By Kevin McGuire
The Philadelphia Eagles failed to hold a lead in the fourth quarter on Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys due to poor offensive strategy and clock management as they fell to the Cowboys in overtime 29-23. After losing a division game in the fashion the Eagles did in front of a national television audience (that wasn’t glued to the World Series), there were not a ton of positives to rely on as the Eagles prepared to fly home.
Carson Wentz continued to be pretty reliable, completing 32-of-43 passes for a somewhat underwhelming 202 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked three times for a loss of eight yards, but he managed to hold on to the football on a late-game tackle from behind that would have likely resulted in Dallas taking a late lead in regulation. The offensive strategy limited Wentz by relying far too often on bubble screens and horizontal play development that was doomed to work far more often than not.
Darren Sproles was able to provide some juice when he got to run the football, picking up 86 yards on 15 attempts, but Wendell Smallwood lost a key fumble that helped Dallas rally in the fourth quarter. Eagles receivers were not very effective either, especially with blocking (Nelson Agholor in particular) and poor penalties (Dorial Green-Beckham was called for offensive pass interference in the fourth quarter as well). As a team, the Eagles managed to pick up just 291 yards of offense despite holding the football for roughly half the game. The Eagles also only converted two out of four red zone trips into points. The last two offensive possessions for the Eagles resulted in a pair of three-and-outs, and the drive before that took 10 plays to go 39 yards before opting to punt.
The Eagles had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and the defense failed to protect it. While the offense had its faults, it was the Eagles defense that failed to get off the field on a 90-yard touchdown drive by Dallas in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys only had to convert one third down on the touchdown drive, which they did with a 10-yard pickup when they only needed five yards. The Cowboys also won the game in overtime with a 12-play drive going 75 yards for the win. Just like in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys only had one third down on the drive, which they did not convert. But Dallas got the push it needed against a tiring Eagles defensive line on a QB sneak up the middle to keep the drive alive.
The Eagles were gashed for 460 yards by the Dallas offense, which led to 26 first downs by the Cowboys despite going just 4-of-14 on third downs (but two-for-two on fourth downs). Not having Bennie Logan on the field hurt the defensive line, which was to be expected. The Eagles actually did an OK job of not letting Dak Prescott pick them apart for most of the game until the later stages, and they held Ezekiel Elliott to fewer than 100 rushing yards (96 yards). But, Dez Bryant still had 113 yards and a score and Eagle killers Cole Beasley and Jason Witten (game-winning touchdown with nobody around him) still had an impact. The Eagles defense forced two fumbles but did not recover either, although Jordan Hicks did pick off a pass from Prescott in the end zone.
It wasn’t a terrible night for the Eagles defense, but it did its part in letting this one slip away.
Special Teams: B-
Kicker Caleb Sturgis did his part in converting all three field goals (including a 55 yarder) and two extra-point attempts. Punter Donnie Jones was once again steady with six punts totaling 269 yards. Two punts landed inside the 20-yard line. Josh Huff had a 53-yard return that helped lead to a score but there was not much else to praise in the special teams return game. Kick and punt coverage was good though, allowing just 32 yards on three combined returns.
Doug Pederson is going to take some heat for this loss, and it will be well deserved. The play calling and game plan appeared to be too limited, and the decision-making in crunch time is a concern. For starters, Pederson decided not to use any of the team’s three timeouts with roughly 35 seconds to play despite knocking Dallas into a 3rd and long in the fourth quarter. Dallas had no timeouts to spare at the time. Pederson explained his decision to not call timeout by saying he felt his defense was playing well and he thought he had a good chance in overtime. That is just a flat-out dumb explanation for not using a timeout to force Dallas to try one more low-percentage play that could likely have led to a special teams return opportunity with time to maybe get into field goal range.
Pederson is a rookie head coach, and he will be making some mistakes as he goes through the season just like Wentz or any other rookie will. The key will be to recognize what went wrong and how it can be corrected in the future to avoid a total meltdown as the Eagles experienced Sunday night.
Up Next: Eagles at New York Giants, November 6, 1:00 p.m. ET
The Eagles look to score their first win in the NFC East when they head up north to take on the New York Giants. The two division rivals will enter the week with identical 4-3 records, but the Giants will be coming off a bye week following a 17-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
Post Author: Kevin McGuire.