When looking at the stats and numbers from the disappointing Dallas Cowboys performance against the Philadelphia Eagles, we need to first consider a bigger number. The Cowboys are 4-2 after playing five games with their backup quarterback and a lot of other injuries along the way. Only three NFC teams have a better record, and two of them, the Eagles and New York Giants, are in the same division. If you were quick with the math, you will realize that means twelve teams in the conference are 3-3 or worse. If Dallas can rack up some more wins, they have a clear path to the playoffs, even if they face a real task catching up with the 6-0 Eagles and 5-1 Giants. And that lone loss by New York was to the Cowboys, which could be just as important as the loss to the Eagles later.
Now we expect Dak Prescott back, and there are a couple of games that look very winnable coming up against the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears, both of whom already have four losses. While there are a lot of things to criticize about Sunday’s performance, that is something positive to take forward.
Now on to the game specific stuff.
One big reason for the four-game winning streak with Rush playing was that the Cowboys did not turn the ball over. That was great, but there were many cases where they played with fire as Rush threw plenty of interceptable balls, including the two picks against the Washington Commanders that were nullified by penalties. He also put the ball on the ground twice against the Los Angels Rams, but was bailed out by the Cowboys recovering.
The good fortune ran out against the Eagles as Rush threw three interceptions. The first two turned into ten points for Philly and the third would have resulted in points if they had not been content to just run out the clock with a two score lead. Meanwhile Dallas was unable to steal the ball at all. The turnover margin alone was probably enough to lead to defeat as it is nearly impossible to win a game in the NFL with a minus three margin.
Prescott normally does a good job protecting the ball. His return should clean this issue up.
Meanwhile, this one is beyond Prescott’s capability to correct. Once again, Dallas was horrible, with ten penalties accepted for 72 yards. Philadelphia was relatively clean with only two flags for ten yards, not counting an offsetting situation.
What is worse is that there was a clear lack of discipline for the Cowboys. Two of the penalties were unsportsmanlike conduct, which are completely avoidable. There were also offsides calls, including one on Dante Fowler that came on fourth and four, allowing the Eagles to get a touchdown on the next play rather than settle for a field goal.
This is a problem that just keeps reoccurring for Dallas. While they can get away with it against lesser opponents, it can be enough to make the difference when the foe is more formidable. They have shown they can keep the number down, but are not consistent. This remains one of Mike McCarthy’s biggest challenges, and he has not found the answer.
Zeke was the best part of the offense
This was the best game of the year for Ezekiel Elliott. He had 81 yards on only 13 attempts for a very nice 6.2 yards per carry. While he didn’t break off any really long runs, his longest of the day was the 14-yard touchdown where he started right and then reversed to race almost all the way across the field and beat the defenders to the pylon. Not only did he look good, any good day rushing reflects well on the blocking up front. This is a good sign for the offense.
Tony Pollard was quieter, but still averaged four yards per carry on his 11 attempts. The staff is clearly working to have a good balance between the two backs. The snap counts showed Elliott was on the field for 61% of the offensive plays while Pollard checked in at 40%. That could be an almost perfect distribution for the two given that the passing game benefits from having Elliott in as a protector.
The future looks bright at tight end
It was a bit of a surprise that Dalton Schultz was not active after he was not on the last injury report. It didn’t seem to hamper things as Jake Ferguson, Peyton Hendershot, and Sean McKeon combined for seven catches, 72 yards, and a touchdown by Ferguson. With Schultz playing on the tag, the team now looks able to move on from him. His injury problems make that more likely. Both Ferguson and Hendershot appear to be very good acquisitions this year.
One thing that was a problem for Rush was that he did not spread the ball around much. It is a bit ironic that the first ever losing game with him as a starter saw this really change. He targeted nine different receivers, completing passes to eight. He was not accurate enough, not just in the interceptions but in only completing 47% of his passes. The Eagles’ secondary, particularly Darius Slay and C.J. Gardner-Johnson, were excellent in the game, but this was still a dismal performance by Rush. It was still a good sign for the offensive plan and now that Prescott is looking and talking like he starts the Lions game, things should rapidly improve. It is actually amazing that the Cowboys kept it as close as they did with such a bad day at the office for Rush.
The defensive line continues to impress
Give credit to the Eagles. They found a way to keep Micah Parsons in check for most of the game, running run-pass options right at him and getting big plays. But the rest of the pass rush was still getting to Jalen Hurts, notching four sacks. One of them was by Donovan Wilson, but Chauncey Golston, Dante Fowler, and Dorance Armstrong all had one. Golston had his best game so far, with three total tackles plus a tackle for loss and a QB hit. Meanwhile DeMarcus Lawrence had eight total tackles, an impressive number for any defensive lineman.
However, the Cowboys were still a bit vulnerable to the run, surrendering 138 yards on the ground. Overall, it was still a pretty decent performance as Philadelphia only averaged 3.5 yards per attempt. The injury issues the Eagles had on their line, including the loss of Lane Johnson for about half their offensive plays, probably helped that. Overall, it remains a move in the right direction for them.
A couple of other defensive standouts
Malik Hooker continues to prove he was a very good re-signing, and we should be glad he is under contract for next season. He led the team with 12 tackles. With Wilson and Jayron Kearse, he gives the team the best safety group we have seen in a very long time.
Leighton Vander Esch was tied with Parsons for third on the team in tackles behind Hooker and Lawrence with seven. He is having a redemption year on his one-year deal, and will undoubtedly be playing somewhere next season if he remains healthy. He may wind up returning to the Cowboys if his cost doesn’t become too great. Linebacker is not one of the highly valued positions, and it may work out to Dallas’ benefit. It could be a case of him being good enough without being too good.
Waiting on Peters
There was some optimism that Jason Peters would help in his return from injury, but he only wound up on the field for four plays. That is not encouraging. We will have to see if he will make more of a contribution as the season progresses, but indications are that Connor McGovern is going to have to carry the load for at least a few more games as the team bring Peters along slowly - again.
Those are some of the more intriguing things. Now we hope to see a very different team with QB1 back. Hopefully the stats will paint a much rosier picture in a week.