Still The One
Birds Hang On Vs. Follied-Filled Cowboys To Extend NFC East Lead
PHILADELPHIA – Jalen Hurts emerged from the home tunnel to a chorus of cheers 49 minutes prior to the start of the Eagles’ divisional clash with the Dallas Cowboys.
Before retreating to his normal post at the foot of the goal line and running through his pregame routine, the Eagles quarterback first greeted running back Rashaad Penny and performed an elaborate, personalized handshake with Kenny Gainwell.
The tone had already been established, and the stage was set.
Following a see-saw opening half, the Eagles would ultimately settle in coming out of the break on their way to a 28-23 win, rolling up 14 points courtesy of two Hurts touchdown tosses, to wide receivers DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown.
Dallas responded via a late 7-yard touchdown connection from Dak Prescott to wide receiver Jalen Tolbert but the Cowboys weren’t able to mount a comeback late in the final frame, even as the Cowboys were within five yards of the end zone with first down and 30 seconds to play.
Brown, who entered Sunday with 939 receiving yards, eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark nine games into the season, finishing with seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. Hurts finished 17-of-23, 207 yards and two touchdowns.
Let’s go ahead with the observations:
* Eagles rookie S Sydney Brown got the start at nickelback for the second consecutive week, while another rookie – RG Tyler Steen – made his first career start. With Brown handling early down work, accentuating his ability in run fits, rookie CB Eli Ricks reprised his role as third-down slot corner.
* Curious decision by Dallas on its opening offensive possession, opting for two consecutive Tony Pollard carries and an erratic incompletion to WR CeeDee Lamb to force a 3-and-out.
* Hurts leads a masterful 13-play, 77-yard scoring march on the Eagles’ opening possession, covering 7 minutes, 51 seconds. The Cowboys struggled to contain WR A.J. Brown, who reeled in all four targets for 46 yards, while TE Dallas Goedert snared a 15-yard pass on 4th-and-3 to set up a 12-yard Kenny Gainwell touchdown run. Architected by OC Brian Johnson, the Eagles’ offense was humming early against a formidable Cowboys defense.
* I’m convinced Cowboys KR KaVontae Turpin is one of the league’s most explosive and dynamic players overall. Turpin ripped off a 48-yard return and Dallas made good use of the optimal field position, conducting an 8-play, 53-yard drive culminating in a 4-yard Jake Ferguson touchdown. The play of the drive occurred on the sequence prior, a successful 4th-and-1 conversion in which Lamb got behind Ricks to reel-in a 29-yarder.
* The Eagles struggled to contain Lamb, who finished with 191 yards. On a 3rd-and-14, Lamb beat Ricks for a 20-yard completion to extend a drive that ended with Turpin corralling a 5-yard touchdown, giving the Cowboys a seven-point lead early.
* Eagles SAM LB Haason Reddick was virtually unblockable. Through three series, the former Temple product produced two tackles (one for loss), a sack, a quarterback hit, and was also credited with defending a pass. Reddick has been the Eagles’ most impactful and clutch defender following a slow start. He’s a difference-maker.
* Ball security issues from running backs surfaced in the red zone for the second consecutive week. While D’Andre Swift recovered his own fumble – and the Eagles ultimately scored on the drive – securing the football should be a point of emphasis from RBs coach Jemal Singleton going forward.
* The Cowboys went 4-of-8 on third down and converted both fourth down attempts in the first half. Not great, especially coming off a week in which DC Sean Desai’s defense leaked like a sieve against the Commanders.
* Shortly prior to intermission, LB Nakobe Dean appeared visibly upset, slamming his helmet in frustration as he walked off the field. The second-year defender – who was walking gingerly – headed for the locker room. Nicholas Morrow relieved Dean, who was later ruled out with a foot injury.
* Pass protection was less than ideal for the Eagles. Before the half, a graphic showed that Hurts, on 16 dropbacks, had been sacked three times and absorbed eight quarterback hits. With 32 seconds remaining in the opening half, Hurts was slow to get up following a Micah Parsons sack. It appeared DeMarcus Lawrence came into contact with Hurts’ injured left knee prior to the sack. Hurts would eventually limp off on his own. The next play was a handoff to Gainwell.
* Cowboys TE Jake Ferguson, who entered the game averaging just 33.9 yards per game, accrued 62 yards and a touchdown on four catches – in the first half alone. The second-year pro found early success working the short-to-intermediate levels of the Eagles’ defense and finished with 91 yards on seven receptions.
* Eagles RB Rashaad Penny, who hadn’t registered a carry since Week 2, got the ball on the first two plays coming out of the break. Any residual effect of Hurts’ balky knee was hardly noticeable, as Hurts delivered a 29-yard strike with pinpoint accuracy to WR DeVonta Smith for a touchdown that gave the Eagles the lead.
* It won’t show up in the box score, but S Reed Blankenship and LB Nicholas Morrow did some good things on the Eagles’ second defensive possession coming out of the break. Blankenship forced an incompletion from Prescott to Ferguson on 1st-and-15 and the duo combined to limit the Cowboys tight end to a seven-yard gain on a 3rd-and-15.
* To the naked eye, RG Tyler Steen acquitted himself well, finishing blocks and doing his part in staving off a relentless Dallas defensive front. It’ll be interesting to see what decision the Eagles make in the weeks to come, with Cam Jurgens returning from injury.
* The Cowboys received such little production from Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup – their No. 2 and 3 receivers, respectively. The passing game goes through Lamb, of course, but there were opportunities to push the ball vertically.
* Big-time goal line stop by Blankenship, who met TE Luke Schoonmaker upon completion and held him up just short of the pylon. The Cowboys failed to come away with points in a moment that felt like a definitive turning point.
* Within the span of three plays later in the fourth, Ricks was called for an illegal contact and defensive holding penalty, the later of which was declined in the wake of a 32-yard completion to Jalen Tolbert. The Cowboys would eventually narrow the margin following a five-play, 52-yard scoring drive which culminated in a 7-yard Tolbert touchdown catch. Tough series for cornerback James Bradberry, whose struggles continued.
* Questionable play call on a 3rd-and-3 in the waning moments of the fourth. Hurts heaved an erratic, low-percentage deep shot in the direction of Brown which fell incomplete.
*The Eagles’ defensive line delivered stops on back-to-back plays in the fourth. On a 1st-and-10 from the Eagles 31, DE Brandon Graham brought down Prescott and on 2nd-and-17. Graham and rookie DT Jalen Carter combined for a sack to set up 3rd-and-21 in a must-have situation.
*There were 15 penalties called in this one, seven on Philadelphia and eight against Dallas.
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.