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December 09, 2018

Final observations: Cowboys 29, Eagles 23 (OT)

It's hard to find the right words to sum up the latest edition of Eagles vs. Cowboys. Do you start with the officiating that looked like it was paid for by a bunch of cynical mobsters? The battle between two quarterbacks of who could suck less that inexplicably turned into a shootout? Or the unbelivable final play, where Rasul Douglas had good coverage only for a tipped ball to drop into Amari Cooper's hands.

However you want to describe it, it's a 29-23 loss in overtime. So here's what I saw.   

The Good

• Corey Graham, against all odds, was one of Philadelphia's standout performers on Sunday. He came up with more than one touchdown-saving tackle in the first half, and when Dak Prescott had a customary misfire midway through the third quarter, he was there to take advantage.

Before this play, it appeared the Eagles were completely dead. Carson Wentz looked like a mess, missing throws as simple as a basic screen. They could not move the ball, and with Philadelphia struggling to stop the run Dallas easily could have used the ground-and-pound game to kill the clock.

But thanks to Graham, the Eagles were able to punch it in on the first play of the ensuing possession. It was about damn time.

• Michael Bennett has come up with big plays for the Eagles all game long. He came up with his biggest of the season against Dallas, stripping Dak Prescott around midfield to force Philadelphia's third turnover of the game.

Credit to Brandon Graham for coming up with the recovery, by the way, which isn't the easiest scoop you'll ever see.

Bennett came up with another monster play in overtime, shedding his blocker to stop Ezekiel Elliott short of a first-down deep in Eaggles territory.

The defense has been a punching bag throughout the season, but they were the only reason the Eagles were able to hang around long enough for the offense to do anything of consequence. Jim Schwartz deserves at least a week's reprieve from slander after this performance. I'll even get on board with him playing sticks defense.

(Okay, I lied, I will not get on board with sticks defense.)

• Carson Wentz was not good for most of Sunday's game, which you'll read some more about below, but he came up big when the stakes were highest. And of all the players he could have turned to in crunch time, it was the rookie, Dallas Goedert, who rewarded Wentz's faith with some big-time plays.

After picking up a first down on an earlier reception, Goedert got open in the end zone thanks to some good work from Wentz, who looked off his tight end before firing it in there.

Goedert should have had another big touchdown if not for one of the most egregious pass interference calls you're ever going to see. This offense has more than enough weapons and needs to be a lot better.

• He hasn't been a featured player even when he has been healthy, but a little Darren Sproles magic was what everybody needed in the fourth quarter.

• Credit to Mr. Kempski on this one:

After a botched snap from the Cowboys forced them to take their final timeout, Cox came up with a monster sack on the ensuing third-down play, ending the threat and forcing an overtime period that would have seemed impossible 10 minutes beforehand. Cox came up with another sack in overtime, which ultimately didn't matter after the Eagles accepted a holding penalty on the play, but he certainly went down swinging.

The Bad

• Does anyone besides Zach Ertz exist in Carson Wentz's brain on third down? I understand the guy gets open constantly and maybe this is a "Chicken or the egg?" question, but the degree to which he's locked in on that read seems extreme. It should not take until midway through the third quarter for Alshon Jeffery to get the ball.

• Ultimately the name of the game is scoring touchdowns. But before you can get there, your offense needs to actually start building something, and the Eagles went three-and-out over, and over, and over, and over, and over again on Sunday.

This circles back to the problems with Wentz right now, but it's the entire unit's responsibility to be better here. When they attempt runs, they're either a poor use of personnel or poorly blocked. When they throw, the line doesn't hold, receivers don't get open, or Wentz misses a potential big play on a throw he should make. Blame is deserved for everyone, and that's the mark of a below-average or bad football team.

Doug Pederson earned himself quite a grace period with a Super Bowl win, rightfully so, but the team can only come out with an uninspired gameplan so many weeks in a row before something has to give. Barring a tremendous rally in the team's last few games, I don't know how you bring back the same coordinators on offense and think things will improve. Pederson needs more helpful voices around him and failing that he needs to make better use of whatever is at his disposal.

