This article also appears at RattleandHumSports.com.
First and 10 is RattleandHumSports.com’s breakdown of the 10 most important things to come out of each game for 2014. We’re up to Game 12 of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles, which the Cowboys lost.
The Cowboys were flat dominated. You’ll hear talk about play-calling and defensive adjustments, bad protection and turnovers. But when you boil it all down the Cowboys were whipped. The best thing they can do is to watch the game film, learn from it and move on. The more they dwell on it the more it becomes likely to poison their season.
Time of possession does not matter to Chip Kelly. The Eagles actually barely won the battle by 25 seconds, but for most of the game the Cowboys owned that category. What matters to Kelly is points and staying up-tempo. The Cowboys couldn’t slow them down and the Cowboys gave up points on six of Philadelphia’s first eight possessions of the game. By then the Eagles were up 30-10.
As good as Tony Romo looked in the second half of the Giants game, he looked the complete opposite of that against the Eagles. The Eagles did a good job of getting pressure on Romo throughout the game and exposed some holes in his protection, which was like a dam against the Giants. But, even when Romo had time he seemed out of sync. He’s healthy. That’s clear. But this is the first time since his offseason back surgery that he’s had to play on short rest, just four days. Perhaps, given his age and his multiple back surgeries, he simply won’t be as sharp on that short turnaround as in years past. It should be interesting to see how he plays against Chicago on a full week’s rest and practice schedule.
The Cowboys did not attack down the field in the passing game. That was surprising. The book on the Eagles coming into this game was that they had a great front line that could stuff the run and get to the passer, but that the secondary was susceptible to giving up plays of 20 or more yards. The Cowboys have feasted on big plays this season, thanks to their potent run game. The Eagles did slow down DeMarco Murray, but in some measures he was effective enough. The Eagles pass rush sacked Tony Romo four times and pressured him several more times. But I also felt the Eagles secondary did what the 49ers, the Redskins and the Cardinals all did with Dez Bryant and company — they were physical at the line of scrimmage and up the field. Fittingly, all four of those games were losses. Those games show that if you can be physical enough with these Cowboys skill players you can knock them off their game. I wonder if the Bears will be physical or play off receivers like Bryant next week?
LeSean McCoy has figured it out. Whatever it was that was limiting his production early this season is a thing of the past. Since the start of October McCoy has rushed for at least 80 yards in seven of his last eight games. McCoy torched the Cowboys for 159 yards and a touchdown.
The Cowboys defense has a third down problem. And it’s getting worse. The Cowboys are ranked No. 29 in the NFL in opponent third-down percentage at 45.45 percent. Against the Eagles it was 68.5 percent. In the past three games it’s been 53.5 percent. Compared to all of last year the Cowboys are worse off on third down. This was a defense that, early in the season, could at least get a few key third down stops and get the other team’s offense off the field. I’m not sure you can count on that anymore. We knew going into the season that this defense had a ceiling. I wonder if they’ve reached it?
Is there something wrong with this Cowboys offensive line? I lean toward the answer being no for now. The Eagles had a great defensive front line and they showed it on Thursday afternoon. I think the big question is how this Cowboys team overall is handling the blitz. The Redskins gave teams a template and they’re starting to use it. The Giants weren’t as big up front as the Eagles, and I think that was part of the reason the Cowboys struggled to move the pile consistently on Thursday. I wonder if, in the rematch, play-caller Scott Linehan might try to spread the field out more in an effort to reduce those opportunities?
The Cowboys have a bigger problem than their 3-4 home record. That problem is December, which is the month where Cowboys dreams of making the playoffs go to die lately. In the past three years the Cowboys have been 5-9 in December (that includes a January game in 2011). Those are the three seasons the Cowboys have finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs. To get to January football the Cowboys are going to have to buck that trend.
The hit Dwayne Harris levied on that final punt of the game was jaw-droppingly wrong. He should be fined. No question in my mind. If you want to be frustrated, go throw your helmet at the wall.
The NFC East race? The Eagles have a one-game lead over the Cowboys, but Dallas still has an opportunity to get even. The Cowboys face the Bears next Thursday and that should be a better matchup for them. The Eagles host Seattle and the Seahawks are starting to find their way back. There’s every chance the two teams could be 9-4 entering their Week 15 matchup in Philly, where the Cowboys have won four of their last five.