There's not much to say about Sunday other than it was a disappointing loss.
With two first-quarter turnovers gift-wrapping 14 points to the opponent in its own stadium, that's tough to come back from.
When the offense goes just 3-of-9 on third down and the defense allows the opponent to go 8-of-14, that's tough to come back from.
Losing the turnover battle 4-1 is tough to come back from.
Allowing 189 yards rushing, including 6.8 yards per carry on first down, is tough to come back from.
Does this mean that the season is over? Of course not. The Eagles have proven to be a resilient team over the last two seasons. This is a different roster that can't rely solely on the successes of yesteryear, but the lessons learned in 2017 and, more importantly, 2018, will be key for a turnaround this fall.
I'll touch on a couple of the more pivotal plays from this game first from the offensive side of the ball, as they were hot topics in head coach Doug Pederson's day-after press conference on Monday. The two plays in focus? A 3-yard run by running back Miles Sanders and a sack by Dallas slot cornerback Jourdan Lewis.
The Eagles pulled to within a score with tight end Dallas Goedert's touchdown. Then on the ensuing defensive drive, defensive end Josh Sweat gets the team off the field with a pressure on Dak Prescott. I broke down that sequence of plays on our weekly installment of the All-22 Review. The Eagles get the ball back, and on the next two drives, we get these two plays on third down.
ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY
Let's start with the run by Sanders. Down by a touchdown, the Eagles face third-and-4. Expecting soft zone coverage, Coach Pederson calls for a quick-hitting inside run to Sanders. This is going to be a Trap play, which is very similar to the Wham play that Sanders hit against the Packers on Thursday Night Football a couple of weeks ago. In that instance, Sanders keys off of Goedert, who comes from the blind side to block an unsuspecting defensive tackle. Sanders plays right off that block and goes for more than 30 yards to help lead the team to victory.
Fast forward to Sunday night.
This time, the block on the defensive tackle comes from tackle Andre Dillard. He's going to block defensive tackle Antwuan Woods from the blind side. This time, however, Woods sees it coming, and he crosses Dillard's face, putting himself right into the gap that Sanders is supposed to run through. The play, as designed, is now broken by the defense. Now, Sanders has to go to Plan B, cutting to his right, into the gap vacated by the defensive tackle. There is room here to get downhill for a first down, but Sanders is just a split-second late in putting his foot in the ground and picking up that yardage. Instead of getting the first down, he's tackled short and the Eagles are forced to punt.
Sanders is a rookie, so plays like this happen. You're going to leave yards on the field sometimes. He made a good read by not running off of Dillard's block, because had he stayed on that path he's likely going down for a loss. He made a cut, and was a hair late getting into the correct gap, and was brought down short. It's unfortunate, but the Eagles are forced to punt and the Cowboys go down and score a touchdown to extend their lead by two scores.
On the ensuing Eagles drive, the offense faces third-and-long. The Cowboys come out in one of their "speed" nickel packages, where linebacker Jaylon Smith almost always gets up to the line of scrimmage as a part of the pressure scheme. We broke this down last week on Eagles Game Plan because it's very prevalent when watching the Cowboys on film.
Before the snap, the offense sees this look and sets the protection accordingly. The offensive line slides to the left to account for any blitz or stunt the Cowboys can throw from that direction. There's no reason to expect, based off this pre-snap look, that there will be pressure coming from the right. Tackle Lane Johnson is left one-on-one with defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, with tight end Zach Ertz giving help as a chipper. Sanders is in pass protection, with his first key being the linebacker on the back side of the slide. If he comes, that's on Sanders. If he doesn't, he'll release into the route after making sure that no one else is blitzing.
The ball is snapped, and everything changes. This is a well-disguised blitz from the Cowboys. The linebackers from the left drop out and Lewis comes in from the slot. Remember, the offense sets the protection pre-snap, so once the action begins, that protection call can't change. These things aren't communicated on the fly. Unfortunately, no one is there to account for Lewis. Could Sanders have seen it? Potentially, but that would have been an example of GREAT recognition from the rookie, who has already made some great blocks in pass pro so far this season. Could quarterback Carson Wentz have seen it? Maybe, but again, with the corner coming from great depth, and no tips before the snap that he could be a blitzer, it's not likely that he'll see him or expect him from that side of the field. In my eyes, this is a great blitz from the Cowboys that catches the Eagles for a big play.
Offensive momentum was hurt after those two drives, and the Eagles were unable to reach the end zone after the first quarter. Again, it was a very disappointing game in all three phases, with plenty of self-induced errors to go around, something that must be corrected down the stretch as the margin for error shrinks more and more.
There were a couple of things that, walking away from the film, stood out to me and were interesting themes that I kept a close eye on throughout the tape study. First up, how did rookie Andre Dillard do in his first start? I thought he was very impressive.
Both the physical and mental traits from Dillard are put on display in those two clips. He's got great feet, which put him in position to use his hands efficiently and effectively. He can ride the hoop with any pass rusher off the edge from a speed standpoint thanks to his quickness and ability to recover. Against a speed rusher like Robert Quinn, who has been to multiple Pro Bowls in this league, I thought he more than held his own in this matchup. It wasn't all perfect for the rookie, though.
Dillard's anchor strength is still improving, so allowing defenders into his chest is going to be an issue for him until he's all the way there. That can improve, but foot quickness (which he has plenty of) does not. Dillard still has some technical things to iron out, but he was assignment-sound in this game, looked really light on his feet, and it's been fun to watch him develop over the last few months as he continues to mirror the play style of both Jason Peters and Lane Johnson.
Another storyline was the return of Jalen Mills. The Green Goblin had not played in just about a full calendar year, so how would he look in his season debut? I thought he was impressive as well. Let's take a look at one of the best plays.
Mills saw plenty of snaps, and will only see more as he gets more and more comfortable back in action. I've always been a big fan of the way he plays, going back to his days at LSU. His presence in the secondary will only help this Eagles defense.
Last but not least, I had my eyes on the trenches. How would this Eagles defensive line, with so many backups on the field, fare against a healthy Dallas front? Well, Dallas mixed things up from a run game standpoint, mixing in the use of play-action and the screen game, which can negate a pass rush. I thought the defensive line still found a way to impact individual plays, particularly defensive end Derek Barnett.
Barnett was responsible for two sacks against All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith, first beating him "high side" (meaning to the outside) before then countering later with a change-up, throwing a nice spin move at the stud blocker for the Cowboys. I love watching the continued development of Barnett in his third year in the league.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices, and opponents.