It’s plain and simple—the Dallas Cowboys came to play on Sunday afternoon on their home turf. The Eagles rarely lose to the Cowboys late in the season. In the last decade, the Cowboys have been criticized for crumbling under the pressure late in the season. When the Eagles had a first-round bye in their fingertips, the Cowboys made the Green and White look like a college football team. Coming into the game, the Eagles led the NFL with the most first-half points this season, but were shut out for the entire game. The offensive couldn’t get anything going, the defensive couldn’t stop the Cowboy offensive, and Andy Reid’s play-calling and time management continues to leave Eagles fans skeptical.
From the time the Cowboys ran down the field during the first possession, many fans were preparing for next week’s rematch. I tried my hardest to remain optimistic even late in the third quarter, but the Eagles continuously seemed to let me down. There was no heart. Right when the Eagles seemed to have hope, it was a dropped pass or a penalty or a third down conversion by the Cowboys that kicked them into the dirt.
It’s hard to remain optimistic after a loss like this one at Dallas. The Eagles were riding a six-game winning streak and a Vikings loss last week put a first-round bye right in the laps of the Eagles. And it was quite evident that the Eagles did not take advantage of that opportunity.
Quarterback: C –
On paper, Donovan McNabb didn’t have the worst game in the world. He threw for 223 yards and had a quarterback rating of 74. But his average performance was just the problem for the Eagles today. In his press conference in the post-game show, McNabb mentioned how the young Eagles team seemed to look around for someone to step up against the Cowboys. As the leader of the ‘Birds, McNabb needs to realize that it is his responsibility to fill that void and lead his team. Along with Andy Reid, it is his responsibility to make sure that his offense is clicking on all cylinders. He missed a few plays that could have changed the momentum of the game. The Cowboys are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now, and if they want any chance next weekend, he is going to need to put the team on his back and connect on some bigger plays.
Running backs: F
This grade has little to do with the actual running game on Sunday. Instead, it is directed at Andy Reid and his decision to only rush the ball TEN TIMES. I understand that the Eagles run a west-coast offense that relies heavily on the arm of McNabb, but when things aren’t working he has to be creative and switch it up. Both LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver had only one rushing attempt and Brian Westbrook led all rushers with five attempts for 17 yards. Granted the Eagles were behind for most of the game and were forced to throw, it was evident that the passing game was not clicking. One specific instance that really got under my skin was when the Eagles decided to go for a 4th and 2 in the Cowboys territory during the second quarter. If the Eagles knew they were going to go for it on fourth down, then why can’t they rely on the run on third down to try and get the first down? The Eagles are not going anywhere in the playoffs if they show they are scared to run the ball. The Cowboys recognized this fear in the game and continued to pressure the Eagles offensive front and deepen that fear. This was my biggest problem with the Eagles entire game plan on Sunday.
Wide Receivers: C —
Between the dropped passes and poor route running, there were a number of problems by the receiving core. Brent Celek seemed to be the only one that was truly focused and able to get open against Dallas. He finished with seven receptions for 96 yards, which is almost double the production of any other receiver. Both Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson had a terrible case of the butterfingers. Maclin dropped a game-changing pass on third-down in the second quarter. Jackson seemed to be a little out of sync during the entire game and was shut down by the Cowboy secondary.
Offensive Line: D —
Four sacks, five tackles for losses, and a scary amount of penalties—enough said. Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles have not proven that they are deserving of starting in the National Football League. As I have said time and time again, the offensive line controls the success of the offensive. In order for the running and the passing game to flourish, the offensive line has to protect the quarterback and open up holes. As was the case all too often this season, the line underperformed and made it a lot more difficult for the offense to get anything going. It was impressive that they only held DeMarcus Ware to one tackle, but they had no answers for the blitz packages that they Cowboys threw at them.
Defensive Line/Linebackers: F
Without question the worst performance by the defensive front this season. Tony Romo had all day to throw and the Eagles did not lay a finger on him until late in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach. On his first three carries of the game, Marion Barber exploded for gains of 32, 8, and 18 yards. From there, the combination of Barber and Felix Jones embarrassed the defense, finishing with 179 yards. I have to credit Dallas’ offensive line for their dominant performance because they looked like men among boys on Sunday. Come Sunday, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott needs to start throwing some more blitzing schemes at the Dallas offense. They need to be able to force turnovers to have a chance against Tony Romo because he was given way too much time to throw the ball. He constantly mentions how Jim Johnson was his mentor, now he needs to recognize that Johnson was probably kicking himself watching that game from above with the lack of aggressiveness by the defensive front.
Further, the Eagles kryptonite of guarding opposing tight ends was once again solidified. It seemed as though the entire middle of the field was open and the Cowboys were catching ball after ball over the middle. Even though it was only six receptions by tight end Jason Witten, every catch seemed to be bigger than the next. Witten has always been the thorn in the Eagles side and they need to find an answer for him come next weekend.
Six different Cowboys receivers had over ten yards, including three with over 75 yards (Crayton- 99, Austin- 90, Witten- 76). The biggest problem with the Eagles secondary is that they rely too heavily on the big play. When the opposing quarterback does not make mistakes, the Eagles struggle to shut down the receivers. Asante Samuel got caught trying to jump a few routes and it didn’t help that there was no safety over the top to back him up. Sheldon Brown looked a step slower than usual and was torched by Patrick Crayton and Miles Austin. The cover zones were picked apart on Sunday, which shows that the secondary is going to need to cover the Cowboys man to man to negate the air attack next week.
Special Teams: C +
Special Teams coach Ted Daisher seemed quite out of it against Dallas. Most noticeable, the Eagles were forced to call a timeout after the punt team was a man short on the line. That being said, Sav Rocca actually played one of his better games on Sunday. He averaged over 45 yards per punt and landed two within the 20 yard line. David Akers had enough on his 52-yard kick, but it was a knuckle-ball that just missed wide left in the first quarter. The return game continues to be abysmal and there is just no answer for kick returns this season.
After a loss like this, many people forget that the loss really didn’t change that much. The Eagles are still in the playoffs. While it would have been nice to have a first round bye and an easier playoff schedule, I don’t mind the matchups. If the Eagles are able to bounce back and take down the Cowboys, they would face the Saints, who have lost the last three games heading into the playoffs.
Donovan McNabb said it best in his post-game press conference. He mentioned that some of the best teams have to experience a bad game in order to get back on track. I believe in this Eagles team. They have proven that they can run with any team and maybe a loss like this can be good for them. They were on cloud nine, and now they got a harsh welcome back to reality. Now they have another date with Dallas at Cowboys Stadium, one which they hope turns out better than the first.