DEEP IN THE HEART
Cowboys Steal Birds Soul At JerryWorld
This Eagles loss will either be casually filed under the category of “one of those nights” or serve as a wincing harbinger of the next few weeks, as Monday night’s 41-21 from the rival Dallas Cowboys under the prime-time spotlight gave new coach Nick Sirianni his first losing streak as games against Kansas City and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers await, with an upstart Carolina Panthers team in between.
Either the Eagles are headed for a few more weeks of growing pains as they transition under this new regime with a new starting quarterback, or this soul-snatching blowout loss at AT&T Stadium is an example of the carnage that can pile up quickly when a game spirals out of control on the road under the national spotlight.
Whether the Cowboys are this good – or the Eagles are this bad – is a question that’ll be answered over the next few weeks. All that’s known about the Eagles after three weeks is that they’re just not ready.
Outclassed at the line of scrimmage from the start, the Eagles (1-2) were steamrolled by the Dallas (2-1) run game early and were forced into catch-up mode, which is not a role they seem built to play. Ezekiel Elliott, a longtime nemesis, ran for two touchdowns in the first half, Dak Prescott threw two touchdowns and Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts had one of his two interceptions returned for a touchdown in the first quarter that set an early tone for the game.
Both teams came in trying to navigate around backups forced into starting roles, for the Eagles on the offensive line and for Dallas on the defensive line. But the Cowboys were strong up front on its offensive line and used their line and some heavy personnel packages to play an old-style game of smash mouth against the Eagles, who showed little resistance.
Jalen Hurts threw a touchdown to Zach Ertz in the third quarter, cutting the Dallas lead to 27-13, but Hurts couldn’t mount another scoring march before the Cowboys extended the lead to 20 on Prescott’s 4th-and-goal touchdown to Cedrick Wilson. Prescott tossed another touchdown to Dalton Schultz later to secure the lopsided win.
The Eagles have dropped consecutive games to the Niners and Cowboys while Dallas has reeled off two straight wins after a season-opening loss to the Buccaneers.
1. It’s time to wonder if defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has the personnel to stop the run agains the better offenses he’s going to game plan against. The two-deep coverage does a nice job, usually, keeping the offense in front and limiting explosive plays, but the Eagles haven’t yet shown they can get after the run game when teams go big up front and ram it down their throats. We saw that in the preseason and then for a half against the Falcons in Week 1. The only thing that stopped Atlanta from running more against the Eagles was their double-digit deficit that forced them into pass-heavy mode. The 49ers were without Raheem Mostert and had several injuries at running back but was able to generate some rushing momentum in the second half. Dallas came out with two tight ends, and sometimes an extra linemen, and committed to running until the Eagles stopped them, but Eagles linebackers really struggled to get off blocks and clog the gaps. The only downhill Eagles linebacker is T.J. Edwards, who subs in and out with Eric Wilson, but even Edwards is a pedestrian linebacker compared to the league average. More teams are going to run the ball on the Eagles until they adjust.
2. Dallas’ ability to move the chains on the ground with ease helped Dak Prescott face very makeable third-down scenarios, and since Gannon isn’t blitzing much – if at all – Prescott delivered quickly and efficiently, finding his tight ends against the Eagles’ defense. The Cowboys converted four of their first six third downs as they went ahead 20-7 and Prescott completed 81.3 percent of his passes before the break despite just one completion over 19 yards.
3. Another alarming three-week trend: penalties. They’re killing the Eagles. From 14 for 89 yards Week 1 vs. the Falcons, to eight more for 57 yards against the 49ers, including the awful Derek Barnett unnecessary roughness, to 12 more against the Cowboys. This is stuff that only the Eagles can control. It’s not about a tough schedule or errors forced by other teams. It’s about discipline. Sirianni can’t talk about getting 1-percent better and allow his team to play undisciplined every week.
4. Sure seemed like the Cowboys were trying hard to keep the Eagles in the game in the first half. There was Prescott’s fumble in the end zone that turned into an Eagles touchdown, a missed extra point, a fourth-and-goal sneak that somehow didn’t make it (although the aerial view seemed to suggest it did), and Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy not calling timeout after the Eagles faced a 2nd-and-31 and 3rd-and-24 with still one minute, 10 seconds to play in the half. Not even Donald Trump is that conservative. Hard to see Dallas truly reaching its potential with McCarthy making these mind-numbing decisions.
5. Reports of Ezekiel Elliott’s demise are greatly exaggerated. We focused heavily on Zeke during the ITB pregame show because of his past success against the Eagles. He entered with five 100-yard rushing effort in eight career games against the Eagles and left 95 yards and two touchdowns, including 60 yards on his first 11 carries. Elliott might not still be the hot shot who averaged 109 rushing yards per game as a rookie, but that’s also because the Cowboys have evolved offensively and don’t need Elliott to log 25-plus or 30-plus touches per game.
6. What’s there to say about Jalen Hurts? Obviously, he could’ve been way better, but the Eagles getting behind from the very start also made their offense one-dimensional. Still, no excuses. Hurts for the first time showed some accuracy problems on the shorter and intermediate stuff. He missed Dallas Goedert on his second throw of the second half, but his next pass – which Trevon Diggs returned 59 yards for a touchdown – was enabled by Devonta Smith falling on the route. Still, that pass was also telegraphed, which helped Diggs get a jump on the route. Hurts also once again underthrew a receiver deep, having his strike down the right side to Jalen Reagor picked off Anthony Brown. Hurts showed a tendency on third down to roll to his right instead of staying in the pocket on the next two third downs after the Brow pick. We’ll need to see the tape to determine if he left plays on the field, but it’s safe to assume he was not as patient in the pocket as Siriainni would’ve liked from him. This wasn’t a great outing by Hurts – or by anybody.
7. There were some positives for the Eagles. Once again, Javon Hargrave looked like the best defensive player on the field. Hargrave gets off the ball with such suddenness, he looks the way Fletcher Cox used to look. Hargrave at times owned Dallas center Tyler Biadasz, collapsing the pocket with his burst and hand usage. This is Year 2 of a three-year deal Hargrave signed last offseason. Howie Roseman might want to think about extending Hargrave this offseason and seeing if he’s got some legit takers for Cox to alleviate the cap space. Also, outside of an illegal man downfield penalty and a late holding on a 4th-and-forever, left tackle Andre Dillard appeared to play fairly well, especially given some nerves about him replacing Jordan Mailata in a game of this significance.
8. Another game, another injury list to be concerned about, starting with left guard Isaac Seumalo, who was carted off the field in the fourth after suffering what appeared to be a leg injury. The Eagles were already down Pro Bowl right gaurd Brandon Brooks, who’s out several more weeks with a pec injury. Landon Dickerson was replacing Brooks, so Nate Herbig had to play left guard. That meant three-fifths of the offensive line was backups for the Eagles, which is shades of 2020. K’Von Wallace also came out early with an injury. Another injury at safety is the last thing this team needed.
9. I still don’t get Sirianni’s plan for Jalen Reagor. Did anyone notice how many different ways Kyle Shanahan got the ball into Deebo Samuel’s hands on Sunday night against Green Bay? Short catches, runs, intermediary and deep routes. Are we ever going to see Reagor line up in the backfield? There’s just got to be better, more creative ways to use this kid.
10. Prescott has really evolved into an all-around quarterback who can hurt teams in a variety of ways. He’s always been composed. Now, he’s in total control. He let just five balls hit the ground against an Eagles defense that had done well against the pass the first two weeks. And there were times they got pressure on Prescott, but he never looked fazed or out of control. If he plays like he has for the first three weeks, Dallas could win this division by more than one game.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.