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October 20, 2019

First half observations: Cowboys 27, Eagles 7

In a game that was billed as a make-or-break moment in the race for the NFC East title, the Eagles got absolutely steamrolled in the first half, leaving themselves with a 24-7 hole to climb out of if they want to beat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football.

Here's what I saw in the first half of Sunday night's game.

The Good

• It's about damn time one of Carson Wentz's skill position players hauled in a tough catch for him. This is a great throw by Wentz for Philadelphia's first touchdown of the game, but he left Dallas Goedert with some work to do. And wouldn't you know it, Goedert actually came down with the ball and kept things from getting out of hand early.

It says a lot about the season the Eagles have had so far when someone making a moderately difficult catch feels like a gift from the heavens, but a touchdown is a touchdown.

• Philadelphia's defensive line has often underwhelmed this season, but they came up with a pair of big plays late in the first quarter to kill a Dallas scoring drive. With Dallas' tackles on either side of the line banged up, Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat got to Dak Prescott on back-to-back plays, with Barnett pushing Dallas out of field-goal range and Sweat forcing a throwaway from Prescott on third down to end the threat.

It's not often we've been able to praise the play up front, but that was a huge pair of plays with Dallas firing on all cylinders on offense in the early part of the game.

(Unfortunately, that's about it for the positives.)

The Bad

• The Eagles decided they wanted the ball first on Sunday to try to dictate tempo and terms early. I like that decision with the way things have been going lately, and how poor they've looked on defense early in games.

Unfortunately, "dictating tempo and terms" for this team ends up manifesting as a bunch of avoidable mistakes that set up the other team for wins. This week, it was Dallas Goedert's turn to make a costly mistake, and his first-quarter fumble gave the Cowboys the ball in Philadelphia territory.

It's a new guy screwing up every Sunday with this team. Set aside Doug Pederson's assertion that they were going to come down to Dallas and win, the more important part of his radio show claim was that they would be "ready to play." Sure didn't look like it.

• Okay, one mistake from one of your young players out of the way. Surely now was the time for the Eagles to rally together, clean up their mistakes, and get to work against a divisional rival.

What's that? You're telling me their All-Pro right tackle got dusted on the next series, leading to a sack fumble of their quarterback to give the ball to Dallas even deeper in their territory?

Again, it's a good thing the Eagles were "ready to play" for this game on Sunday. No telling how ugly it would have been if they weren't ready.

(While we're here, Lane Johnson in particular better wake the hell up at halftime, because DeMarcus Lawrence is absolutely working him right now.)

• There's nothing like trying to spark some momentum by taking a kickoff return out of the endzone after deliberating on it and not even getting to the 20-yard-line. Good stuff from Miles Sanders.

• Speaking of Sanders, the Eagles handing the ball off to him on third-and-four to open the second quarter is just mystifying. They didn't even give the ball to him in space where he might actually do some damage, they designed a run up the middle and Sanders showed his trademark indecisiveness as he was being dragged down short of the sticks. This shouldn't be that hard, but Sanders routinely complicates life for himself.

I won't sit here and pretend I was grinding Penn State pre-draft this year, but it's hard to figure how his lack of vision and decisiveness didn't dock him more.

The worst thing you can say about the offense through 6.5 weeks is that you still can't say what the guiding philosophy is. They don't have the wideouts to go pass-heavy, they try to establish the run when they're already down multiple touchdowns, it's an absolute mess.

• Welcome back to Jalen Mills, who made Tony Pollard look like Walter Payton.

• Are we at the point where someone's head needs to roll on the defensive staff just to shake things up in Philadelphia? Would it make a difference if they can't replace the sub-standard talent they have all over the field? These are the sort of questions that come to mind when the Eagles are getting straight-up embarrassed once again, with no solution to their defensive issues in sight.

The Cowboys deserve credit for building a gameplan capable of carving the Eagles up, and the same goes to Dak Prescott for making good pre-snap reads and adapting based on Philadelphia's looks. But you can only give so much credit to the opponent when getting beat like a drum is a weekly ritual. Dallas barely had to exert any effort to move the ball down the field, and you would have been forgiven for thinking the Eagles were trying to gift them their third touchdown of the night, because nobody bothered to do much defending.

This is my view on Jim Schwartz at this point in time.

Now imagine how it feels on the inside of that locker room. Nothing makes the case more than the baffling approach to the end of the half, where all they had to do was prevent the Cowboys from getting into field goal range, and they kept backing off until Dallas had all the cushion they needed to get in range.

It's a joke, honestly. Just brainless strategy and football.

• There's a lot of blame to be spread around, so let's give some to the quarterback. Wentz's pocket awareness was poor in the first half of Sunday's game, full stop. He wandered into pressure on several occasions, and he failed to make the pre-snap reads that should be no-brainers for him at this point, leading to plays like the third-down sack he took late in the second quarter.

He hasn't gotten a lot of help this year, but he isn't doing himself any favors so far tonight.

The Ugly

• Interesting decision by the officials to pick up a pass interference flag on Dallas on the basis of Alshon Jeffery falling as a result of "tangled feet." Just one writer's opinion, but when your feet get tangled because you're being pulled back by a cornerback's arm, it's the pullback that probably matters a little more.

• A legendary flop from Mills earned an offensive pass interference call on Amari Cooper on a would-be touchdown. It didn't end up mattering because Dallas got called for offensive holding anyway, but maybe he has a future in the arts.

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