with just 53 seconds gone in the first half.
Diggs had himself a good night with multiple passes defended in addition to the interception, and Micah Parsons once again was active and effective, including a tipped pass, half a sack, and a holding call against Lane Johnson. While they gave up too many big gains during the game, against the badly depleted Philadelphia offensive line, Odighizuwa was a constant threat to Hurts up the middle. Dan Quinn’s defense continued to show improvement and a nose for the football.
A big win with plenty still for the coaches to work on is a great outcome. It was a flawed, dominant, thoroughly enjoyable stomping of our beloved rivals. Now Dallas faces a pretty soft looking portion of their schedule to try and pad their win total.
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