After the Cowboys beat the Rams last week, the McCarthy Chronicles for the week declared that the offense was “nearly perfect” in the win. While there was plenty to love in how the offense played in their first game after the bye, the question was whether or not this was going to become the norm or just a product of playing a bad Rams team.
It seems we’ve gotten our answer. Against the Eagles, Dallas had to rely on the offense for a change. Their defense struggled for much of the game, giving up 28 points in the first three quarters and forcing Mike McCarthy’s offense to pretty much be in attack mode all game long. And while the results weren’t perfect, they were more than enough to get the job done, but still fell inches short of victory.
The game started out with a regrettable first series as the Cowboys went three-and-out after netting four yards on two early down runs and then an incomplete pass on third and long. The rest of the night, though, McCarthy’s offense was the kind of aggressive and efficient version that they showed a week ago.
There was once again a lot of pre-snap motion and lots of early down passing, opening drive notwithstanding. In fact, the Cowboys threw on 64.5% of their early downs in this one, which was third-most across the NFL in Week 9. That now has them seventh in the league for the full season at 59.5% passing rate on early downs.
It wasn’t just the scheming from McCarthy that was encouraging, although it was a positive to see the team stick with all the things that worked so well against the Rams instead of just abandoning it all. The players, for the most part, were also thriving within the game plan that McCarthy called.
Dak Prescott threw for a whopping 374 yards and three touchdowns while continuing to make more use of his running ability; he ran six times for 14 yards, with two of those going for a first down. CeeDee Lamb continued to dominate as the top receiver in this offense, catching 11 passes for 191 yards. Meanwhile, Jake Ferguson had 91 yards on seven catches while Jalen Tolbert, who’s seen more work the last two weeks, caught his first career touchdown.
All in all, the Cowboys outgained the Eagles 406 to 292, and their 5.8 yards per play was better than Philadelphia’s 4.9 average. The red zone offense also improved, as they scored touchdowns on three of their five trips, with one of those failed appearances coming up literally an inch short on the touchdown-that-wasn’t to Luke Schoonmaker.
Not everything was perfect, of course. The run game is still a work in progress, though improvements were once again made. Tony Pollard averaged 4.3 yards per carry, and the team as a whole averaged 3.5 yards a carry to the Eagles’ 3.3 average. That’s nothing to write home about on its own, but posting a better rushing average than the Eagles is at least something.
Pass protection also became an issue, and specifically with Terence Steele. The right tackle, who has routinely struggled in pass protection, got beat like a drum over and over again in this one. He had 12 pressures allowed in just this game, while the other four offensive linemen gave up seven combined pressures. That simply cannot happen.
Ultimately, the offense’s performance in this game will be remembered more for the plays they didn’t make. The Schoonmaker catch that was overturned, Prescott’s foot stepping out of bounds on the two-point try, the incompletion to Tolbert on fourth down, and losing 19 yards on penalties and a sack on the final drive of the game. The Cowboys had a few chances to win this game, and the offense simply came up short in a game that personified the “game of inches” mantra about the NFL.
One could argue that more blame belongs on the defense, which only forced two punts through the first three quarters and gave up four touchdowns in that span. The defense stepped up and made some stops in the fourth quarter, but it turned out to be too little, too late. Still, though, the offense had their chances and ultimately didn’t take advantage of them, and lost as a result.
That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but the Eagles are a good team. Going toe-to-toe with this team on the road and coming up just short is, ultimately, a positive sign. The Cowboys continued to get positive results from the offense, and they should be able to carry that momentum into the next week as they face a reeling Giants team back in the comforts of their own home.