Three weeks ago, the Dallas Cowboys looked like world-beaters who were going to roll to an NFC East crown. But after blowing the doors off their first three opponents, the Cowboys got shut down by the Saints in Week 4, saw their comeback attempt stall against the Packers in Week 5, and couldn't get untracked against the Jets in Week 6. On Sunday night against the division rival Philadelphia Eagles, in a game where the winner would grab hold of first place in the NFC East, the Cowboys looked like that team from the first three weeks of the season again.
Their biggest playmakers all made big plays. They were shifting and motioning and being creative and making the Eagles look silly. The offensive line gave Dak Prescott plenty of time, and he spent most of the night firing the ball to open receivers. Ezekiel Elliott made what had been arguably the best run defense in the league in the league look paper-thin.
The Cowboys had six drives in the first half, and they turned five of them into points. The Eagles, meanwhile, turned the ball over on their first two possessions of the game and after scoring a touchdown on their third drive, gained only 21 yards on 12 plays over their final three drives before halftime, falling into a 27-7 hole.
Things did not get much better for Philadelphia after the break. The Cowboys saw their opening drive of the second half stall out, but after the two teams traded field goals, the Eagles decided they were going to start turning the ball over again. Three consecutive Eagles possessions ended with them giving the ball to the Cowboys, and that was more than enough to let Dallas ice the game away.
In the end, Jerry Jones' boys walked away with a 37-10 win. Here are a few more things to know about this game.
Why the Cowboys won
A very fast start, and a thorough finish. Despite not receiving the opening kickoff, the Cowboys staked themselves to a 14-0 lead just over six minutes into the game. They forced fumbles on each of the Eagles' first two possessions of the game, and turned both ensuing drives into touchdowns within eight combined plays. It helped that they converted each of the two third downs they faced on their first drive, with Dak Prescott gaining eight yards on a QB sneak and then Tavon Austin finding the end zone on an incredibly well-designed option play (more on that below).
The Dallas defense kept pressure on Carson Wentz throughout the night, including deep into the fourth quarter. The Cowboys also got three more turnovers from the Eagles in the second half, with Xavier Woods pocketing an interception, Kerry Hyder recovering a fumble and Sean Lee nearly getting a pick on a fourth-down pass that turned into a turnover on downs.
Why the Eagles lost
The aforementioned five turnovers; oh, and their defense is an outright disaster.
Dak Prescott got greedy and threw a silly interception on a deep ball to Tavon Austin in double coverage, but outside of that, he got essentially whatever he wanted against Philadelphia's flammable secondary. Prescott was 21 of 27 for 239 yards and the most wide-open touchdown toss you'll see in your entire life, and he also carried five times for 30 yards and an additional score. (The rushing touchdown was the 21st of his career, a Cowboys quarterback record. He'd previously been tied with the great Roger Staubach, but Prescott now owns the title just 55 games into his career.) Amari Cooper roasted each of the Eagles' corners at one point or another, and it seemed like Michael Gallup could have had a monster game if he and Prescott were on the same page.
The Philly defense's saving grace throughout this season had been its ability to stop the run, but Ezekiel Elliott (22 carries, 111 yards, TD) ran right through them (literally, in some cases), Prescott made several plays with his legs, Tony Pollard turned two surefire multi-yard losses into chunk gains and had a first-down run taken away by penalty, and the Cowboys got Austin into open space for a rushing touchdown as well. This defense is in a bad way right now.
The game was threatening to become a blowout within mere minutes thanks to two big plays from a Dallas defense that had been struggling to force turnovers for years before Sunday night. On the Eagles' first drive of the game, Dallas Goedert caught a checkdown pass from Carson Wentz, only to be met ahead of the first-down marker by both Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, who combined to strip the ball out of his hands.
Maliek Collins jumped on the free ball, and six plays later the Cowboys had a 7-0 lead. The Eagles took a holding penalty on the ensuing kickoff, and on the second play of the following drive, Demarcus Lawrence made something happen.
That's All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson that Lawrence beat on that play, by the way. And it had to feel extra sweet for the leader of the self-proclaimed Hot Boyz, who seemed to be the Cowboy that took Doug Pederson's "guarantee" of victory earlier this week the hardest. Lawrence said that Pederson, 'might want to shut his a-- up,' and, well, I think Lawrence shut it up for him.
Play of the game
Here's the Cowboys' first touchdown, a 20-yard run by Tavon Austin on a beautifully-designed play from Kellen Moore.
There are so many things to like right here.
- First, the Cowboys have Tony Pollard in the backfield next to Prescott for the third-and-short, making the defense think a pass might be coming.
- Second, Austin goes on orbit motion into the backfield, making the defense think he's headed across the field.
- Third, Prescott fakes a hand-off to Pollard in that same direction, while at the same time, Austin stops his motion and heads back to the wide side of the field to become the pitch man.
- Fourth, Prescott makes a perfect read of the edge defender and gets the ball to Austin in open space.
- And finally, Austin makes a perfect cut to get back inside of former Cowboy Orlando Scandrick and find his way into the end zone.
Dallas moves to 4-3 with this win, and retakes sole possession of first place in the NFC East. The Cowboys have a well-timed bye in Week 8, which should allow hobbled-but-active-on-Sunday players like Tyron Smith, Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, and La'el Collins to get fully healthy, while also giving time for Leighton Vander Esch, Robert Quinn, and Jeff Heath to recover from the injuries they sustained in this game.
The Eagles drop their record to 3-4 and are on the outside of the playoff race for the moment. They're a game behind Dallas for the division lead with one game left to play against them (Week 16 at home), and two games back of the Seahawks in the wild card race. The Eagles travel to Buffalo to take on the 5-1 Bills next week.