ReFo: Eagles @ Cowboys, Week 13
The Eagles got another chance at the spotlight when they traveled to Dallas to take on the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. It was a chance to stand up and prove that, though the season had gone off the rails, they were at least still playing for pride and for their coach who seems to be a dead man walking in his job.
As it turns out the Eagles did play hard, and played some impressive football, but in the end a turnover at the wrong time put them in a hole they couldn’t climb out of and the Cowboys were able to win the shootout. The Philadelphia secondary had its customary coverage breakdowns and you simply can’t afford to spot a team this many points in the NFL and expect to get wins.
For Dallas it was a game they needed to win to keep pace in the division, and they will be happy enough just getting away with one that could easily have slipped out of their grasp with a play or two the other way.
Philadelphia – Three Performances of Note
Brandon Graham’s Coming Out Party
The demise of Jim Washburn came largely thanks to his objection to the team cutting loose Jason Babin. While his stance was understandable, as Babin was still far from a waste of a roster spot, this performance from Brandon Graham showed why the Eagles were happy to make that move. Graham played only 33 snaps, and rushed the passer 20 times, but in those snaps he notched a pair of sacks, two knockdowns and two more hurries and was by far the Eagles most dominant pass rusher on the day.
The team thought Graham was a special pass rusher when they drafted him, and it has been a long way back from an ugly injury, but they might finally have the player they thought they were getting and need to start feeding him more snaps to let him do damage in his playing time. Trent Cole played 14 more snaps than Graham and though he did play well, wasn’t nearly as big a threat over the course of the game. The Eagles need to ramp up Graham’s playing time down the stretch and make sure this isn’t a fluke.
At this point in the Eagles’ season, with all of the changes, I’m beginning to wonder if players in the secondary even know what their assignment is on any given play. That is the only way I can explain players taking off and running in the wrong direction, opening up yawning chasms in the middle of the field for quarterbacks and receivers to simply play catch in. DeMeco Ryans took himself badly out of position on a couple of occasions, but at least he was just beaten the old fashioned way on the worst one by a double move from Jason Witten that sent him tearing off toward the sideline to cover an out route that had become an out and up (and long completion over his head).
Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman both had plays in this game where they just seemed to abandon their zones and assume, for some reason, nobody would notice or that it wouldn’t be a problem. Despite a few good plays in coverage, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was victimized a few times for the little things, like not bothering to attempt a tackle because you might get hit by Asomugha coming in from the other side, or being run over by Dez Bryant at the goal line on a bubble screen.
Signs of Life from the OL
There is no doubting that the offensive line for the Eagles has been a major issue all season long. Given the injuries they have endured, that is hardly surprising, and they entered this game with just one of their intended five starters from the offseason still intact, LG Evan Mathis. The pressure coming from the unit eventually took its toll on Micahel Vick, and he felt pressure on a massive 42.9% of drop-backs (some of which, admittedly, is on him). Nick Foles, since becoming starter, has felt pressure on a still substantial 35.5% of drop-backs, but this week the Eagles surrendered just nine total hurries on 37 pass blocking snaps, and one of those was on Foles himself.
Mathis continued an All-Pro caliber season at left guard, but this time he wasn’t the only lineman playing well as the entire interior of Dallas Reynolds and Jake Scott run blocked well all game. Only King Dunlap let the side down with a sack and pair of hurries to blot his copybook.
Dallas – Three Performances of Note
When you take the restraints of the offense off him and just let him play football, Dez Bryant is one of the most talented and unstoppable receivers in the NFL. He didn’t top 100 receiving yards, but he did score a pair of touchdowns and showed the complete spectrum of his talents, including toughness, run after the catch ability, and pure ball skills. Making a play on a deep ball was impressive, as was his first touchdown run, and barreling over Rodgers-Cromartie was fun to watch, but his best play was a simple 14-yard pickup on the right sideline.
Fending off the corner with one arm, he reached well over the sideline to snag a Romo pass with his left hand while making sure he got both feet in before hitting the ground. That is elite stuff.
You Don’t Run Spencer’s Way
Though DeMarcus Ware is the pass rusher of the pair and the heralded all-star, Anthony Spencer is one of the league’s best run defenders, and this game was a vintage display of why that is true. He leads the NFL this season among 3-4 OLBs in Run Stop Percentage, a per snap measurement of how many stops he makes in the run game, and he led the team in this game in both tackles (7) and stops (6), making a constant nuisance of himself around the edge.
The rest of the Dallas defense didn’t fare quite so well, but anybody doubting what Spencer brings to the table for the Cowboys should have this game film cut up and played to them in a loop.
At this point the performances of Doug Free on the right side of the line are just deteriorating, from an already inauspicious start. Going up against Graham for the most part, he gave up a pair of sacks, a hit and two more hurries while also being flagged twice as he held players that were beating him.
Free was never the world’s most gifted left tackle, but he was at least capable for much of his time there. The most problematic area, though, is that he didn’t make up for his pass protection woes by dominating in the run game like powerful right tackles look to do. In this game Free was just overmatched, and considering the contract he was given to keep him in Dallas, might be starting to look like a player on borrowed time.
– Nnamdi Asomugha seemed to avoid the wreckage this week for the Eagles secondary, being targeted just four times and allowing each to be caught for only 30 yards.
– This was the good Tony Romo all game long. With a near perfect 153.8 rating when he wasn’t pressured and one of 117.7 when he was.
– If Bryce Brown could just keep hold of the ball he would be dangerous. He rushed for 7 yards per carry, forced five missed tackles, made 91 of those yards after contact, but fumbled away the ball at the worst possible time.
PFF Game Ball
This game had a series of candidates, with Evan Mathis and Brandon Graham making strong cases despite the loss and Tony Romo and Anthony Spencer on the winning side, but in the end Dez Bryant’s scores were the difference.