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Crunching Cowboys stats: A decidedly mixed bag against the Eagles

The numbers reflect how close a thing it was when the Cowboys played the Eagles.

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys
It was Jayron on the spot twice against the Eagles.
Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys got a thrilling win over the Philadelphia Eagles to assure they would be no worse than the fifth seed in the NFL playoffs. The game was a study in contrasts and the numbers reflect it. Here are some things that stand out.


This may be the single most important stat of the game. The Cowboys won the turnover battle four to one. Given that it would wind up a one-score margin, and that Dallas converted all four takeaways into points, it is hard to imagine how they could have gotten the victory without winning this category.

Conventional wisdom says that takeaways are one of the least consistent things for defenses to produce, but it has to be noted that only one of the four was a clear miscue by the Eagles. The others were definitely forced, and the two interceptions by Jayron Kearse and DaRon Bland exhibited some impressive athletic prowess in stealing passes that were on target. The defenders just fought harder and more or less took the ball away from the intended receivers. Kearse would also get one of the fumble recoveries as he continues to be one of the key contributors on defense.

The Dak Prescott interception that would be their lone giveaway was definitely an unforced error and instantly put the team in a 10-0 hole. But there was almost another disastrous turnover that could easily have flipped the outcome of the game. Dallas was trailing 34-27 in the fourth quarter when Dak Prescott was sacked nine yards behind the line of scrimmage and the ball came loose. Philadelphia players were all around, but Tyler Biadasz would not be denied and wrestled the ball back. That prevented setting the Eagles up inside the Cowboys’ 40. Two plays later Prescott would make the throw of the game to T.Y. Hilton to set up a game-tying touchdown. The turnover that didn’t happen was just as important as the ones that did.

Sack problems

The pass rush did not get home again, coming up empty not only in sacks but also in quarterback hits. The Cowboys have had only one sack in the past three games. This is now alarming. Through the first twelve games of the season, they were the most potent pass rush in the league. This is an absolute plunge off a cliff. They are getting a lot of pressure, and against Gardner Minshew it was crucial on the final, failed Philadelphia possession when, trailing by six, they failed to complete three passes in a row from the Dallas 19 after having to spike the ball on first down to stop the clock. That turned the ball over on downs for a final kneel down to end things.

That formula may work for the final two games when they are expected to face Malik Willis and either Taylor Heinicke or Carson Wentz. It is much less likely to be effective in the playoffs when they could be facing Tom Brady and eventually Jalen Hurts. The offensive lines are not going to be any easier to deal with in the postseason, either. They need to find a way to get to the quarterback in the last two regular-season games. Hopefully Sam Williams will be back soon after his car accident to add a little juice.

The flip side is that Prescott, who normally is exceptional at avoiding pressure, was brought down six times by the Philadelphia pass rush. That is one of the best groups in the league and they are likely to be an obstacle again as early as the divisional round of the playoffs, assuming the Cowboys get that far. They need to get the protection sorted and Prescott must also be better about avoiding the rush and safely getting rid of the ball.

Dak’s best game of the year

Despite his getting brought down so many times, this was the first time he exceeded 300 yards passing all year, totaling 347 including three touchdowns. Even with his six sacks, the net passing yardage was still 304. He had the obvious blunder on the pick-six at the beginning of the game, but was nearly flawless the rest of the way. He completed 16 of 18 passes in the first half and threw that perfect 52-yard strike to Hilton to convert on third and 30. This was a clear example of stepping up when the team needed every last bit of effort to get the win. If he can keep playing at this level in the postseason, it should be a much more successful run than we have become accustomed to.

The receivers came through

In many games this season, there has been a problem here. While CeeDee Lamb has emerged as the clear WR1, now with 1,207 yards to put him eighth overall in the league plus eight touchdowns, there have been too many games where he was almost all the team had. Defenses often would focus on covering him and the rest of Prescott’s targets did not always step up. Well, this game they did. Tony Pollard was very effective out of the backfield, including a rare-for-Dallas successful screen pass, with 61 yards. Dalton Schultz had a solid game with 43 yards, and Jake Ferguson tossed in a very strong reception for 24 yards that was almost all after the catch. Michael Gallup added four grabs for 36 yards including a great toe=tapping touchdown, and should have had a second score if the route did not take him to the one spot on the field where he had to look directly into the sun. The bizarre refusal to use the curtains they have for other events continues to come back and bite the team right in the butt.

But that one reception by Hilton has implications far beyond how instrumental it was in helping save this game. He clearly demonstrated that he is that one thing the team has lacked, a true deep threat that can force defenses to cover him, opening up the middle of the field. He only had twelve offensive snaps in the game. That will surely go up as he gets more practice with Prescott and the offensive system. Don’t forget that he kept another drive alive by drawing an illegal contact flag on fourth down. Based on an admittedly small sample size, he appears to be exactly what the team needs and hoped to get when they signed him for the stretch run and the playoffs. He can change the entire nature of the passing game and how opponents have to respond. Making this kind of acquisition so late in the season is rare for the Cowboys. Hopefully this might change the thinking at the top of the organizational chart.

But about the run...

These numbers are not good. Ezekiel Elliott only had 55 yards and Tony Pollard just 19. The rushing game was particularly ineffective on first down, as discussed in an earlier post. Only Prescott was consistently effective running the ball, and those were mostly when he pulled the ball down and took the green space the defense gave him.

As the ownership and coaches have repeatedly stated, the intent is for the run to drive the offense. Many times this season they have done exactly that, but it certainly did not come through on Christmas Eve. Philadelphia was ready over and over, penetrating and stopping the backs for little gain or even negative yards.

The Eagles have one of the best defenses in the league. They could well be faced again in the playoffs, and the San Francisco 49ers are another defense that could play havoc against the run. This is a definite problem that the team has to avoid the rest of the way.

The cornerback room may be coming together - emphasis on “may be”

Following the debacle against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have become a playoff contender in the AFC, Dallas faced a problem at cornerback. Kelvin Joseph had to be pulled in that game. The team was forced to turn to Nahshon Wright to carry most of the load this game. He came through in notable fashion, leading the team in tackles including one for a loss and credited with two passes broken up.

Wright is the second depth corner to be pressed into service following injury. He stepped in for Anthony Brown. Earlier in the year, rookie DaRon Bland had to replace Jourdan Lewis, and all he has done is tie the team record for interceptions by a first-year player, including that impressive pick of Minshew.

But there is a reason for saying may be. Trevon Diggs has been the best cornerback on the team, but he was beaten badly twice in this game. They appeared to be bad misreads on his part. He was the weak link in this game. That is hopefully a one-time glitch.

Money Maher

Four for four on field goals. Four for four on extra points. We don’t have to say anything more. I apologize once more for questioning the signing of Brett Maher.

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