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December 31, 2017

First half observations: Eagles 0, Cowboys 0

If you were watching for anything other than quarterback play, the Eagles' battle with the Cowboys has been everything you could hope for through 30 minutes of action. Unfortunately, the most important position in football is important for a reason, and Nick Foles' performance will leave doubt hanging over the team until it plays its divisional round game a couple weeks from now.

The Good

• This game may mean less to a good percentage of people watching at home, but the guys on the field had no intention of sleepwalking through a rivalry game with the Cowboys. The tone was set on the first defensive possession for Philadelphia, with two plays standing out for their intensity in a "meaningless" game.

The first: Dak Prescott dropped back to hit Dez Bryant on an out route, after his wideout had gained separation from rookie corner Rasul Douglas. When Prescott missed on the throw, Douglas absolutely laid the wood on Bryant, much to the delight of his buddies on the Eagles' sideline.

A couple of plays later, Dallas had a fourth-and-short opportunity in Eagles territory, a situation they thrived in just a year prior. But Philadelphia's defense never gave Ezekiel Elliott a chance, and they buried him in the backfield to get the ball back.

Key defensive players started being subbed out after that first series, Fletcher Cox among them, so it was good to see them at full go during the time they did spend playing. Now just stay healthy, everybody.

• The presumed starter may have looked terrible, but Nate Sudfeld acquitted himself quite well in his first real NFL action. I presume this means we will spend the next two weeks debating whether he should start in the team's opening playoff game.

In all seriousness, he was the best quarterback on the field for either team in the first half. He had a really nice third-down throw wiped out by a holding penalty, but he moved well in the pocket and made pretty much every throw he was asked to make. Yes, the stakes were low, and no he's not going to be elevated past Foles on the depth chart, but at least it's not a total crisis if they have to turn to him.

• Philadelphia's defense made life absolutely miserable for Dak Prescott in the first half, and that's the best sign of all after the Eagles went through a brutal late-season stretch on that side of the ball. The team that was dominating games up front appears to be back.

Perhaps it's a product of the competition, but it's not as though the Eagles had all their starters out there in the first half. Backups and seldom-used players continued to build on the foundation the starters built for them, blowing Dallas' plays up at the point of attack. This is just mean, no pun intended:

Lincoln Financial Field is going to be loud, cold, and desperate for a win when the Eagles host their divisional round game. Sounds like the perfect setting for a swarming Eagles defense.

• I doubt Eagles fans expected to be witnesses to an on-field strip show in week 17, but with frigid temperatures inside the stadium, the Eagles' special teams guys had to do everything they could to stay warm during long stretches on the sideline.

Punter Donnie Jones took things a little too far, absentmindedly bringing his sweatpants with him on the field. He had to improvise from there.

I can't hate on Jones, especially since I'm writing about the game surrounded by warmth. Do what you gotta do.

The Bad

• The Eagles could really use some better production — or at least more reliable production — out of Torrey Smith. Nick Foles hit him in stride with room to run on a third-down play early in the first quarter, and the speedy wideout promptly put it on the turf.

We heard a lot about the vertical element Smith would bring to Philadelphia's offense, and he stretched the field at times to be fair. But his season in Philadelphia, which you'd figure will be the only one, has been plagued by miscues like this one. 

The Ugly

• Faith in Foles is slowly eroding with the way he has played over the last couple weeks. Under any kind of duress, Foles just can't make plays, and he threw a dreadful interception midway through the first quarter.

The rest of his work wasn't much better. He missed guys wide, he struggled to move or step up in the pocket, in clearer terms he looked pretty terrible. Meaningless game or not, he looked awful for a second straight game, and he continued to miss plays to wideouts who were creating separation down the field.

Maybe Foles is somewhere between the man he was in his first start in New York and the dumpster fire he has been since, but the competition is not going to get easier. His struggles have come against teams who were drawing dead with nothing to play for, and home-field advantage isn't going to mean a whole lot if the quarterback running your team folds like a cheap tent whenever there's pressure. 

That's why the Eagles probably should have been more proactive looking for emergency options once Wentz went down. "Knowing the system" is meaningless if you're not good at, you know, actually playing quarterback.