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November 11, 2018

Final observations: Cowboys 27, Eagles 20

Coming off a bye week and presented with a chance to bury their division rival, the Eagles came out and played about as bad a game as they could have. A second-half rally from the offense should not mask a bad night for the team overall, and the 27-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys was exactly what Philadelphia deserved.

At 4-5, the Eagles are now behind the proverbial eight ball, and they get to play the hottest team in the NFL next week after this demoralizing loss. Good luck against the New Orleans Saints, fellas.

Here's what I saw in a miserable loss on Sunday Night Football.

The Good

• There are a whole lot of guys on this team with talent who haven't been earning their keep. Michael Bennett certainly isn't one of them.

Like clockwork, Bennett has come up with big plays and hits when the Eagles have needed momentum this season — at least when he hasn't been getting penalized for nonsense penalties on quarterbacks. With the Eagles needing life coming out of the tunnel at halftime, it was Bennett who cleaned Dak Prescott's clock on the first play from scrimmage, drawing a roar from the home crowd at the Linc.

The Eagles needed that badly. The crowd got back into the game, and sometimes that's all you need.

• I complained about how vanilla the offense was in the first half, so I have to acknowledge the hook-and-ladder they ran for Golden Tate early in the third quarter. An outside-the-box move, which the Eagles certainly could use some more of with how stagnant the offense has been.

(If you think this belongs in the bad for overthinking it in the red zone, I wouldn't bristle at it.)

• Give Carson Wentz credit for this — he looked absolutely horrendous for roughly two-and-a-half quarters of football, missing opportunities and leaving the Eagles trailing their division rival. But just when things were starting to look like they wouldn't turn, he stepped up and delivered a big-time drive, connecting with a couple of his old pals en route to their first touchdown of the game.

It was Jordan Matthews, of all people, who got things moving in the right direction with a couple of first downs midway through the third. Wentz found him with a beautiful throw to the outside on third down, proving he can still be a safety blanket for his buddy when times are tough.

With new life, Dallas' defense made a critical mistake at the second level, and Wentz hit Zach Ertz on the money for a critical touchdown.

Part of the responsibility of being the franchise quarterback is battling back through adversity and doing enough to get your team a win on an off night. Wentz clearly did not have his best stuff against Dallas, but instead of wilting, he stepped up to the challenge.

• Speaking of, Wentz (as you'll read below) misfired on a few deep throws early in the game. He came up with a beauty in the fourth quarter, connecting with Nelson Agholor for a monster play over the top.

Credit belongs to both guys on this one. It's a great toss from Wentz to hit him over the top, and brilliant concentration from Agholor to haul it in. 

Just a few plays later, who else was going to come up with the ball in the end zone but Zach Ertz? The assault on Philadelphia's (and the entire NFL's) record book continues for the tight end.

The Bad

• Fans were upset there was no pass interference call on a deep shot to Golden Tate on Philadelphia's first offensive play in the second half. It's probably worth getting more upset that Carson Wentz under-threw another deep ball, after failing to connect with Alshon Jeffery in a similar situation in the first half.

Later in the same drive, Wentz had Jeffery for a potential touchdown over the middle, and a combination of waiting too long and throwing the ball high and outside almost got Jeffery murdered while trying to haul it in. That's a play Wentz makes last year, regardless of who he is throwing to over the middle. Execution has lacked in big spots.

The weapons excuse is off the table for Wentz with this group. His guys are talented, beating coverage down the field, and creating opportunities for big plays. Wentz has largely been very good this season but is missing the shots down the field right now, and it's a big part of why their scoring numbers are way down.

(And yet, as noted in the section up top, credit ultimately belongs to No. 11 for battling back and coming through in the second half. He's never going to be perfect. But maybe the game looks different if the Eagles put Dallas on their heels early, instead of having to play catch-up.)

• Defense is not the primary issue for the Eagles this year, but at this point, the problems are too numerous to count. 

There have been far too many backbreaking conversions for their opponents on third down. You tip your hat to the other guys from time to time, but too often the Eagles have been victims of their own self-inflicted wounds.

The biggest culprit, at least for my money? Playing passively once they get closer to a stop. The Eagles play with such crippling fear of giving up a big play that they get nickle and dimed down the field, allowing crap teams like the Cowboys to build momentum in spite of their own ineptitude. It was a theme for most of the night, and at this point we can call it a theme of the season, with the Eagles mired in mediocrity regardless of the result tonight.

However, the overarching theme of the team is that when one unit is playing well, the other can't sustain the momentum of the other group. The offense sucks, and the defense saves their ass. The offense gets going, and the defense falls apart. They're classic signs of a team that frankly is just not very good — and crippled by injuries in some areas, to be fair — and maybe that's the takeaway from the performance they offered out of their bye week.

The Eagles were expected to look rejuvenated and ready for a stretch run. Instead, they let a team who played poorly for most of the game outclass them on their own field. Let's not put lipstick on a pig: it was a bad performance, and this level of play has become too common to write it off as simple inconsistency. They are what they are. You give up 27 points to a struggling Dallas offense, you deserve to lose.

• Let's target someone specifically that has actually been there through all of it — Jordan Hicks has been anonymous for most of this season. For a guy who has come up with turnovers and other big plays in the past, I don't think I could name more than five notable things he has done this season.

Has he piled up a lot of tackles? Sure. But the impact plays aren't there, and with Dallas getting the running game going against Philly, he owns a decent chunk of responsibility there.

• I'm not sure what Doug Pederson is doing calling a screen to player with a lack of burst on a pivotal third-down play in the fourth quarter. I don't know what the logic is behind a short of the sticks throw on fourth down. Dallas players made plays in big spots, but the Eagles didn't exactly make things difficult for them.

To borrow from the Sixers' lexicon, the process has been bad, and the results have gone accordingly.

I don't really understand the logic across the Eagles' coaching staff, period. They have consistently made bad decisions in every spot you can imagine, designed plays with little chance of working, challenged in idiotic spots, and have had it all come back to bite them. You reap what you sow. They're 4-5 for good reason.

• The pass rush has momentary flashes of brilliance, but they have been shrinking in the second halves of games all year. Some of that stems from having to do all the heavy lifting, but if you're going to invest a lot of resources and strategy in the guys up front, it's on them to come through.

The Ugly

• If the Eagles lose another cornerback to injury — Ronald Darby was ruled out for the game after exiting with a knee issue midway through the third — Jimmy Butler might have to go double duty and suit up for the football team, too. The guy is a very good defender and a tough dude, at least.

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