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January 09, 2022

First half observations: Cowboys 30, Eagles 17

The Eagles' backups are hanging tough with the Cowboys in primetime, trailing 30-17 with 30 minutes left in the regular-season finale.

Here's what I saw.

The Good

• The remaining Eagles left to play this game could have looked at the circumstances and mailed it in — if the team wasn't taking the game that seriously, why should they? Thankfully for all of us watching it, Philly's backups looked at this game as an opportunity to prove something with extended playtime, driving right down the field to score on the opening series of the game.

It took a little bit of good fortune to get there. Gardner Minshew nearly threw an interception early in the drive trying to get the ball to DeVonta Smith, but the ball would carrom off of a set of Cowboy hands and fall into the waiting arms of Smith, moving the chains and taking some of the pressure off of the offense. From there, the Eagles fell back into the identity that has served them well all season, just with different guys leading the way. Instead of Jordan Mailata holding down the left side of the line, it was Andre Dillard. Instead of Miles Sanders or Jordan Howard dominating on the ground, it was Kenneth Gainwell, looking ready for a big night against their most hated rival.

And after they marched down toward the goalline, the Eagles worked on some gadget looks, bringing Greg Ward into the backfield for a shovel pass around the goal line. While that play was stopped short of the endzone, another shovel pass attempt was all they needed to find pay dirt, with Tyree Jackson bringing in his first career catch for a touchdown and an early Eagles lead:

Meaningless game or not, a fun start.

• Kenneth Gainwell did not have the luxury of running behind the dominant starting unit up front, but it didn't seem to bother him at all during the first half. Gainwell chewed up yards with ease and was able to turn the corner against the Cowboys seemingly whenever he wanted, helping the Eagles string together long drive after long drive to keep pace with Dallas in a surprisingly exciting first half.

After a long march down the field late in the first half, it was Gainwell who finished off the series and brought the Eagles level with their divisional rival, bouncing to the outside after correctly reading the tangled mess of bodies and limbs in the middle of the field:

They may not be Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, and Jordan Mailata, but the offensive line backups more than did their job in the opening 30 minutes, at least in the run game.

• I sort of respect the fact that the Eagles used this game to pad stats and let guys go after individual honors without exposing them to too much risk. The most obvious example was Jason Kelce starting the game at center, registering his 122nd consecutive start, and then immediately retreating to the sidelines to end his night of work. The broadcast had quite a bit of fun with it — "He gets a full game check for that, right?" — but it was a sign of respect for a franchise stalwart, giving him the ability to step out in front of the Philadelphia fans one last time this season. We don't know how many games he has left, so these sort of moments have to be treasured.

Then there was the effort to get DeVonta Smith the Eagles' rookie receiving record, which was a little dicier in my mind. Putting Philadelphia's top receiving threat in danger of injury during a meaningless game could have gone pretty poorly for the Eagles, but I can understand why Nick Sirianni would give his guy the chance to make a bit of team history. Smith might not need the confidence boost like other guys in the receiving core, but being able to put his name at the top of that leaderboard has to feel good, and giving him a chance to get it done will go over well with one of the most important long-term pieces in that locker room. Man management matters.

• Is Jason Huntley the best kick returner on the Eagles? He sort of looked like it in the first half. The quickness and vision he showed on kickoffs also showed up in the run game, with Huntley breaking off a career-long run in the second quarter and looking right at home behind Philadelphia's backup line. They might have to dress him for the playoff game for special teams purposes if they can find a spot for him without axing someone more important.

• Arguably a bigger development than anything that happened on the field in the first half:

I can't believe we're all watching this game on a Saturday night, even if it was more entertaining than expected.

The Bad

• If we are going to try to seriously analyze this football game, the big complaint early on is that Philadelphia's depth in the secondary is basically non-existent. Dak Prescott had absolutely no trouble putting the ball wherever he wanted in the first half, carving up the Eagles with ease.

Do we need to care about it that much? Probably not. Was it ugly? Absolutely. 

• Arryn Siposs has had a pretty damn good year punting the football, but he absolutely blew the punt at the end of the first half, gift-wrapping more points for the Cowboys before halftime.

• The Eagles' success rate on Jalen Reagor gadget plays is either zero or only slightly above zero. I feel like Regina George:

Enough already.

The Ugly

• The broadcast did a good job of highlighting the fact that Dallas got away with blatant offensive pass interference on their opening touchdown. I'm not sure what the officials were watching on that play. CeeDee Lamb lowered his shoulder and outright blocked a guy. Even Kevin Garnett would be aghast at that illegal screen.

Boston Scott had a cheeky response to the no-call after Dallas' score:

My biggest, "Come on, man!" to the officials there.

• Debating the merits of individual records with a 17-game season vs. previous individual records feels like a colossal waste of time to me. If you want to throw asterisks on 17-game records, fine, but we can still celebrate individual accomplishments and performances regardless.

• Does the broadcast for this game really think that Eagles fans don't remember Corey Clement is the guy who pitched the ball for the Philly Special, or that it was his biggest contribution to Philadelphia's Super Bowl win? 

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