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Cowboys put up big numbers, last second fight at Eagles but fall short in crushing loss to NFC East hopes

The Cowboys had a chance in Philadelphia and fell just short, now they have their work cut out for them.

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys out-gained the Philadelphia Eagles 406-292 in total yards on Sunday. They had seven more first downs at 27-20. They ran 11 more offensive plays and averaged a full yard more on each of them. They lost to Philadelphia 28-23 in devastating fashion, not just in the way it ended on their own miscues, but how this game puts the Eagles in the driver’s seat to repeat as NFC East champions.

In a division that has not had a repeat winner since 2003-04, also with the Eagles, the Cowboys learned the hard way that statistical history guarantees exactly nothing in the National Football League. By losing to the reigning conference champions, the Cowboys failed another test against a top team, setting the stage for a stretch of winnable games that will all be contextualized by their shortcomings here in week nine.

The Cowboys were stagnant at the trade deadline, insisting their own roster health improving and the offseason additions of Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore were good enough to contend with this Eagles team. The Eagles had already built a lead in the division prior to this head-to-head win, and perhaps their aggressiveness at the deadline to add Kevin Byard and consistently looking to improve in any way possible is extra salt in the wound for the Dallas front office.

On the field and not up in the owner’s boxes though, there was also a lot of good from the Cowboys in this loss, as extensions of the game plan that produced a 43-20 win against the Rams at home off the bye were still in place. The Cowboys were the first team since week two to hold Eagles receiver A.J. Brown under 100 yards, while seeing their own top target CeeDee Lamb go off for 191 yards on 11 catches. Dallas was able to play their style all the way through, but when their play doesn’t produce a large enough lead to protect, the attention to detail on the singular plays that make a difference were frustratingly absent.

The Cowboys led by seven in the first half on a Kavontae Turpin touchdown, but would struggle to get the ball to anyone besides Lamb and TE Jake Ferguson the rest of the game, allowing Jalen Hurts and the Philly offense to make the winning plays. Lamb, Ferguson, and QB Dak Prescott still had a chance to steal the game with a series of plays from the six-yard line with 27 seconds left, but a false start, sack, and a delay of game reduced their final drive to a desperation heave from Dak under duress to Lamb - catching it short of the end zone as time expired.

The Cowboys needed a touchdown on this drive that started from their own 14 with 46 seconds left because Prescott stepped out of bounds before extending the ball across the goal line on a two-point conversion earlier in the fourth quarter, keeping the Eagles lead at five.

Philadelphia created an even larger cushion for themselves in the division with this win, going into the bye with extra time to prepare for a Super Bowl rematch against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Cowboys will stay in division play, looking for a season sweep of the Giants, knowing their margin for error before seeing the Eagles again is virtually none.

Here are a few notes on the type of game many expected between Dak Prescott and Jalen Hurts, facing off for the first time since week three of 2021.

  • The Cowboys pass rush was a bright spot in this game, consistently disrupting Hurts and doing their best to put the Eagles behind the chains. As noted throughout the Game of the Week broadcast, the Eagles, more than any other team, currently view second or third and shorts as the start of a two-play sequence, knowing their short-yardage conversion on fourth down is impeccable. Dan Quinn’s defense knew they needed to get to Hurts quickly without compromising their run defense, an area where Osa Odighizuwa and the interior defensive line again stood out. More importantly, the Cowboys featured a heavy dose of Micah Parsons rushing over guard or center, which was not only effective but showed an increasing level of trust in linebacker Markquese Bell.

By not having Parsons off the ball or even on the edge, Dallas’ defense could have been gashed by the speed option and RPOs that make up the Philly offense, but besides a 28-yard toss to Dallas Goedert working against Bell, he was sound. Quinn has mentioned the high level of accountability felt throughout this defense when the team loses, knowing one or two plays that weren’t up to standard can make the difference, but this game will serve as one they can review for positive signs of progress on all levels. A secondary without Trevon Diggs didn’t allow a pass longer than 29 yards, the linebackers were physical against the run, and other than not coming away with a turnover the defense’s best players put their thumbprints on this narrow loss.

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images
  • The strong connection between Dak Prescott and Jake Ferguson continued into this game, with the Cowboys’ TE1 being the clearest beneficiary of a pass offense that created plenty of touches for Lamb again. With Lamb lining up all over the field and running routes that kept him a step ahead of the Eagles’ man coverage, Ferguson was typically on the opposite side from Lamb. For the second straight week, the ball coming out of Prescott’s hands quickly was a plus for Mike McCarthy’s play-calling and scheme, and being able to isolate Lamb for easy looks with Ferguson working against linebackers created this picture for Prescott.

The problem as the game went on was the lack of a second wide receiver stepping up, as well as breakdowns in pass protection, slowly condensing this Cowboys pass game and forcing Dak to hold the ball more. Brandin Cooks only caught one pass for seven yards, but was the first read on the critical fourth down stop the Eagles came up with in the fourth quarter. When Cooks wasn’t there, Prescott may have had Ferguson open on the same side, but instead came all the way back to Jalen Tolbert, who couldn’t come up with a contested catch in one of the biggest spots he’s found himself in as a second-year receiver.

Tolbert has been playing more since the bye over Michael Gallup, who had a crucial drop in the first half that led to a Brandon Aubrey 51-yard field goal, and did score the last points of this game to keep it alive for Dallas. But the Cowboys offense continues to fall short overall in big spots with limited answers to create separation when needed the most.

  • The Cowboys run game has noticeably struggled this season at springing Tony Pollard to the second level, setting blocks in front of him and creating big plays on the ground. This continued against a ferocious Eagles defensive front with Pollard carrying 12 times for 51 yards. One of the lesser talked about issues with the running backs’ usage may have been more detrimental to the Cowboys escaping with a win though. The Cowboys preferred to send their backs into the pass pattern to give Prescott an outlet instead of in pass protection, but when needed to block Rico Dowdle struggled at times here. Terence Steele was the pinch point in the Cowboys offensive line against the Eagles, setting too deep to protect against inside rush moves and struggling against the speed of Haason Reddick. Even having Ferguson winning on his routes at a high rate didn’t make up for the poorly timed sacks and pressures allowed by Steele, who may have benefitted from having a TE to help chip.

This RB usage provided a tell to the Eagles about what play may be coming, as they could trust their front four to handle any inside runs to Pollard when he was on the field, keying on Prescott in the pocket when Pollard was in on a pass play. A similar issue happened when the pass protection struggled against the 49ers, as the offense never had a chance to put the team back in the game once San Francisco knew they wouldn’t be running it, but still needed a back in the backfield to protect. The routes became stagnant and the Cowboys offense rapidly going three and out opened the floodgates on that 42-10 loss. The fact that the same result didn’t happen here, with the Cowboys offense developing as the weeks have gone on to find their core pass concepts, says a lot about Prescott’s ability to play hero ball and keep this team in games, but consistently winning with McCarthy as play-caller is going to take some major changes to the run game to find more efficiency here.

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