The first week 18 game ever played by the Dallas Cowboys would end with a decisive 51-26 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. The raw numbers say this was a big game for Dallas as they look to get up a head of steam for the playoffs. First, though, a bit of context.
It was from the beginning a game where the Eagles clearly weren’t concerned about the outcome, as they had a huge list of inactive players, in addition to an equally big group in the COVID protocol. Before the game, Dak Prescott stressed the need for the Cowboys to find their rhythm, which seemed to be the driving factor in having their own starters, as far as were available, going in this game. Another might have been the 26 degree temperature at kickoff. If the Cowboys manage to advance in the playoffs, they could well have to travel to face the Green Bay Packers, and it might be good to have some recent experience with frigid temps.
Although this one counted in the season standings, both teams were treating it more like a preseason game, with one significant difference. Philadelphia approached it like the last one, keeping as many of their key players off the field as possible to protect them. For Dallas, it was the dress rehearsal game, especially on offense. In a sense, both accomplished their goals. But given the lopsided score, it is easy to state that the Cowboys did it better.
While it was not flawless, the Cowboys offense was absolutely efficient in the first half. They would amass 308 yards of total offense, led by Dak Prescott’s 16 of 21 passing for 240 yards and four touchdowns before the intermission. And Ezekiel Elliott had one of his best halves of the season, totaling 56 yards on just nine carries, with his average really being boosted by his 26-yard gallop in the second quarter. Amari Cooper had 79 yards on five catches, Cedrick Wilson led all receivers with 82 on four grabs, including two scores, CeeDee Lamb added 45 on his two catches, and Dalton Schultz just had 21 on three receptions, but two of them went for six.
The Cowboys would not punt at all in the first half. That was the best news for them. But the Dallas defense would have some issues, especially in allowing 94 yards rushing. And they had some problems containing Gardiner Minshew, who evaded pressure to get a few yards running or extend plays. The Eagles would wind up scoring 17 points in the first half. It would not seem such a problem, given that the Cowboys had 30, but given the disparity in talent on the field, the halftime margin felt like it should have been better.
The game started with the defense almost getting a three and out on the opening drive of the game, but a third-down pass from Minshew deflected off the hands of rookie Kelvin Joseph and was hauled in by DeVonta Smith for 26 yards. Minshew would march his team down the field to score a touchdown pass on a shovel pass. The somewhat freak play seemed to energize Philadelphia while Dallas had a bit of a letdown.
The Cowboys almost failed on the next drive, facing a fourth and three at the Philadelphia 34. Mike McCarthy did not hesitate, however, and Prescott found Cooper for 14 yards. He would get his first TD to Wilson a few plays later.
The defense would get their three and out on the next series, aided by a sack of Minshew just short of the line of scrimmage by Dorance Armstrong and Trysten Hill. Dallas would would get to the Eagles 30 on the ensuing drive, but stalled there. Greg Zuerlein hit the 48-yard attempt to give Dallas the lead, but he had to skip it off the top of the upright to do so.
After a nice return on the kickoff, the Eagles would mount another drive, but like the Cowboys, they stalled and had to settle for a Jake Elliott field goal that knotted the score again.
The next drive featured several Elliott runs. Instead of the one and two yard gains we have been so frustrated by, he was getting five yards or more on many. Then the Prescott to Wilson connection paid off again with a 24-yard touchdown pass, all of it in the air.
Still, the defense was having trouble stopping the Eagles. They had another long drive, going 75 yards in ten plays and the score was tied again. There was now just 3:40 left in the first half. With the Cowboys getting the ball to start the second, they really wanted to get a score before half.
Like the Eagles, they would go 75 yards, but would do so much more efficiently. After a batted pass from Prescott, Elliott would have that long run mentioned above to get them out to midfield. Working mostly through the air, Prescott would lead them quickly down field, capping things with a three yard score to Schultz.
However, a reoccurring problem came back, as Greg Zuerlein missed the extra point. It has become something of a joke that he is going to miss a kick sometime in each game, but the possible cost of that is not funny at all. It is arguable that he has cost them at least one win already. If he winds up costing the team in the postseason, there are going to be fully justified criticisms of the staff for not addressing this much earlier in the season. It is not like this is something that has just cropped up.
The Eagles got the ball back with 1:45 to try and get some more points, but the defense had one of their best series of the night, aided by an offensive holding call and capped with a DeMarcus Lawrence sack. Then Arryn Siposs just plain shanked a punt that only went 21 yards. That set the Cowboys up at the Philadelphia 43 with 31 seconds left in the half and one time out. It was a great opportunity to at least get a field goal, but Kellen Moore and Prescott were not thinking about that. First, a pass to Wilson netted 28 yards and got them to the red zone. Three plays later, Schultz would get his second score, and the teams went into halftime with Dallas up by 13.
Coming out of the break, the Cowboys were not able to do anything, with their first three and out and punt of the night. The Eagles would get some yards, but had to settle for another Elliott field goal. Then Dallas put together another long drive. It ended with Corey Clement getting in on the scoring, taking a pass eight yards into the end zone two plays into the fourth quarter.
It was finally time for Dallas to sit as many starters as possible from that point. Cooper Rush would come in to finish the game. He would march the team down the field, but the heavy lifting was done by Clement, who broke off a 38-yard run to get them close. Then Ito Smith would get his first ever NFL touchdown from four yards out. Along with Clement’s earlier TD, it would tie the record for most different players to score one in a season at 21.
Then Leighton Vander Esch would set things up with an interception of Minshew on the ensuing drive. It would set the team up at the Philadelphia 26. JaQuan Hardy was now in to handle the running duties, and on his third consecutive carry of the series, he would dash 22 yards to the end zone. And just like that the NFL had a new record holder as the Cowboys have seen 22 different players cross the end zone line.
The Eagles would add a touchdown (and failed two-point conversion) inside the final two minute warning, but it did nothing to reduce the magnitude of the beating. Yes, they elected to sit their starters. Still, this cannot sit well with them, and means they are 0-7 this season against teams with a winning record.
It is hard to say that all the doubts about Dallas have been assuaged, but this certainly helped. Now they get to head home to sit and see if some strange things help them improve their seeding. It is very unlikely. It is just good to see they did their part.
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