• But let's focus on Wentz for a second. Quarterback play is the biggest driver of sustained success in today's NFL. If you don't get elite play from the quarterback position, you are basically drawing dead against the league's best teams. Rules have made it tougher than ever to play physical defense, and you have to exploit that in order to win.

The Eagles have the guy they believe to be their franchise QB, and yes, it is his first season post-ACL tear. But the concerning thing is that Wentz has his play prior to the bye week was pretty damn good, and he has been worse the further he gets from the injury.

Outside of his limited utility as a rusher, I also don't think you've seen many signs that his issues could be physical. He's getting time in the pocket and not feeling much pressure, only to miss guys over the top. He's holding onto the ball too long and either taking sacks or worse, fumbling the ball. He's throwing hospital balls to Alshon Jeffery, who got smoked on a hit that should have never happened in the third quarter. He's missing windows, throwing balls too late or too far behind wideouts.

Give the guy credit for rallying when it looked like he had nothing. Those fourth-quarter drives featured some great work from Wentz, and should not be thrown out altogether. But we've seen this for an extended stretch now — the Eagles do absolutely nothing on offense for over half the game, only to finally get rolling late. That can't happen.

He will be given plenty of time to figure things out. But Wentz has to be better, end of story.

• Why is Wendell Smallwood getting red-zone carries late in the ballgame? Why isn't Josh Adams getting the work there, or much work in general? I don't get it. Smallwood hadn't gotten so much as a touch since Week 11, and you're trying to get him involved with the season on the line?

It's astounding how often we have to ask basic logic questions like these. Every week, there's some new head-scratcher from the Eagles' offense. Mind-numbing. 

• Boy has Sidney Jones showed a whole lot of nothing. The Cowboys abused him on the drive that put them ahead 16-9 midway through the fourth, beating him no matter where they attacked him in coverage.

If not for a bad overthrow from Prescott, the Cowboys would have had another touchdown on Jones' sideline on the very next drive. They hunted him, and that says it all.

(It should be noted that Jones was dealing with an issue in the first half and did not look close to 100 percent. The Eagles are damn near out of options and credit to him for fighting through it, but you have to know when to call it a day, even if you're a coach making the call. The Eagles finally did, but the damage was done at that point.)

• Sure seems like that third-round pick for Golden Tate was a complete waste of resources.

• Hard to be upset when a secondary full of nobodies can't stop the opponent.

• Pederson basically has to call a timeout in overtime when the Eagles forced a third-and-long for Dallas with about 2:37 left. If they convert it, you're basically screwed no matter what, because Dallas can kneel and run the clock down before kicking a chip shot. If they don't you have 30+ more seconds of time with which to score on your possession.

It didn't end up mattering, but still.

• That Amari Cooper guy turns out to be pretty good.

The Ugly

• There's nothing like learning Corey Clement is done for the day right as the Eagles come out of halftime. A real pick-me-up after the way the first half ended.

• I'm normally a firm believer in having as much fun as possible while you're playing sports. But I happen to believe you should probably save the group touchdown celebration for a situation where you're not trailing after being shut out for the first two and a half quarters of the game.

It irritated the Cowboys, so fair enough, but try looking competent before you go out there and strut.

• The offensive pass interference call on Dallas Goedert was only rivaled by the botched fumble call to start the game. 

It was like watching an NBA game officiated by Tony Brothers and Scott Foster, who are notorious for giving one team all the impactful calls, while piling up enough nonsense flags to make the total foul count look even. Philly got unbelievably screwed by this crew, and the game might have looked totally different if not for that preposterous call to start the game.

Even a picked-up flag on Dallas in the final minute had an impact, stopping the clock and allowing the Cowboys to get the next play off while only losing five seconds of time. Ridiculous!

Take every last member of this officiating crew and fire them into the sun, because that was a reasonably fun football game aside from their B.S.

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