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November 05, 2023

First half observations: Cowboys 17, Eagles 14

It's a tight NFC East battle in South Philadelphia between the Eagles and Cowboys. Here are observations from the first half of their Week 9 matchup.

Eagles NFL
Kenny-Gainwell-TD-Eagles-Cowboys-Week-9-NFL-2023.jpg Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Eagles RB Kenny Gainwell leaps into the end zone for a first-quarter touchdown against the Cowboys on Sunday at the Linc.

It's another cut-throat NFC East matchup in South Philadelphia. with the Cowboys leading the Eagles 17-14 after two quarters. Here are my first half takes. Stay tuned for my final observations after the final whistle, too.

The Highs

• Cowboys running Tony Pollard averages 4.9 yards per carry for his career. On the game's opening possession, Dallas ran the ball twice, picking up just four total yards and setting up the Birds with a favorable third and six. This Eagles' run defense is elite and remains the best in the sport at shutting down opposing RBs. A Dak Prescott incompletion one play later led to the Eagles getting the ball. That's about as great of a start as the D, going against a Cowboys offense that is second in points per game, could've had.

• There was zero doubt that the Eagles' offense would stay on the field as they lined up for a "Tush Push" on their own 33 on their first drive while facing a fourth and one. As members of the press box wondered out loud whether the team would burn a timeout or take a delay of game, Jalen Hurts barreled through the line for a first down, as he nearly always does. The smart call. Always. 

• Zone coverage against A.J. Brown with the current tear he's on is foolish. If I was a Cowboys fan, and what a disgusting thought that is, I'd be furious if Brown wasn't getting doubled on every snap. Brown finished with four catches for 46 on the Birds' first scoring drive alone.

• Beautiful throw, beautiful catch. Facing a fourth and three deep in Dallas territory that was too long for a "Tush Push" attempt, Hurts dialed up a perfect pass to Dallas Goedert to move the sticks:

On the ensuing play, Kenny Gainwell found himself flipping into the end zone for the first touchdown of the day. It was yet another huge clutch play from Hurts to set that into motion and all the credit in the world to Nick Sirianni for being the NFL's most aggressive head coach.

• Haason Reddick: underrated no longer. Reddick is on pace to eclipse his torrid 2022 pace this season. With the Eagles' defense bleeding following a 40-yard Dak Prescott completion to Ferguson, Reddick (he's from Camden and went to Temple if you haven't heard) fiercely threw Prescott to the ground to make it a second and 21. That certainly changed the energy in Lincoln Financial Field. Reddick has 7.5 sacks in his last five games.

• "Tush Push" at the one yard-line going in? The smart move. Always. It tied things at 14.

• After an on-screen appearance from Bryce Harper at the Linc, Fletcher Cox borrowed his "big balls" celebration move when he picked up a half-sack with Nakobe Dean on Prescott near the end of the first half. That is the first sack of Dean's career, too. Make it 66.5 total over 12 years for Cox as well. 

The Lows

• The Eagles' special teams unit as a whole is better than their 2022 selves by a good margin, but a kickoff that had Dallas returner KaVontae Turpin taking it back to the Cowboys' own 48 threw the Eagles' D in an unfavorable position before they even stepped on the field. Dallas would go on to score a game-tying TD on this drive. That return was a slippery slope when the Eagles could've grabbed early control of this ballgame. 

• Undrafted rookie free agent corner Eli Ricks has filled in valiantly this season given all of the Eagles' secondary issues, but lining up one-on-one against CeeDee Lamb is a woeful turn of events for the Eagles. Lamb was open as anything as Dallas picked up a 29-yard gain on a fourth and one. The Birds were lucky that Dallas didn't find its way into the end zone on that play, but Cowboys tight end Jake Fergurson crossed the goal line on the immediate next play. James Bradberry has found himself covering Lamb at times, but there's ultimately no good solution for containing one of the league's premier receivers when he lines up in the slot. 

• The Prescott vs. Carson Wentz debates feel like a lifetime ago, but Prescott is still damn good when he plays the Eagles. He's fallen from his 2021 form when he had 4,449 passing yards and 37 TDs, but, regardless of who's the Birds' defensive coordinator, he's out there converting improbable third downs. Narrowly escaping pressure on a third and 14 in the second quarter before chucking the ball to Lamb for a 20-yard pickup had the Linc quiet. 

• Congrats to Ferguson for turning into the new Jason Witten in Eagles-Cowboys matchups. 

The Whoas

• As rare as Halley's Comet: Lane Johnson allowed a sack on the Eagles' second drive of the first quarter. Hurts held onto the ball a bit long, but it's still such a surprise to see. Johnson was blocking Dallas pass rusher Dorance Armstrong, who was credited with 0.5 sacks on the play. A second and two after a nice D'Andre Swift pickup quickly turned into a third and nine and the Birds found themselves booting it away on fourth down. 

• When the Eagles showcase a former player during a game at the stadium, they usually refer to them as an "Eagles legend." Naturally, that is overused for some of the players trotted out, but on Sunday, the Eagles had Trey Burton out there. Some media members in the press box scoffed at that, but he was an integral part of the most famous play in the history of Philadelphia sports. The legend tag is fair for him even if his total body of work doesn't come close to fitting that description. 

• Everyone's favorite figures in sports played a large role in this one. A Prescott touchdown pass to Turpin was erroneously ruled a catch to make it a 14-7 game in the second quarter. Even a challenge didn't have the "catch" overturned. Ref ball!

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