The Dallas Cowboys get much needed win over the Philadelphia Eagles
By Matthew Postins
I wrote this on our Twitter feed at RattleandHumSports.com early in the fourth quarter:
First turnover loses this game.
Turns out it was the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bryce Brown fumble late in the fourth quarter, forced by Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent and returned for a touchdown by Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne, gave Dallas the cushion it needed to beat the Eagles, 38-33, at Cowboys Stadium.
If one cares how that impacts the playoff race, the Cowboys are a game out of the second wild-card berth. But, so it seems, is just about the rest of the NFC.
Dallas needed a win and it got one. Next week it’s the Cincinnati Bengals on the road. Next loss, it would seem, would end Dallas’ faint hopes of a playoff berth.
Here’s how it all broke down.
Run Offense: If you needed any proof of the stark difference in this offense with running back DeMarco Murray and without him, you saw it against the Eagles. For the first time in more than a month – the last time Murray played – the Cowboys had a running game. Murray rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries and gave back a bunch on the final run of the night. He definitely wasn’t 100 percent, but the Cowboys did the right thing by using Murray on relatively easy run plays, mostly off-tackle which forced Murray to make just one cut. The run blocking was good, partly because the Cowboys were able to move guard Mackenzy Bernadeau back to guard as center Ryan Cook was able to play. Back in his change-of-pace role, Felix Jones played well. It was like things were back to normal, and the running game has been so abnormal this year it just seemed surprising. But thanks to Murray’s return the Cowboys were able to achieve balance for the first time in a good long while.
Pass Offense: With a successful running game the Cowboys were able to beat the Eagles on play action several times in this game. The pass blocking was a struggle early, with tackle Doug Free committing three holding penalties (only two were accepted) and Bernadeau had one hold. But as the game went on the line whipped back into shape and protected quarterback Tony Romo well. Romo was as sharp as he’s been all season, failing to complete just five passes and throwing for more than 300 yards. He threw three touchdown passes and didn’t throw an interception. This was the sixth straight game the Eagles defense has not forced an interception. Tight end Jason Witten was the star of the first half and exploited the middle of the Eagles secondary for big gains. In the second half it was Dez Bryant, who had two touchdown receptions, one of which saw Bryant run over a pair of defenders on his way to the end zone. Romo spread it around, but he relied on his old and new reliable to get things done.
Run Defense: This was without question the worst night of the season for the Cowboys run defense. Without Jay Ratliff inside up front and without Bruce Carter at inside linebacker rookie running back Bryce Brown gashed the Cowboys for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Eagles exploited that middle all night until the end of the game when Brown didn’t take care of the ball and Brent forced a fumble that led to Claiborne’s touchdown return. I think many people expected the Cowboys to handle the rookie back. Instead, he handled them. This performance against a leaky Eagles offensive line shows how much the Cowboys need Ratliff.
Pass Defense: The Nick Foles the Cowboys faced three weeks ago did not show up. The Nick Foles that showed up Sunday was significantly better and significantly more composed. The Eagles chose to use a lot of underneath routes throughout the game, taking advantage of the fact that Dallas stubbornly refused to blitz and played their secondary deeper than usual. That resulted in a performance in which the Cowboys put little pressure on Foles. At times Foles looked like he was picking the Cowboys apart, and his touchdown pass to Riley Cooper with Brandon Carr in coverage was perfection. With DeSean Jackson out of the game, Jason Avant and Brent Celek were the players Foles leaned upon. This wasn’t an exceptional defensive game for Dallas. But they did create the game’s one turnover and turned it into points. And they did hold the Eagles to a field goal after the Cowboys scored to take the lead early in the fourth quarter.
Special Teams: Dwayne Harris has a light night as he didn’t return a punt and only returned one kickoff for 22 yards. Dan Bailey was perfect on field goals and extra points. Punter Brian Moorman had a great night, punting for a 53.0-yard average. Dallas’ kickoff coverage unit had some explaining to do after giving up a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to Damaris Johnson in the final minute.
Coaching: Jason Garrett called a solid game all the way around. His challenge of the fourth-down run by DeMarco Murray late in the third quarter changed the course of the game. It allowed Dallas to get a first down and led to Miles Austin’s touchdown reception. Give him credit for going back to the run wholeheartedly with the return of Murray. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan needs to consider mixing the blitz in more as this unit struggled to get a push on a weak Eagles offensive line.
Injuries: Linebacker Anthony Spencer hurt in third quarter but he returned.
One more thing: The Cowboys have four return touchdowns against the Eagles this year.
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