Eagles extend division lead; topple Cowboys 23-9
The game was ugly through and through. But in the end, the Philadelphia Eagles were not only victorious over the Dallas Cowboys, but they also managed to cover one of the largest spreads of the weekend (10.5 points). If there’s anything we’ve learned from the first half of the Birds’ season, it’s that they won’t be waltzing to any victories the easy way. They battle to the level of their competition, whether favorites or underdogs, and almost always bring games down to the wire.
This particular game did not go the distance, but it certainly looked that way with the Eagles down to the Cowboys 9-7 at halftime. The defense was holding up their end of the bargain, but the offense wasn’t getting it done against a Dallas defensive unit that had given up the most points all year. Fortunately, the Birds took over at the end of the third quarter with a nine yard touchdown pass from Wentz to Fulgham. The defense extended the lead with big play after big play and the Eagles will happily move to their week 9 bye atop the suspect NFC East. Below, I’ll review “the good” and “the bad” of the game before looking ahead on the Birds’ schedule.
The Good – The Defense
Many predicted the Eagles defense would have a field day lining up against third-stringer Ben DiNucci. The masses got this one right. The Eagles brought pressure the entire game, forcing DiNucci into bad throws and sacking him four times while forcing two fumbles (both recovered by the Eagles). The game’s most questionable play was a 53 yard fumble recovery touchdown by Rodney McLeod with just six minutes to go in regulation. I myself think they got the lucky end of the stick on that play, but the result of the play would have been a change of possession in either case so it’s not likely to be a miscall that’s remembered.
The Eagles defensive unit also got a safety to their credit since Dallas intentionally snapped the ball out of the endzone in an effort to punt during their ensuing onside kick attempt. The 8 points scored by the defense was a massive help in a game where the offense wasn’t moving as fluidly as expected. A major victory for the defense was also stopping Zeke Elliott on the ground. He was held to 63 yards on 19 carries and never broke away for a run longer than 11 yards. This win at the line of scrimmage allowed the Bids to get more creative with their blitz packages on later downs.
Fulgham and Friends
Toward the season’s beginning, many were positing that Dallas had the best receiving unit in the league with their trio of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb. Travis Fulghman outplayed all of them in this game posting six receptions for 78 yards and a touchdown. He also drew a crucial pass interference penalty on a deep play to keep an Eagles’ drive alive. Especially in the absence of Miles Sanders, he is far and away the alpha of this offense.
While Fulgham paced the weapons in this game, he wasn’t entirely alone. Many fans were excited to see rookie Jalen Reagor return to action. Although his production wasn’t substantial, only three receptions for 16 yards and a rush for six yards, he did catch both a touchdown pass and a two point conversion. This may point to his ability to specialize around the goalline which would be a huge help for the Birds. Backup running back Boston Scott also filled in solidly for the absent Sanders, gaining 70 yards on 15 attempts with multiple bursts for first downs.
The Bad – Wentz Returns to Mistakeland
Carson Wentz’s statline against a subpar Cowboys defense was 15/27 for 123 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. He also lost two fumbles bringing his total turnover count to four on the game. If I had only seen that boxscore, I would’ve thought the Birds dropped this game instead of winning soundly, as the final score reflects.
Wentz’s QBR was only slightly better than Ben DiNucci’s. His quarterback rating was actually worse. The Eagles are still waiting for a game this season free of Wentz turnovers and it just hasn’t happened through eight weeks. Maybe some soul searching over the bye is what it will take, but turnovers in this quantity will simply not get the job done against better competition. My vote is for him to look in the mirror every morning and repeat the mantra “I will throw the ball away instead of taking a strip sack, I will throw the ball away instead of taking a strip sack, I will…”
And yes, pretty much all the same excuses are still there. Miles Sanders DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, and Zach Ertz are all out. Dallas Goedert just returned from injury. On and on and on. These injuries have to be accepted as the reality and Wentz has to improve despite them.
Fourth Down Miscues
The Eagles went 0-3 on fourth down in this game. I suspect this stat will be overlooked amid their victory but that’s a mistake. Fourth down efficiency is incredibly important and a huge indicator of success in the colder months. A team with reasonable consistency at converting fourth and short situations can both extend drives early in games and prevent pivotal changes of possession late in games.
The Birds first fourth down attempt went completely awry. Wentz was strip-sacked by Vander-Esch on a fourth and three. Though a change of possession would have resulted anyway, there is momentum that comes with turnovers. The following fourth down attempt was not as catastrophic, as it was just a short incompletion aimed at Fulgham. These fourth down miscues weren’t significant for this game, but it’s definitely an area to work on during the bye as fourth down efficiency will almost certainly play a part later this season.
The Birds are slated for a week 9 bye and will welcome that time off as they wait for more players to return from injury. When they resume play in week 10, it will once again be a divisional game as they have a grudge match with the New York Giants. The Eagles will have plenty of time over the bye to gameplan for this matchup and it definitely shouldn’t be taken lightly. The Giants are likely hungry for revenge just three weeks removed from their late game collapse.