Sunday night was a tough pill to swallow for Eagles fans, and there's no question that sentiment is felt in the locker room. No one likes losing to the Cowboys, particularly at home and in a primetime game of this magnitude at this stage of the season. That being said, while they need some help from the outside, if the Eagles can take care of business in the final two weeks in their own division, they will put themselves in a great position to earn a playoff berth and try to make some noise in the postseason.
Obviously this game didn't go well, as there were errors made in all three phases that contributed to the loss. Head coach Chip Kelly touched on a number of issues in his day-after press conference after reviewing the tape. Here's look at some specific quotes from Kelly and what he's talking about from the tape of Sunday's game.
Kelly was asked multiple times about the play of quarterback Mark Sanchez and what he saw on tape against Dallas. His response? Like all positions, there was some good and some bad. The first play he brought up was one of Sanchez's best throws of the night, a 72-yard completion to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.
It was third-and-12. The Cowboys were in a Cover-3 look with a single-high safety and the two cornerbacks splitting the field into thirds on the back end. Maclin attacked the corner with an inside release, stepped on his toes at the top of his stem and broke outside. Sanchez delivered a great ball near the sideline on time, giving Maclin the ability to catch and run for a near touchdown. Sanchez is not always known for his abilities making throws outside the numbers, but here he threw a great ball and put the Eagles in position to pull within a score.
That wasn't the only ball from Sanchez that deserved praise though, as he also delivered good passes on a number of occasions to a variety of targets. That being said, there was some bad in there as well.
It was third-and-5 in the second quarter. The Eagles called for a 5-step concept that is very much akin to the "Snag" concept that we've broken down in the past. Since this is a 5-step version off play-action and not a 3-step quick game combination, this takes a bit longer to develop and is constructed to be completed farther down the field than what we've seen from this concept in the past.
As you can see in the video and article linked above, this concept involves a corner route, a snag or a hitch, and a route to the flat. This third-down pass from Sanchez to Josh Huff fell incomplete, though that could be for any number of reasons and may not necessarily be on the quarterback. The Eagles were forced to punt. Kelly talked about third-down conversions as one of the major differences in the game and a facet that the Eagles will have to improve on moving forward.
On another third down on the final play of the third quarter, the Cowboys lined up in a Cover-1 look with a single-high safety, a hole player underneath and man coverage across the formation. Zach Ertz ran an in-breaking route beyond the first-down marker and was wide open. Sanchez released the ball a hair too soon. The ball was just inches out of Ertz's grasp, and it resulted in an interception. Turnovers and third-down conversions were a big issue for the Eagles' offense Sunday night, something that certainly must get better as the regular season comes to a close.
On the other side of the line of the line of scrimmage, the Cowboys finished just 5 of 13 on third-down situations. On the stat sheet, that was worse than the Eagles' 5 of 11, but there were multiple penalties that altered those numbers a bit. Jason Witten's presence in the middle of the field, after catching just one pass for 8 yards two weeks ago, was apparent from the start. Tony Romo went to him early and often and the two hooked up four times on third down throughout the game, resulting in three first downs. Two of those third down conversions came when the Eagles' defense was more focused elsewhere.
It was third-and-7. The Eagles played a former of Cover-1 that featured a single-high safety and double coverage on Dez Bryant at the top of the screen. Brandon Boykin and Nolan Carroll II were responsible for Witten and Cole Beasley in the slot. There was some sort of miscommunication. This may have been an in-and-out call of some kind and Witten ran free over the middle of the field. After being a non-factor on Thanksgiving, Witten played a huge role in the Cowboys' victory on Sunday night.
With Witten playing such a huge role early on, the Eagles mixed up coverage schemes and blitz looks dependent on what the Cowboys presented. Down in the low red zone here in the first quarter, they came out in an empty set. Dallas was deadly out of the empty set on Sunday, running 10 plays from the formation for 116 yards at a 11.6 yards per play clip. The Eagles showed blitz and played Cover-0 on the back end, meaning Bradley Fletcher was manned up one on one with Bryant, a tough assignment for anyone in the NFL. Romo threw a perfect back shoulder fade to a spot where only his man could get it, and Bryant attacked the ball in the air to come down with the touchdown.
While Dallas had success through the air, the defensive front did their job up front against DeMarco Murray, again limiting the league's leading rusher to one of his worst outputs of the season. It's well-documented by this point that the Cowboys love the stretch run play. The Eagles again took that out of the equation. By my count, Dallas ran 17 stretch run plays with Murray in the game, limiting him to just 45 yards at 2.65 yards per carry. If you're the Eagles' defense, you'll take that any day, and it was the play of some of their young defensive linemen that helped lead the charge on Sunday night.
On the first play, Fletcher Cox disrupted the play from the jump, bench pressing guard Ronald Leary into the backfield and forcing Murray to string his path outside as the Eagles' defense brings him down for a 1-yard loss. Give plenty of credit as well to Trent Cole for helping to string the play out as well as to Cary Williams, who shed a block and came down to bring Murray to the ground.
On the second play, Bennie Logan controlled Leary at the snap. The Cowboys ran into a blitz from cornerback Brandon Boykin. Murray cut back inside into the waiting arms of Logan, who brought him down for a loss.
The Eagles' defense had it's highs and lows against the Cowboys, as did the offense and special teams, but they will need a short memory to put that in the past and prepare for the final two-week stretch that will determine their playoff chances and a chance to play for a Super Bowl this postseason.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on 6abc Saturdays at 7:30 PM. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast each week online and on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. 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.