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Cowboys claim top spot in NFC East by keeping Eagles offense out of the endzone

The Dallas Cowboys made a statement in the NFC East on Sunday night.

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys 41-35 win over the Seattle Seahawks last Thursday night was supposed to be just the start of a stretch of tougher games that would determine if this team is truly a Super Bowl contender heading into December. Someone forgot to tell that to Dak Prescott’s record against the NFC East, the team’s five-game win streak at home against the Eagles entering Sunday night, the larger 14-game home win streak dating back to last season, and perhaps most importantly a Dan Quinn defense with revenge against Philadelphia on their minds.

Beating the Eagles for the sixth straight time at AT&T Stadium, the Cowboys were in full control from the start as Prescott found CeeDee Lamb for an opening drive touchdown, followed by the first of three lost fumbles from the Eagles, and a season-long 60-yard field goal from Brandon Aubrey to jump ahead 10-0. The Eagles best starting field position of the game was their own 27, and Aubrey was a huge factor here, not only kicking touchbacks but nailing field goals of 60, 59, 45, and 50 yards to keep the Cowboys comfortably ahead. Playing with the lead was all the confidence the Cowboys needed at home to turn their defense loose and keep the Eagles without an offensive touchdown, helped along by a Tony Pollard/Rico Dowdle-led run game that played mean and extended drives on the ground.

While it’s true the Cowboys will still need help to win the NFC East, this win was just another example of the strong culture Mike McCarthy has put in place. This is a team playing with zero concern for outside factors and anything they can’t control, willing to line up against anybody in all three phases and prove themselves between the lines. The Cowboys 20-point win over the Eagles is their largest in this spirited rivalry game since the 2021 season-ending 51-26 win in Philly.

With the stake’s much higher for this Sunday night and the Cowboys now firmly having two wins at home that prove how tough of an out they can be, let’s get right to some initial thoughts on Dallas’ all-important tenth win of the season.

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images
  • The Cowboys week seven bye is going to serve as an important bookmark on this season, as the offense found new life under Mike McCarthy and became much more dynamic in wins against the Rams, Giants, Panthers, Commanders, Seahawks, and now the Eagles. The one setback in this stretch was the road loss to these Eagles, where the offense lacked explosiveness and a sense of urgency to match a Philadelphia offense that moved the ball against Dallas with ease. The game plan against the Eagles in week nine reverted back to the offense seen much earlier in the season, with short passes out of stagnant sets and a lack of movement in the run game. The Cowboys longest run of the game was Pollard for 15 yards on a drive that netted no points. Their longest run Sunday night was KaVontae Turpin’s third down reverse for 22 yards, and as a team they ran for their most yards since Week 10 against the Giants with 138.

The Turpin play, later followed by a crossing route touchdown to Lamb on an effortless pitch-and-catch between QB1 and WR1, showed an extension of the Cowboys flawed process in the first Eagles game to attack this defense horizontally. It was encouraging to see McCarthy’s offense not feel like they had to scrap everything from that game entirely, instead doing a better job using their speed on home turf, and being patient enough in the run game to take what the Eagles were giving in two high safety looks. Running behind Tyler Smith has been a strong call all season, but the second-year left guard played with an added gear and edge alongside the rejuvenated Tyron Smith to help the Cowboys impose their will between the tackles.

Pairing a physical, downhill run game with the amount of throws Prescott is completing as layups in this offense, as well as a few perfectly placed passes to Michael Gallup and Brandin Cooks, allowed the Cowboys to dictate every phase of this game. If teams are going to continue to respect their speed with deep safety looks, being patient with the run game will remain a key, but the Cowboys also saw a full two-yard drop off in yards per attempt from Prescott compared to week nine at 6.9 on Sunday night, leading to the type of efficient game that aided his MVP legitimacy greatly. It is time for this Cowboys offense to be talked about as one of the hardest to prepare for in the entire NFL, right alongside other West Coast styles in Kyle Shanahan with the 49ers or Mike McDaniel and the Dolphins.

  • Much has already been said about Michael Gallup’s diminishing role in this offense since the bye, but there’s always been something about his chemistry with Prescott in big spots - often on broken plays - that still makes the veteran a valuable receiver. On what became the only drive where anyone could say the Cowboys offense faced a bit of pressure, taking the ball with 1:48 left in the first half after an Eagles field goal cut their lead to 17-6, the Cowboys got away from their run game and trusted Prescott to lead the two-minute drill. He did so by targeting Brandin Cooks and Gallup, with Gallup moving the chains on a second and seven and Cooks on third and six, also drawing a pass interference facemask call. Two plays later Cooks got behind the defense for a gain of 30 yards and nearly had a touchdown in his third straight game and fifth straight at home, but it was Gallup finishing the drive with six on a one-yard score.

The Cowboys were ready with an adjustment away from their offense being funneled through Lamb and Jake Ferguson to give the Eagles a new look in the end-of-half situation, and it paid off with both Gallup and Cooks finding space in the middle of the field against a Philly defense that’s been suspect here. NBC’s Cris Collinsworth had a great note on this Cowboys offense during the broadcast, saying they “believe the shortest path to the end zone is through the posts”. All it took was a bounce-back game in pass protection compared to the five sacks allowed in the first meeting between these teams for the Cowboys to show this, with Gallup also coming down with a beautiful 39-yard rainbow throw from Prescott in the fourth quarter to help salt the game away.

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images
  • This was a landmark game for the Cowboys secondary for a lot of reasons, coming at a point in the season where their ability to play in sync with the pass rush will be critical. Stephon Gilmore had his best game as a Cowboy with big plays in coverage against A.J. Brown. Last week, the Cowboys had their hands full with a similar big-bodied possession receiver in D.K. Metcalf, and Gilmore was able to slow him down in the second half just enough for Dallas to win. Gilmore winning in single coverage against Brown was just the start of how a defensive backfield led by Al Harris played an incredibly tight game. This Quinn defense is going to call for players to line up outside of their natural position at times, while still being expected to read their keys and make plays. Determined to not let big pass plays allow the Eagles back into this game, the Cowboys saw Donovan Wilson, Malik Hooker, and Jayron Kearse make more plays in coverage than usual.

Having to hold these coverages as the Cowboys pass rush only got home one time with Micah Parsons, the Cowboys also saw the benefit of having hybrid player Markquese Bell dropping underneath on routes again in this game. Hurts was asked to layer throws over the defense all game, and even when completing them, the Cowboys were there to rally and force a lost fumble from both Brown and DeVonta Smith. As the game went on and the Cowboys trusted their secondary to hold up in man coverage, it allowed them to dial up timely blitzes that surprised the Eagles and forced the ball out of Hurts’ hands. Most notably, Bell and Kearse came through the A-gap on a fourth and eight in the third quarter to force a one-yard pass to Smith, who stood no chance escaping Gilmore in the open field to create a turnover on downs. The Cowboys added a field goal on the ensuing drive to push the margin to three scores, effectively ending the game late in the third quarter.

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