It’s not how you start, but it’s how you finish. This was the case on Christmas Eve as the Cowboys put themselves in a 10-0 hole courtesy of a bad throw by Dak Prescott. This bad throw happened on the fifth offensive play of what appeared to be a solid opening drive when Eagles defender Josh Sweat made one heck of a play on the ball and returned it for a touchdown. Being down 10, this isn’t exactly how coach McCarthy and company drew things up heading into this game.
The good news was the offense responded in a big way. The problem was the defense wasn’t up to the elite level of play that they had spent most of the season playing. In fact, over the last few weeks the defense is showing plenty of cracks. The injuries at cornerback are taking their toll, and the defensive line isn’t producing the sacks they once were. Fortunately for Dallas, they have a very consistent special teams, and they showed up again in the Cowboys 40-34 victory of the Eagles.
Let’s check the grades.
Dak Prescott put on quite the performance against a one-loss Eagles squad
Aside from the one errant throw early in the game for a pick-six, Prescott played very well against a very good Eagles defense. Dak would once again be very accurate with the ball as he completed just over 77% of his pass attempts. In addition to his high completion percentage, Prescott would throw for his first 300 yard game on the year (347 yards). He would also throw three touchdowns in this game as well.
On the receiving end of a good portion of those Dak Prescott throws, CeeDee Lamb would once again have another great game. Lamb caught 10 balls for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He is having a career year as he has eclipsed 1,200 receiving yards. He nearly has 100 grabs on the year as well.
The ground game was slowed to just 115 total yards on 31 attempts. Running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard combined for just 74 yards on the afternoon. Interestingly enough, quarterback Dak Prescott was the most effective rusher on the day as he totaled 41 yards on just six carries. As you can see by the numbers, the passing game was needed in a much bigger way. This came about as a result of the stout defensive line of the Eagles. Dallas would exploit the Eagles secondary, which was one of the reasons they won on Saturday.
The secondary bent, but didn’t break as they came up big when it was needed most
With the Cowboys defense trending in the wrong direction in recent weeks, they would only give up 87 total rushing yards against the Eagles. Philadelphia only managed to average three yards a carry, as the defense stuffed the run all game long. With the Dallas defense stopping the run, the Eagles would would turn to a familiar trio of pass catchers to exploit a very shaky Cowboys secondary that has been riddled by the injury bug.
Eagles quarterback Gardner Minshew would throw for 355 yards in the game, with 283 of those yards going to the trio of A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert. Going off of those numbers alone, the Cowboys got torched by the Eagles’ terrific trio. The secondary, however, would have a say in things as they managed to grab two interceptions in the game. In addition to the two picks, Minshew would only complete 60% of his 40 attempts.
When things got dicey at the end of the game, the secondary did just enough to prevent the Eagles from winning the game. It wasn’t a good performance by the secondary, but they were good enough when needed. There is still much work left to do on defense, but at the end of the day a win is a win.
In a high scoring affair, the special teams unit did their job
For the majority of the game, this unit was featured mostly on kickoffs and field goals/extra-points. In both of these areas, they did a quality job and didn’t give away any unnecessary points. Kicker Brett Maher would make all four of his extra points and all four of his field goal attempts in Week 16. Another solid outing for Maher, in what has been a career year for him.
Speaking of solid outings, the 2021 Pro Bowl punter Bryan Anger only had one boot in the game. This boot went for 57 yards. There isn’t anything too noteworthy about his play this past week, but when he was called upon he did his job.
Speaking of doing their job, return specialist KaVontae Turpin did his this past weekend. Turpin, nearly scored on a kickoff as he returned it 56 yards. Unfortunately, even if Turpin would’ve scored it wouldn’t have mattered as it was called back due to a hold by Nahshon Wright. Aside from the one flashy returned that was nullified, Turpin returned one more kick for 31 yards.
Another quality performance from this unit as a whole. They have been the most consistent unit on this team, and will be counted on to continue this quality of play come playoff time.