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5 stars from the Cowboys’ 26-17 loss to the Eagles

Ezekiel Elliott was among the players who stood out in the Cowboys’ loss against the Philadelphia Eagles.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a late rally to draw within three points, the Dallas Cowboys were unable to finish the comeback and fell short to the division-leading Philadelphia Eagles. As bleak as things appeared to begin the contest with the Eagles jumping out to a 20-0 lead, the Cowboys clawed their way back into the game. It was a disappointing loss. However, there were some good things from the game.

Ezekiel Elliott powers through

Running the football into the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive front is a tough task. It’s especially tough when it’s very apparent that the focal point of your offensive attack is to run the football into the said front to protect your quarterback from 3rd and long situations. The truth is the Dallas Cowboys ran the football effectively, especially in the second half, and primarily with Ezekiel Elliott. It’s gone unnoticed but so far this season Ezekiel Elliott has looked different.

He’s moving much better, exhibiting a sneaky burst through the line of scrimmage, and maintaining better balance after contact. Let’s also acknowledge that he can still be a physical downhill runner when needed. On a night when the Cowboys were playing catch-up and needed to sustain drives to have a puncher’s chance to stay within striking distance, Elliott fought for every blade of grass.

Early in the game, there was minimal traction for the Dallas running game, often finding little space and sealed gaps. Elliott’s running back counterpart Tony Pollard also struggled to find daylight. However, it was Elliott who was moving the pile, turning one-yard gains into four yards, and five-yard gains into nine yards.

Elliott was moving well laterally. On more than a few occasions, Elliott would sidestep a would-be tackler to capture the edge for a few more extra yards. His best run of the night was a 14-yard touchdown. Elliott took the handoff from Rush, burst straight through the hole, and made a hard cut to the left to beat K’von Wallace and James Bradberry to the outside for the touchdown.

Turpin provides a spark

It’s no secret the Cowboys have been lacking explosive plays without quarterback Dak Prescott. Before Sunday, the Cowboys’ offense was ranked 27th in points per game and have been playing at an offensive disadvantage. Knowing this, the offensive coaching staff was looking for ways to sustain drives and create opportunities, such as going for it on fourth down early in the game. Simply put, the offense knew they needed to get better field position.

Yet, it was KaVontae Turpin setting them up nicely. When the offense needed a helping hand, Turpin was there to pick them up. Since the preseason where he showed what made him so special as a returner, many fans have been waiting to see him break a big one.

Turpin gave the people what they wanted. Disappointed with himself after stumbling on the opening kickoff, Turpin bounced back with a 63-yard kick return that resulted in Dallas scoring their first points of the game. In total, Turpin recorded 22 yards per touch on returns. It would have been a staggering total of 166 return yards if not for a questionable penalty on Kelvin Joseph that wiped away a 34-yard punt return. While the offense finds its way, Turpin is turning into a great equalizer.

Leighton Vander Esch, all business.

Leighton Vander Esch has quietly had a very good season and has become a forgotten face in a crowded Cowboys defense loaded with playmakers. Unfortunately, the Cowboys’ premier defenders didn’t have a great game, thus making it easier to give Vander Esch the credit he deserves. It may not seem like it, but Vander Esch was able to disrupt the Eagles in the run and pass game.

On a few plays, Vander Esch looked like his old self, diagnosing the Eagles’ eye candy in their rushing attack and finding the ball carrier for a stop. Not only that, he showed that he can still move from sideline to sideline, once chasing down running back Boston Scott for a three-yard loss. Vander Esch also gave Jalen Hurts some trouble when rushing the passer on the blitz.

He won’t get credit for it, but Vander Esch’s pressure on Jalen Hurts almost forced an interception. Lined up in the A-gap, as he has done a lot more under Dan Quinn, Vander Esch shot through the Eagles’ offensive line. A direct path to Hurts forces him to deliver a pass before he is ready in the direction of Dallas Goedert with Micah Parsons in coverage. If Parsons is a tick earlier, it’s a walk-in pick 6 with Vander Esch to thank for it.

CeeDee Lamb’s continued consistency

The numbers from CeeDee Lamb from Sunday’s matchup aren’t going to wow anyone. Six catches for sixty-eight yards on ten targets. However, what does stand out is the incremental consistency from Lamb. For much of this season, he’s been tasked with carrying the load as the top wideout for a middling pass attack.

Against the Eagles, he continued to go about his business and do what was asked of him to try to win the football game. Getting Lamb the ball with room to run is a formula for success and the Cowboys tried their best to create those situations. First, the Cowboys call an end around on the first play of the game and Lamb easily catches the edge for eight yards.

Later in the game, the Cowboys would design a play to get Lamb the ball in the slot near the line of scrimmage. Lamb would turn the corner and get a sixteen-yard gain to set the Cowboys up in the red zone. His biggest play of the night was a 24-yard catch and run where Lamb caught a short pass from Cooper Rush and jetted up the field for a big play in Dallas’ two-minute offense.

In the game, Lamb never stopped competing or giving his best effort. Much like the team, he kept on fighting even though they came up short. An example of that came in the second quarter. On 3rd and 9, Lamb caught a short pass over the middle and with Eagles defenders on his back, stretched his way to the first down marker. Disappointingly, Lamb was ruled short of the line to gain. Yet, the instant replay showed clear evidence otherwise. The Cowboys would turn the ball over on downs on the following play, but it’s important to acknowledge Lamb’s efforts and consistent play when many others won’t, including the referees.

Mike McCarthy and the coaching staff

Think back to last season and the subsequent offseason. Think about the fire head coach Mike McCarthy had come under. The calls questioning his job security, the supposed rumors of Sean Payton following the results of this season. There has been a lot of criticism directed at the man tasked to lead the Dallas Cowboys. Yet, there he is still standing strong.

Despite losing Dak Prescott to injury following a poor performance to open the season, McCarthy and his team have managed to keep things together and win games. In a recent appearance on the Hidden Yardage podcast with Sean Martin, the mettle and toughness of McCarthy to keep his club motivated given the circumstances was a topic.

McCarthy keeps leading his team in adverse situations. After the team failed on a fourth-down attempt in their own territory, it wouldn’t be unsurprising for the team to become lifeless and sleepwalk through the rest of the game. That’s not what this team did because the head coach and his staff didn’t allow it.

McCarthy maintained the confidence of his players and they stayed true to their principles. Down multiple scores, they continued to stick with the running game when early it didn’t appear to be in their favor. The team stormed back and scored seventeen unanswered points and had a realistic chance to win this game. Despite losing, the team can look at the big picture. They’re 4-2 and very much in contention for a division thanks to the same resilience they demonstrated last night and the head coach deserves recognition.

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