Queasy Victory: Double-Digit Win Comes Ugly For Birds
Well, it’s a win, and that’s just about all there is to be positive about Sunday as things pertain to the Philadelphia Eagles.
They’ll now have the bye week to recover, soul-search, regroup and think about they could possibly leading the NFC East coming off consecutive divisions wins despite playing some of the lousiest football seen in the Doug Pederson era.
The Eagles came from behind again Sunday night at the Linc, rallying from a surprising halftime deficit to beat an underhanded, incompetent Dallas Cowboys team, 23-9.
The Cowboys, down to third-string rookie quarterback Ben DiNucci, a seventh-round pick from James Madison, were so overmatched they spent an entire week of practice executing plays drawn up in the dirt.
None of them worked, but Dallas somehow managed to hang in there because of Carson Wentz’s crusade to lead the NFL in turnovers taking points, an opportunity, away from the Eagles’ offense. Not until Rodney McLeod’s 53-yard touchdown return on a sack-strip by T.J. Edwards with 5 minutes and 33 seconds to play did the game feel comfortably won by the Eagles.
Lucky for the Eagles, their next game in two weeks also comes against another NFC East squad, the same Giants team that blew an 11-point lead against the Eagles with less than five minutes to play.
Unfortunately for the Eagles (3-4-1), their schedule becomes infinitely more difficult after, with games against the Browns, Seahawks, Packers, Saints and Cardinals on deck, in that order. All five of those teams are above .500.
On with the observations!
1. The Cowboys (2-6) were so incompetent that all the Eagles needed to do was play smart and avoid stupid mistakes and they’d win going away, which is exactly why the Eagles were down 9-7 at the break. They didn’t play very smart, at least on offense. Wentz fumbled twice and threw a terrible interception in the end zone right after a questionable roughing the passer penalty had put the Eagles in Dallas territory. He added another bad pick later in the game. Just for good measure, the Eagles also tossed in two terrible fourth-down play calls. All the Cowboys could do was muster three Greg Zuerlein field goals. Any other halfway decent team would have capitalized on Wentz’s four turnovers. Pederson’s call for some variation of the Philly Special, this time with Greg Ward as the trigger man, was borderline pathetic. The Cowboys were the team that needed tricks and gimmicks to hang in the game. Did the Eagles really need that?
2. Well, maybe they did. Maybe they needed trickery because Wentz was just about as bad as he’s ever been. No excuses anymore about the offensive line or that he’s playing with slop or that he’s taking a billion hits. He had Jason Peters, Dallas Goedert and Jalen Reagor back, and he was only hit a few times. He wasn’t under constant duress. Jordan Mailata had a bad snap against DeMarcus Lawrence early but wasn’t a liability filling in for Lane Johnson at right tackle. Wentz just played really poorly, plain and simple. With the wind whipping at the Linc, there should have been an emphasis on the short and intermediate game, not the kind of heaves like his third-quarter interception that was likely impacted by the gusts but caught by cornerback Trevon Diggs. His jumpiness in the pocket even when protected also suggests he’s still not seeing the whole field. The touchdown to Fulgham was a nice throw, but Wentz should be capable of making good throws and limiting the lousy ones.
3. Wentz’s first fumble was yet another display of him trying to be a hero instead of just living to see the next down. He took an unnecessary hit out of the pocket and was lucky that his fumble deep in Eagles territory was countered by a DiNucci fumble a few plays later. But his second fumble was on Pederson, who decided to keep his offense on the field for a 4th-and-2 For some reason the Eagles broke the huddle with less than 7 seconds on the play clock and weren’t prepared for the blitz that would get Wentz massacred by Leighton Vander Esche. Pederson should have called timeout when noticed that his team was hurrying to the line of scrimmage just to get the play off.
4. Yes, Boston Scott (14-66) ran well and picked up chunk yards on the ground, setting a career high in rushing in the first half alone (59 was his previous high), but the credit really belongs to an Eagles offensive line that, for the first time this year, appeared to reset the line of scrimmage. It’s also probably due to Dallas having the league’s worst run defense. The Cowboys were pushed back constantly by the Eagles’ offensive line. The return of Jason Peters was probably a big factor there, with the combo of Peters and left guard Nate Hebig giving the Eagles some considerable size up front. Pass pro was a little spotty early on, but in general, the line did its job.
5. Nice to see Pederson incorporate more pre-snap motion into the game plan. The Cowboys, who’ve struggled on defense all year, let the Eagles stay ahead of the sticks as Scott rant through them early. Pederson got creative with motion on the play that led to Jalen Reagor catching his first career touchdown as the Eagles took a 7-0 lead. The Eagles appeared to have jet motion on most of their running plays. Also nice to see Jalen Hurts throw another pass, and complete it for 9 yards. In general, though, this offensive display was not refrigerator material (do people still say that?).
6. Speaking of Reagor, it was a pretty good comeback game for the team’s first-round pick. The touchdown was a good showcase of body control as he caught the ball at the goal line but made sure to get the nose of the ball over the goal line for his first career touchdown. He made a nice scoop catch on a low throw by Wentz to connect for the 2-point conversion after Travis Fulgham’s touchdown. Reagor appeared to rotate in and out, which makes sense for his first game since Week 2. He had a chance to ice the game at the 2-minute mark but dropped Wentz’s bomb in the end zone. Anthony Brown defended it well, but Reagor had the ball in his hands while pivoting midair. He needs to make those catches. It’ll be good to see what he can do in two weeks against the Giants on more snaps.
7. Is it me, or did Ben DiNucci try a little too hard to mimic Brett Favre and Patrick Mahomes rolled into one? He seemed to purposely make a sidearm and no-look passes as if his body language intended to say, “Screw it, why not?” I get it, there were no expectations of him winning the game, but it seemed to me as if he was trying to be the Jason Kidd of quarterbacks in his NFL starting debut.
8. Brandon Graham’s mission to make his first Pro Bowl in his 11th season continued as he added another sack, giving him seven halfway through the season and on pace for 14, which would be his career most by far. The sack caused a fumble, which he recovered. That’s two straight weeks with Graham having a sack-strip and recovering the loose ball. The most sacks he’s had in one season was 9.5, in 2017.
9. Depth at corner was tested once again as Darius Slay exited the game at halftime with an ankle injury. With both Craig James and Cre’Von LeBlanc out, the Eagles turned to undrafted rookie Michael Jaquet to take Slay’s spot opposite. It might explain why Jim Schwartz didn’t really bring the house against DiNucci as much as you’d think he would in this situation. I was surprised the Cowboys didn’t try to challenge Jacquet more, but they could barely generate any passing offense. Amari Cooper only had one catch. Jacquet, of course, then exited with an injury, which forced Jalen Mills back to outside corner.
10. This game was an indictment of Jets coach Adam Gase. Wait, what? Think about it. You have to at least credit Mike McCarthy and Kellen More for recognizing their severe limitations on offense and doing their best to concoct a creative plan intended to fool the Eagles’ defense. It didn’t work per se, but at least they didn’t pretend they could just line up and move the chains in a conventional manner the way Gase did with Luke Falk and the Jets’ offense last year, which led them to get clobbered, 31-6.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.