If we are being honest, this was somewhat anticlimactic. After anticipating the Dallas Cowboys’ home game against the Philadelphia Eagles all season, it was a game lacking any drama whatsoever. Dallas was absolutely in complete control from the opening kickoff. They jumped out to an early lead and most of the game saw them increase the margin on the way to the final 33-13 score. Philadelphia rarely threatened, and coughed the ball up the few times they did.
Here is a look at key numbers and stats that tell the tale.
While the Cowboys “only” had 394 yards of total offense, just 70 more than the Eagles, they once again demonstrated the effectiveness that has characterized their play since their beating at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers. They converted 56% of their third downs and their lone fourth down attempt, went three for three in the red zone, and scored on seven of their nine possessions. With the one fumble lost, it meant that Bryan Anger only got in one punt after not having any the previous week.
This was a game where they took a dominating 24-6 lead in the first half and didn’t need to press after that, although it is encouraging that Mike McCarthy did not shy away from dialing up some deep shots throughout the game. Still, they didn’t have to do much, and could rely on the most reliable field goal kicker in the history of the NFL, Brandon Aubrey. Every kick he makes just extends his all-time NFL record, and in this game, he set another, becoming the first player in league history to hit two field goals of 59 yards or longer in a single outing. In all, he had four field goals, and every one was not only accurate, but could have been made from longer. If you were one like me who questioned the Cowboys going with him after training camp, you know what it feels like to be a bit ashamed for doubting him.
While Dak Prescott only completed 61.5% of his passes, he once again threw no interceptions while finding the end zone twice with his throws. And two of the longest plays, his 39-yard completion to Michael Gallup and the 30-yard pass to Brandin Cooks that was spotted inside the 1-yard line, were all air. While he did lose the scoop and score fumble and was sacked a total of three times, he still added a little more to his case to be the MVP.
Speaking of the receivers, there may be a new boss in Dallas named Jake Ferguson. The tight end was not only the leading receiver for the Cowboys with 72 yards on five catches, he has become a yards after the catch beast. The picture for this article shows him hurdling yet another defensive back. That is becoming a bit of a trademark for him. So is his fiercely competitive attitude. He is not only the go-to security blanket, he is a true weapon. CeeDee Lamb was hardly ineffective in this game, contributing six receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown, but clearly he is no longer a one-man show. It was also the best game of the season for Gallup with 48 yards and a touchdown on three grabs, and Cooks continues to be a threat even when little used. As a group, they present a nearly unsolvable problem for defenses, and really overwhelmed the shaky Eagles secondary. Don’t overlook Tony Pollard’s value as a checkdown for Prescott. He had the most catches of any player with seven, and while his 30 yards is not that much, he was making positive plays to help keep the offense moving.
The running game also was important, especially with the 96 yards before halftime. Pollard and Rico Dowdle would combine for 105 yards by the end of the game. They are sharing the load, and while neither could muster four yards a carry, they did have enough good runs to help the offense. This is at least encouraging. With three tough opponents coming up and then the playoffs, it is a great time to see Dallas exhibiting more than a one-dimensional attack, no matter how good the QB is.
Ineptitude in green
The Philadelphia offense presents a stark contrast. Their looseness with the ball is a glaring difference as the Cowboys won the turnover battle three to one. But that was just one thing. Dan Quinn and his defenders had their number in a multitude of ways. The Eagles offense would only score six points on two field goals. Let’s just say one player pretty much eliminated himself from any MVP talk.
Jalen Hurts was held to just 197 yards on 67% passing. And he also was contained as a runner, contributing just 30 yards on five carries. He was evasive, suffering just one sack all game, but there were few cases where he managed to move the sticks, and that was always between the 20 yard lines. The Eagles only got into the red zone once the entire game, and came away with just three points. Dallas also held them to a 44% conversion rate on third downs.
All season, Philadelphia has used one basically unstoppable play in short yardage. Call it the Tush Push or the Brotherly Shove, it is as close to a sure thing as exists outside Aubrey trotting on the field for a field goal. There is only one real way to stop it, and that is to not let them get into a situation where they can use it. This was a big success for the Cowboys, as there were only two times the Push was attempted, and on the second, they were flagged for lining up offsides. This is exactly how to neutralize it.
In one of the oddest stats of the entire game, Hurts completed balls to only three receivers. He didn’t even target another player. We don’t know if this was by design or just how things developed, but this greatly simplified the task for the Dallas defense. It is a lot easier to defend just three players on pass plays.
And they did, quite well. While A.J. Brown had a statistically good day with 94 yards on nine catches, Stephon Gilmore kept those from being damaging, usually dropping Brown right at the point of catch. Most notably, like everyone else on the offense, Brown never got close to the end zone.
It was a quiet night for DPOY candidate DaRon Bland, and that was a very good thing. With the hottest battle of the passing game happening between Gilmore and Brown, Bland simply got his job done, including two tackles for a loss. He may not have gotten a pick, but anytime a defensive back is hardly being mentioned, they are doing exactly what they are supposed to be. Given that no one ever got burned, this was an overall excellent showing by the secondary.
The Cowboys still had too many flags thrown on them with seven for 60 yards, but it was a good bit worse for the Eagles. They got hit with twelve infractions for 96. That included a rare double penalty on Kelee Ringo, who committed both pass interference and a facemask foul on the same play, and by rule both were enforced. Even worse for Ringo, Cooks still made the catch for eight yards, enough to convert on third and six. Since the DPI call was for ten yards, that catch got wiped off the stat sheet.
Maybe it was a reflection of how referee John Hussey’s crew favors the home team, but this was not an unpalatable result. However, the next two are on the road for Dallas, and they still clearly have a lot to clean up.
The injury reports for the Cowboys have been remarkably clean for several weeks, with everyone on the 53-man roster available against Philadelphia. The only significant injury in this game was to DT Johnathan Hankins. Early indications are that it is not a long-term problem, although he appears set to miss several games.
#Cowboys DT Johnathan Hankins, who left tonight’s game in pain, received an initial diagnosis of high-ankle sprain, source said. He’ll have an MRI, but it does not seem severe. Hankins should be back for the playoffs, if not sooner.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 11, 2023
While other players like Dowdle and Jayron Kearse were also banged up, it appears that Dallas will have most of their team ready to go for the trip to play the Buffalo Bills this weekend. That is good news, and we will hope it continues as the playoffs loom nearer.
A case of superiority
No matter how you look at the numbers, the evidence is clear that the Cowboys were the better team on the field, and it wasn’t by a close margin. From the first series, Dallas was in command of this game, and that was never threatened. For the moment, they sit atop the NFC East, but they would have to win out and get some help from one of Philly’s remaining opponents to actually win the division. Given the slate of opponents each team faces over the final four weeks of the regular season, that seems unlikely.
But there is absolutely a chance.