Re-Focused: Eagles @ Cowboys, Week 16

| December 26, 2011

Coming into the week, this was a much-anticipated game as the Philadelphia Eagles finally have gotten their act together and were making a late run for the playoffs. However, a Giants victory that went final in the early moments of this contest meant that this Eagles/Cowboys outcome would have no bearing on the playoffs–the Eagles were out, and a matchup between the Giants and Cowboys next week would determine the division winner.

Thus, when Tony Romo hurt his hand after four plays it became the Stephen McGee show, while Felix Jones was given just seven snaps before being rested. While it’s disappointing that for a second straight year, players were rested in a late season Philadelphia/Dallas matchup, but it’s hard to blame the Cowboys for playing it safe as the real test is next week.

Philadelphia scored on their first drive, and had mixed results on offense the rest of the game. It didn’t matter much, as the defense held onto a shutout until the very end of the fourth quarter where Dallas found a garbage-time touchdown. While it doesn’t really mean much, the Eagles are starting to look like the best team that won’t make the playoffs. 

 

Philadelphia – Three Performances of Note

No Samuel, No Problem

With Asante Samuel out and the Cowboys’ strong receiving targets, the Eagles needed to make sure their secondary wasn’t going to be a reason for concern. Some of their lesser known players stepped up like safety Nate Allen (+3.0 coverage) who used his physical nature to prevent two passes from being caught by hitting the receiver while in the act, which forced two dropped passes. While he was thrown at five times, he allowed just one catch for no yards. With Samuel out, Joselio Hanson (+1.5 coverage) continued to see extended playing time. He did his part by shedding a block by Jason Witten on a bubble screen to stop Miles Austin for no gain, and deflected a pass to Austin in the end zone late in the game. As a unit, the linebackers have struggled in coverage in the past, but all five linebackers who saw playing time had a positive coverage grade. Everyone stepping up went a long way in keeping Dallas out of the end zone.

 

The Eagles’ One Constant

As a team, Philadelphia has had its ups and downs all season, but one thing has remained consistent. They have been able to constantly bring pressure with just their front four to cause problems for opposing quarterbacks. In this game, they were successful in bringing pressure on 44.7% of pass plays, and for the most part, they didn’t need everyone in the front four as most of the pressure came from their ends. They were led by Trent Cole (+6.3) who had seven overall pressures on just 31 pass rushes. Not far behind were starter Jason Babin (+2.4 pass rush) and backup Phillip Hunt (+1.6 pass rush) with four pressures each. As the Cowboys found out, it’s almost impossible to score points when every part of a pass defense is going right.

 

New No. 1 Receiver?

With DeSean Jackson’s contract situation, Jeremy Maclin (+2.3) could be the new top receiver in Philadelphia in 2012. In the first half Maclin made five big catches to show he might be up to the challenge–each reception coming on intermediate in and comeback routes. Because of the depth of the route, the first four catches went for first downs. All total, they resulted in 72 receiving yards, and culminated in a touchdown to end the half and give the Eagles a 14-0 lead. It was because of the passing game’s ability to keep moving the ball down the field that Philadelphia came up with an early lead. While the Eagles would miss Jackson who also had four first downs in this game, they would still have talent at the position.

 

Dallas – Three Performances of Note

Uncharacteristic Bad Blocking

All season, we have been praising the play of right tackle Tyron Smith (-6.4). Prior to this game we had him ranked third in the Race for Rookie for the Year and we voted him to our NFC Pro Bowl team. Some of us might want to redo our ballots after watching this performance, as he allowed a sack, a hit, and three pressures. On the left side Doug Free (-4.4) didn’t fare much better, allowing a sack, a hit and six pressures. The Eagles line up their defensive ends further to the outside on some plays than most teams, which seemed to give the tackles problems. On the bright side Free has a positive run block rating, but was the only offensive linemen to do so. Typically, Dallas is above average in both run and pass blocking. Their poor play was possibly the biggest reason for the offensive struggles, and will need to step things up next week against the New York pass rush.

 

The Replacements

I’ve heard it debated exactly where Romo ranks among the league’s quarterbacks, but with how Stephen McGee (-3.4) played, I don’t think you’ll find many people who would argue the Cowboys would be better off benching him. McGee’s base numbers didn’t look good, with 4.8 yards per attempt, and looking at them in more depth doesn’t help his case. Only four of his 24 completions were on passes beyond 10 yards. He had an Accuracy Percentage of 65.8%, which is a bit lower than Tony Romo’s season total of 72.6%. You can’t get far with an offense when you have short inaccurate passes. While running back Sammy Morris (+1.9) didn’t have any big plays, he also never made any big mistakes. He also had an excellent one handed catch (2-10:24) even though it ended up being for a loss of yards. A big part of the reason the Cowboys are in the playoff hunt this late is by the play of their quarterback and running back, and without them the offense struggled.

 

Trying to Set the Tone

Nose tackle Jay Ratliff (+5.6) seems to have two kinds of games: average and great. This was one of the amazing ones, and he did so with some great plays from the start. On the first play, he pushed center Jason Kelce to the backfield which resulted in the run changing direction to the outside and a 1-yard loss. The following play he pushed Kelce to the backfield again which resulted in pressure and an incomplete pass. Its players in games like this that sometimes traditional statistics just don’t do it for, because Ratliff had just one tackle and one assist, but throughout the game he continued to get pressure and disrupt the run.

 

Game Notes

- Over half of Sammy Morris’ 29 rushing yards came on two runs. He ran for 9 yards and 7 yards on those two carries, and 13 yards on the other 11 carries.

- Michael Vick had a higher Accuracy Percentage on passes beyond 10 yards (76.9% on 13 attempts) than passes of 10 yards or less (69.2% on 13 attempts).

- Prior to this game, the most catches that Nnamdi Asomugha had allowed in a game was four (from 2008-2011). In this game he allowed six, although the longest one he allowed was for 9 yards.

 

PFF Game Ball

While a number of Eagle defenders played well, Jeremy Maclin made the big plays and did so against the Cowboys’ starters.

 

Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke and check out our main Twitter feed too: @ProFootbalFocus

 

  • sraman09

    Smith was really that bad? Maybe it was the fact that the game didn’t mean anything after the first series and with Romo being out in addition that made m glaze over it. I’ll have to rewatch the tape, I suppose it makes sense given that McGee was scrambling for his life back there. To what extent though has Romo helped this offensive line in terms of pressure? Do you think it’s at least in part because of his absence that the line graded so poorly? (and yes, i realize methodology-wise your scoring would take that into account, but I’m more curious about your impressions, since even qualitatively the performance of one player can seem to affect the performance of another).

    • Nathan Jahnke

      I think it had more to do with the Eagles and less to do with the quarterback. In general, McGee holds on to the ball a little longer than Romo, so that could partially be it for some of the linemen, but I don’t think that effected Smith.

      With four of the five pressures that Smith allowed, he was beat soon after the snap, so their would have been pressure no matter who was back there. While the raw numbers of 1 sack, 1 hit and 3 pressures aren’t as bad as others have been, it was how quickly he was beat on those plays that got him such a low pass block rating. The Eagles are one of the best pass rushing teams in the league (if not the best), so I would want to see McGee against a more average team before I would think it had to do with McGee.