The Cowboys responded to their crushing overtime loss to the Jaguars with a thrilling victory over the hated Eagles, splitting the season series and keeping hope alive in their pursuit of the NFC East crown. It was an encouraging response from this team, and it was perhaps more encouraging the way several rookies were so integral in this game. Let’s take a look.
OL Tyler Smith
Tyler Smith easily had his best performance of his young career on Sunday. Smith had his hands full with a ferocious Eagles pass rush that was eager to exploit his weaknesses in pass protection, as they did back in Week 5 when Smith surrendered a then-career high four pressures.
So it was a really positive development that Smith not only refused to give up a sack, but not a single Eagles rusher even recorded a pressure against the rookie. That’s just the third time all season that Smith has produced a goose egg in both pressures and sacks; all three instances have come in the last month.
That Smith has been making such great strides in pass protection, and now doing so against one of the premier pass rushing units in the league, is a big deal. Smith has been consistently dominant in run blocking, but he’s starting to round into shape as a true blindside protector as well.
EDGE Sam Williams
Sam Williams was inactive for this game after suffering a concussion caused by a car accident earlier in the week.
WR Jalen Tolbert
Jalen Tolbert was inactive for this game.
TE Jake Ferguson
Jake Ferguson returned to the field after missing last week’s game with a concussion. He wasn’t thrown right back into the fire, playing just 15 snaps, but Ferguson did still produce a highlight play. He caught his only target on a quick pass that the rookie then took upfield for 24 yards, flashing his yards after the catch ability.
Ferguson will see more usage going forward, and this was more of a ramp-up game for him after the concussion, but it was a nice reminder of the extra element he adds to this offense despite not playing a surplus of snaps.
OT Matt Waletzko
Matt Waletzko is on the injured reserve.
CB DaRon Bland
DaRon Bland has come on strong in recent weeks, and he’s rapidly grown up before our very eyes. His nine targets on Sunday were once again the most of any Cowboys defender, and most of them came against DeVonta Smith. Bland struggled somewhat against Smith, who had a spectacular day all around, but Bland excelled in all his other matchups, and flashed with his big boy takeaway late in the game.
DaRon Bland took it away from him for the INT!— NFL (@NFL) December 25, 2022
: #PHIvsDAL on FOX
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Another development for Bland in this game was the rookie apparently being elevated to CB2 after Kelvin Joseph’s struggles last week got him benched. Bland remained in the slot on the majority of nickel packages, with Nahshon Wright playing opposite Trevon Diggs. However, when the Cowboys went to base formations, Bland was playing outside. He logged 23 snaps as an outside corner in this one; Bland had 24 total snaps on the outside in the last four games.
It’s hard to argue with that after how well Bland has been lately. The versatility to play both inside and outside is also a testament to how valuable he’s become for Dallas. This rookie is making a very strong argument as the Cowboys’ best in this class, which is really saying something.
LB Damone Clark
Damone Clark had a fairly quiet night despite seeing a lot of action. He played on 69% of the defensive snaps and finished with four tackles. He didn’t get fooled on misdirection plays like he did last week against Jacksonville, so that was a step in the right direction. And something that got lost in all the madness of Philadelphia never punting was the fact that their vaunted rushing attack averaged just three yards a carry and totaled 87 yards.
Clark was a big part of the Dallas defense getting brutalized in the run game a week ago, so it was encouraging to see him improve on some of his mental mistakes while the team as a whole played well against the run. The next step for Clark is to become the reason the defense makes those stops.
LB Devin Harper
Devin Harper is on the injured reserve.
TE Peyton Hendershot
With Jake Ferguson returning, that once again meant less snaps for Peyton Hendershot. He was in on just eight offensive snaps and was blocking on six of them. Hendershot didn’t receive a single target, so he’ll still be riding high from his touchdown a week ago. But Hendershot’s blocking efforts were part of a big day on the ground for Dallas, who totaled 115 rushing yards.
S Markquese Bell
Markquese Bell was inactive for this game.
RB Malik Davis
Malik Davis continued his usual role, logging 17 snaps on special teams throughout the game.