ReFo: Cowboys @ Eagles, Week 10
This NFC East contest featured perhaps the two most hyped 3-5 teams in the history of the NFL. This rivalry had been lopsided as of late with the Philadelphia Eagles embarrassing the Dallas Cowboys twice last year, but this game was different.
Despite maligned-starter Michael Vick going down in the second quarter, the score was tied at 17 heading into the final quarter. Whether due to Philadelphia’s disappointing record or injury concerns with Vick, many predicted it was only a matter of time before rookie Nick Foles found the field; it happened on this day.
After a special teams breakdown resulted in a Dallas lead, the Cowboys’ defense proceeded to take advantage of the rookie for two defensive scores, although the Eagles did manage to cut the deficit to 8 late before the defense rose again to put the game out of reach. Let’s take a look at some individual performances that shaped this flag-filled NFC East battle.
Dallas — Three Performances of Note
Best and Worst of the Dallas Defense
In the eyes of many, Anthony Spencer (+5.2) hasn’t always been worthy of the first-round pick Dallas used to draft him, but he made his presence felt on Sunday. Although he did have an offsides penalty, the fifth-year OLB picked up a QB hit, three hurries (one which won’t show up on the stat sheet because of a flag on the play), and a strip-sack near the end that a teammate was able to convert into a touchdown that effectively ended the game, along with two other stops. One of those stops came with 1:28 left in the first quarter where, on third down, he was able to easily beat TE Brent Celek outside to limit Vick to no gain on a designed run. He also had an interception that was negated by another defender’s penalty but was a nice play nonetheless, and drew a holding flag from King Dunlap on a Shady McCoy draw run.
On the other side of the spectrum was rookie Morris Claiborne (-4.6), who had his worst game by far as a Pro. The former LSU Tiger committed a ridiculous five penalties — two offsides, one pass interference, and two holding infractions — one of which negated Spencer’s pick. He wound up giving up a total of only four catches for 44 yards, one of which was Riley Cooper’s spectacular touchdown grab, and the flags he drew helped the Eagles continue drives. Rookie DBs are expected to struggle, but performances like this can get teams curious about a player and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see opponents give Claiborne a heavier workload in the coming weeks. It should be noted, though, that he did successfully defend a short pass to DeSean Jackson, although another teammate was penalized on the play.
With fellow ILB Sean Lee out for the year, more pressure is on sophomore Bruce Carter, who responded well in this game with 10 tackles. He was active early, dismissing Eagles’ RG Dennis Kelly at 13:21 in the first quarter to get in the hole and limit McCoy to a 1-yard gain. Aside from leading the team in tackles, though, it would be misleading to say he was the most impactful Dallas defender — only four of those were stops, one coming on a 3rd-and-15 run that was more the Eagles waving the white flag than him making a great play. He also gave up all five passes thrown into his coverage (though one was a 1-yard loss to Jason Avant) and had a few negative plays against the run, including a 9-yard run with 4:32 left in the game where Dallas Reynolds was able to get just enough off a block on him to allow Shady to get by. All factors being considered, it is looking like he can continue to be a productive piece of this defense.
The Cowboys’ star QB’s highs and lows as a passer have been heavily publicized, but this performance will no doubt frustrate his haters as he played an efficient, turnover-free game and was not undone when pressure got to him (118.1 NFL passer rating under those circumstances). Romo (+2.8) did overthrow receivers on back-to-back passes early in the game, but settled in after that. The biggest highlight was the 25-yard pass to Miles Austin on third down where he once again demonstrated his elusiveness by avoiding three defensive linemen, but another impressive play occurred on third down with 10:38 left in the second quarter where he was able to slide away from the heat, giving his fullback enough time to get wide open for what would turn into a 17-yard gain. He wasn’t asked to throw a pass in the fourth quarter, but you can’t hold it against him that the rest of the team took control of the game at that point.
Philadelphia — Three Performances of Note
The Rookie, Finally
After weeks of seeing Vick struggle, the world finally got to see Foles in meaningful action. The results were what many would expect from a rookie playing a good defense. The 44-yard TD pass to Jeremy Maclin was a blown coverage, but he still made the throw that you would expect an NFL passer to make. He actually had a better passer rating under pressure with seven completions on nine throws, but for only 82 yards. Of course, it was the mistakes that doomed the Eagles — a pick-six off a bad throw and the poor ball security in his own end zone that resulted in another score — but it could have been worse. Much earlier in the game with 2:40 left in the first half he threw a short pass that could have been returned for six if Orlando Scandrick had caught the ball instead of knocking it down, and later threw the pick to Spencer on an ill-advised swing pass (luckily a Claiborne hold that occurred where Foles wasn’t even looking negated the play). He seems likely to be starting in Washington next week and should have an opportunity to make more of an impact against a downtrodden Redskins secondary.
Bell and Dunlap
After the nightmare outing in New Orleans the week before, the Eagles switched their remaining tackles, with Demetress Bell (-5.7) on the left side and King Dunlap (+0.3) on the right. Like many involved in this game, both of their performances were plagued with penalties, but otherwise the two performed very differently. Dunlap only surrendered three hurries in 53 pass blocking attempts while Bell, on the other hand, was responsible for two sacks, a hit, and two hurries. Bell did have a considerably tougher challenge with DeMarcus Ware usually lined up across from him, but he also gave up hurries to Jason Hatcher and Spencer, along with a sack to Victor Butler. It will be interesting to see how Bell fares next week against a Redskins defense lacking a pass-rushing menace like Ware.
Nnamdi and DRC
The Eagles’ two starting cornerbacks, Nnamdi Asomugha (+1.7) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (-2.7), have been responsible for some of Philadelphia’s struggles this season. DRC was the only liability in this game, though. Early on (9:20 left in the first quarter) he came toward Jason Witten (who had made the catch in someone else’s coverage) and proceeded to try and take on the talented tight end with only a shoulder, missing the tackle. The former Arizona Cardinal was also burned by Dez Bryant for 87 yards and a score on three of four targets (the incompletion was a Romo overthrow); even if the Bryant TD catch had been overturned for the ball hitting the ground, DRC was still flagged for interference which would have set up the Cowboys around the goal line. Nnamdi, who has had issues tackling, did whiff on Felix Jones’ TD catch-and-run, but also made two stops in run defense (6:05 in the first quarter and 1:44 left in the game). The single time he was thrown at, he prevented Bryant from making the catch.
– The Eagles’ defense missed seven tackles, while the Cowboys’ missed five.
– Both teams combined to throw only six passes 20 yards or more, with Vick not attempting anything deep before getting injured.
– In his Dallas debut, former Green Bay Packer safety Charlie Peprah earned the start and 58 defensive snaps in rotation with Danny McCray (47 snaps).
Tony Romo (+2.8). He didn’t have to do anything in the fourth quarter, but was accurate enough in the first three and avoided any mistakes that could have turned this competitive contest despite the Eagles generating 23 total pressures.
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