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Clock strikes midnight for Cowboys without Prescott as Eagles take 2-game NFC East lead

Three Cooper Rush interceptions were too much for Dallas to overcome on Sunday night against the Eagles.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The last two times the Dallas Cowboys played the Philadelphia Eagles with Dak Prescott, they won by three scores or more. The last two times the Cowboys have been without Prescott, the Eagles have come out on top, with Sunday night being the clearest showing over the last five weeks of how much Dallas needs their QB1 back in the lineup.

Three Cooper Rush interceptions were too much to overcome for a Cowboys defense that was put on their heels, but still held the Eagles to their lowest passing yard output of the season. Jalen Hurts has the Eagles at 6-0 atop the NFC East, and with the Giants reaching 5-1 on Sunday, the work is cut out for Prescott to pick up where Rush left off and not only keep this team relevant, but push them into the playoffs.

The Cowboys schedule is favorable in the weeks ahead with Prescott’s return to look forward to, and their rematch with the Eagles isn’t until late December, but for now here are some notes on their 26-17 loss in Philly.

  • If there’s been a weak spot on the Cowboys defense that Dan Quinn has accounted for, it’s at linebacker where Leighton Vander Esch and Anthony Barr are the traditional starters here. Hybrid players like Jayron Kearse and Donovan Wilson also play on the second level, and Micah Parsons can line up anywhere on the front seven. How the Cowboys would handle LB when Parsons was lined up as a pass rusher was an offseason concern that the Eagles exposed with a flawless game plan.

Using Parsons as the read defender in the option game with Hurts limited his chances to make plays in the backfield, and led to the rest of the Cowboys second-level defenders being exposed by an offense that attacks the middle of the field with ease. The Cowboys defense allowed more than one touchdown for the first time all season, but the first score of the night took both a fourth-down conversion on the read-option, and a Dante Fowler offsides call to extend the drive. The other Eagles touchdown was after a Rush interception, as the defense put up an overall gutsy effort to keep them in the game on the road.

  • With the way most Cowboys fans felt about this coaching staff going into the season, seeing the very well-coached Eagles and Giants get off to hot starts while the Cowboys have been without their starting QB likely meant this team would be out of contention by now. The first half was far from this staff’s best showing, particularly on offense where the play-calling felt predictable and set Rush up for long third down attempts. Of their 11 first down snaps in the first half, the Cowboys had eight plays of three yards or less, including an interception immediately following an Eagles touchdown.

Kellen Moore’s offense showed resiliency and a much better approach in the second half, again relying on some of the concepts they can expect to execute better with Prescott. Rush was accurate on moving pocket throws to tight ends Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot, and it opened up running room for both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.

This Eagles secondary has the personnel to challenge any group of receivers in man coverage and closes quickly on outside throws, something Rush learned the hard way as he hadn’t seen looks like this against zone teams like the Bengals or Commanders.

  • The Eagles offense presents such a unique challenge to opposing defenses thanks to Hurts’ mobility and their depth at receiver, but it was a familiar problem in the secondary for the Cowboys that led to Devonta Smith’s fourth quarter touchdown. Donovan Wilson has made more plays as a box safety than in coverage this season, and it showed when he left an opening in the end zone to cover a receiver in the flat that was already taken away.

Wilson came down from a deep safety position to make a big tackle on the opening drive of the second half, getting Dallas off the field on third down. The Cowboys trust Jayron Kearse to play most of the snaps in this hybrid role however, forcing Wilson to play in coverage more with Malik Hooker. The Eagles don’t get to 6-0 without being built to take advantage of every weakness from their opponent, and the Cowboys learned that the hard way on every play that could have been a turning point in the second half once the game was close.

  • Cooper Rush’s final interception of the night all but sealed the win for the Eagles, but was also the best example of the night of the plays this offense can expect to make with Prescott. While the throw wasn’t entirely on Rush, as rookie left tackle Tyler Smith gave up the pressure that got Rush hit, a ball with more zip on it could have been a touchdown to CeeDee Lamb. It’s the type of throw this team has seen Prescott make plenty of times, even under duress, and would have at least extended this game to put pressure on the Eagles they haven’t faced in earlier season blowout wins.
  • Cornerback Kelvin Joseph has only played six snaps on defense this season, but has been a core special teams player for John Fassel. This may be far from what the Cowboys had in mind for their former second-round pick, but veterans like Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis have made the cornerback group a strength despite not having Joseph. On Sunday night, Joseph had two key penalties on special teams, which could only further open the door for players like Nashon Wright or DaRon Bland to see increased playing time.

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