When Jalen Hurts was ruled out for the Eagles’ Week 16 game at the Cowboys, it put Dallas in a tough spot coming off a disappointing 40-34 loss at the Jaguars. A loss to Gardner Minshew would prove they’re sliding even further in the wrong direction, while a win against an Eagles team without their starting QB does less to put the Cowboys back atop the league’s best.
This was still a game the Cowboys very much needed, and in the end they found themselves on the right side of a 40-34 score, needing more heroics from Dak Prescott and a final stand from the defense to come out on top in a shootout.
Eagles WR Devonta Smith may have tried to steal from the Salvation Army kettle after his touchdown, but there will be plenty of holiday cheer to go around Cowboys Nation after a win over the current top seed in the NFC. The Cowboys kept division title hopes alive as they take Christmas off and start a new week with preparation for the Titans on Thursday night.
Here are a few stocking stuffer notes from the Cowboys win over the Eagles.
- Plays like Dak Prescott’s pick-six to Josh Sweat that put the Cowboys in an early 10-0 hole make it hard to assess Kellen Moore as a play-caller. The Cowboys set up this play-action bootleg well, running out of similar tight formations on the previous series and already getting Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard touches in the passing game. The end result on Prescott’s worst throw of the game was a defensive touchdown for the Eagles, and Moore went more conservative on early downs with a heavy dose of the run game.
Still, Prescott responded with a career day, finishing with his third highest completion percentage in games with at least 35 attempts. The Cowboys did a good job getting CeeDee Lamb in his natural slot position, making it hard for the Eagles secondary to double him. When Lamb was bracketed, the Cowboys held up in pass protection enough for Prescott to find his hot throws to Elliott, Pollard, or Dalton Schultz.
- T.Y. Hilton made his Cowboys debut in this game, and showed up in the box score with a clutch 52-yard catch on third and 30. Hilton also made a big play on fourth down in the second quarter, drawing a defensive hold to keep a drive that ended in Lamb’s 36-yard touchdown alive. The route by Hilton was exactly the type of separation and explosiveness the Cowboys have been looking for in another receiver opposite Lamb, and a sharp contrast from the type of tight window throws Prescott has had to force to Gallup.
Luckily for the Cowboys, Prescott brought his best game as he always does against the NFC East, and was still able to fit the ball to Gallup for four catches and a touchdown. With James Washington inactive, Hilton may the last chance for the Cowboys to add a new wrinkle at receiver before a playoff push, and it was so far so good against the Eagles.
- The Cowboys defense still has a lot of work to do to get back to their early season form, but if they can continue forcing turnovers and handing the offense short fields it may not matter. The Cowboys scored 20 of their 40 points off of Eagles turnovers, with Jayron Kearse coming up with two of them.
Kearse has been one of the most vocal players on the Cowboys defense when it comes to needing a late-season spark, and he provided one himself by stepping in front of Quez Watkins for an interception. The Cowboys safeties have been a liability in coverage in recent weeks, but the need for them to play down in the box is heightened by the loss of Leighton Vander Esch and lack of depth at linebacker. If playing Kearse, Donovan Wilson, and Malik Hooker closer to the ball is going to continue to create splash plays, the Cowboys can live with their coverage ability as they continue working Daron Bland and Nahshon Wright at cornerback.
Bland also created a turnover that led to a Cowboys score, his fifth interception of his rookie season. Wright got his hands on some of Minshew’s attempts, and gave up his share of plays, but is showing he can consistently force receivers into contested catches in a way the Cowboys need opposite Trevon Diggs - whose aggressiveness cost them another touchdown in this game.
- This was not the best all-around game for veteran linebacker Anthony Barr, but he stepped up in the fourth quarter with some big run stops. Dan Quinn hasn’t been able to call as many pressures with the Cowboys front seven banged up, but when a player like Barr is at his best this defense can make up for it with range and speed on the second level. Dorance Armstrong and DeMarcus Lawrence did a good job setting the edge in this game, allowing Micah Parsons to pressure Minshew on some of the game’s biggest snaps. Parsons getting the Cowboys to call a timeout before pressuring Minshew’s final fourth down attempt was an elite play from Dallas’ best defender, and the type of individual effort that proves this team still has more than enough talent to be a force in the playoffs.