A game of inches, indeed. The Dallas Cowboys’ 28-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was a classic case. The fourth-down pass to Luke Schoonmaker failed to give the Cowboys seven points because the ball was just about a foot away from the end zone when his knee went down. Micah Parsons got his hand on a fumble that could have also put Dallas ahead, but was unable to secure it before the Eagles clawed it back. Repeatedly the infamous Tush Push/Brotherly Shove would get a yard or three to move the sticks for Philadelphia. Then there was Dak Prescott stepping out just before the two-point conversion was successful.
But the overall stats also show some big numbers, particularly for the Cowboys’ passing game. When all the near-misses are combined with some luck, and at times erratic officiating, it paints a picture of a Dallas team that is able to go toe-to-toe with the best in the conference. While the humiliation at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers sowed doubts about that, Sunday showed us that with just a touch more luck, Dallas would be among the real contenders in the league.
Actually, they still are. With a 5-3 record at the midpoint of the season, they are on track for double-digit wins and sit in the sixth seed at the moment. While the odds are that they would have to enter the playoffs as a wild card, there is a quite recent history of a team based in Arlington that did that and made it all the way to the promised land. Sometimes, you just have to go and take it, after all.
One thing is certain, the Cowboys passing attack is evolving into one of the fiercest in the NFL. Dak Prescott threw for 374 yards and two touchdowns. That was second this week only to the heroics of C.J. Stroud of the Houston Texans in their comeback win. CeeDee Lamb had an even more impressive day, leading all receivers prior to the MNF game with 191 yards on 11 receptions, and that was with an atypical drop or two. It was his second consecutive game to set a personal best in yardage. Given that they accomplished those against a ferocious pass rush from the Eagles, it is now arguable that this connection is the best in the NFL. It was just a shame to see it wasted on Sunday.
And Prescott continued to spread the ball around, completing passes to eight different receivers. The clear number two for him is now Jake Ferguson, who caught seven passes for 91 yards and a touchdown, including the longest play of the game for either team, a 40-yard gain in the second quarter. This also saw Jalen Tolbert finally making some significant contributions with three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown, and the second longest play of the game for 32 yards.
However, while this looks like a good sign for Mike McCarthy’s Texas Coast offense, there are details that must be taken into consideration. Prescott was on the run on many of his passes as the Philadelphia pass rush shredded the Dallas offensive line, particularly Terence Steele, who had a no good, very bad game.
This performance was a reflection of just how good Prescott is at escaping and creating. McCarthy should lean into that with more designed rollouts that also give his quarterback the option of running if he sees a lot of green ahead of him, which Prescott also did at times against the Eagles. There also is a worry about the offensive scheme, because the Cowboys’ receivers just do not seem to get open that well, and this appears to be more on the way the plays are drawn up than the players. The performance on Sunday is more evidence of how crucial the quarterback is to the success of his team, and the arguments that Prescott is not good enough are laughable. Don’t overlook that he had another game with no interceptions or lost fumbles, although he did put the ball on the ground once. There are seventeen quarterbacks who have thrown more picks than him this season, including Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Jalen Hurts. Protecting the ball is one of the most important things a QB can do for his team.
Even with his ability, Prescott still was sacked five times, often by free runners coming right through Steele. That didn’t help, nor did the continued mediocrity of the running game. Dallas was held to just 73 yards, with Tony Pollard contributing 51 at a 4.3 yards per carry clip. That is not bad, but the running game was slow getting started, particularly on the three and out to start the game. In the second half, they were playing catch up, and had to rely on the passing game.
The defense was like every other in their ability to stop the Philadelphia quarterback sneak, and were unable to keep them from scoring four touchdowns. But they still have not allowed a 100-yard receiver this season, holding A.J. Brown to 66 yards, including one of the scores. He only averaged 9.4 yards a catch. And the Eagles only managed 207 through the air, and 109 on the ground. The special teams also chipped in for Dallas with a 48-yard KaVontae Turpin kickoff return and Brandon Aubrey just continuing his streak of successful kicks, even though he did doink one extra point through the uprights.
The red zone was still a problem for the Cowboys, as they only scored TDs on three of their five trips inside the 20. One, of course, ended on that oh-so-close pass to Schoonmaker, and the other was the final drive that came up short when Lamb was stopped inside the five. That was ruled a turnover, but the play was never going to score. And that pass came from the 26-yard line after the Cowboys had a first and goal at the six, but penalties and an eleven-yard sack moved them back.
Penalties were also another all too familiar issue. Both teams drew a lot of flags, ten apiece, and there were several others that were declined along the way. While some try to blame this loss on the refs, the end results wound up looking even handed even if the officiating was, um, erratic at times. But it affected both of these teams.
In the end, Dallas outgained Philadelphia by a wide margin, 406 to 292 yards, but it wound up being a hollow stat. Still, this performance shows that the Cowboys can be competitive the rest of the way. There are no teams as formidable looking as the Eagles left, except for the rematch in December, at AT&T Stadium. The goal is to win as many games as possible and hang onto a playoff slot. Given the way teams like the 49ers and Buffalo Bills have slumped of late, it is also a reminder that Philadelphia is hardly invulnerable, with the toughest stretch of their schedule coming in the next four games.
There is still a lot of football to be played.