The world is back to being a happy place. The Eagles beat the Cowboys. Getting swept by them last season was about as bad as it gets. I couldn't stand the thought of another loss so I was pretty happy when we held on for the win. Actually, happy is the wrong word. I was so desperate for the Eagles not to lose that winning was actually more of a relief than anything else. The happiness set in on Monday, when I could just relax and enjoy the victory. Sunday night was no walk in the park.
We knew Dallas would play us tough. They had gone 3-1 in the last four weeks and I'm sure coach Jason Garrett made it clear to his guys how important beating the rival Eagles would be. Dallas played hard. They did some really good things in the game. Fortunately, the Eagles were a little sharper and a little better. The Cowboys are now guaranteed a losing record and we continue with our quest to win the NFC East.
The final 4:22 of the game was, to borrow a line from Andy Reid, a beautiful thing. We generally don't close out games well. We've done it here and there over the years, but that just isn't our strength. When we started the final drive at our 10-yard line I was nervous. I had confidence that we'd move the ball some, but certainly didn't anticipate what happened. Marty Mornhinweg made an interesting call and opened the possession with a pass to LeSean McCoy. It was a safe play that allowed us to get some yards, while also sending a signal to Dallas that they better think about the pass as well as the run. We never did pass again, but by opening the drive like that we at least planted the seed that we might.
Instead, we handed the ball to McCoy and he moved us right down the field. The offensive line came alive and blocked really well. Todd Herremans and Jason Peters especially had some key blocks on that drive. The hidden star of the series was rookie tight end Clay Harbor. We used an interesting alignment on those plays. Brent Celek was the tight end on the line. Harbor was a yard back, but between Celek and the offensive tackle. At the snap, Harbor would turn inside and go block the defensive end on the other side of the formation. You could call it a tight end trap play or some might consider it a "wham block." No matter the terminology, Harbor did a really good job of taking on defenders and sealing the hole so that McCoy had room up the middle.
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I love this for a couple of reasons. This was all by design. Think about it. The coaches knew this was the most important drive of the game. They went to a unique formation and called a play where a rookie role player is called on to make a key block, several times on an elite player (DeMarcus Ware). This had been practiced. Harbor had obviously shown the coaches he could not only execute the assignment, but do it well. The coaching staff made good use of our personnel by finding the right formation and right play to take advantage of something that Harbor does well.
The play also fits McCoy. He's not a downhill power runner that you want to just slam up the middle from the I-formation over and over. McCoy has very good vision and great lateral agility. Get him the ball and let him use those skills. McCoy had major holes to run through and made things look easy, but I do think part of that is because of his skill set. He can make a quick read and cut and get backside on a run play so smoothly that it looks seamless. McCoy had four carries for 50 yards on that drive. His shortest run was 6 yards. Great job by McCoy, the offensive line, and Harbor.
The other big offensive star of the night was DeSean Jackson. He caught four passes for 210 yards and a touchdown. Jackson was truly an impact player. He opened the game with a 60-yard catch that set up our first touchdown of the game. Jackson caught a pass on a crossing route and took it 37 yards in the second quarter. That set the offense up at the Dallas 2-yard line and led to our second touchdown of the night. Jackson saved his best for last. His final catch of the game came in the fourth quarter. He caught a short pass along the left sideline. Cornerback Mike Jenkins went for the ball and didn't get it so Jackson was off to the races and no one caught him. That play was a 91-yard touchdown pass.
We need Jackson to get touches for our offense to be at its best. Jackson was targeted on the opening play of the game. We wanted to get him off to a fast start. On our next offensive series, he got the ball on an end around. That was a good call. The play only got us a couple of yards, but it kept Jackson involved. We have to make sure defenses can't scheme him out of our attack. Jackson had eight throws come his way and carried the ball twice in the game.
Michael Vick had another good game. He wasn't able to make a lot happen with his legs, but he threw for 270 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Jackson got one and the other came on a goal line pass to Herremans, on a play where he was at tight end for us. That was a simple play, but Vick made a great touch throw. Herremans isn't used to catching the ball so you've got to get him the ball accurately and with touch. Vick did just that and the big guy made the grab. Vick made a couple of impressive throws to Jason Avant on important third downs. That combination moved the chains on a drive that resulted in a field goal. Vick did have a pair of interceptions. The first was due to a terrible decision. The other was a play where Vick did everything right, but Jeremy Maclin couldn't make a catch. Those plays will happen.
The defense was up and down, once again. They came up with stops at the right time and also a couple of interceptions. The big story is the injury to middle linebacker Stewart Bradley. He was playing well, making the injury all the more frustrating. Bradley was blitzing when he got cut blocked. As he fell, Bradley tried to brace his fall with his arm. It got twisted and he dislocated his elbow. Ouch, and then some.
In stepped rookie Jamar Chaney. The defense didn't seem to miss a beat. Chaney took over in the early second quarter and played well. According to the game book, he led the team in total tackles with seven. He tough on inside run plays. He tackled well. Chaney showed a nose for the ball. His pass defense needs some work, but that's more about experience than a lack of talent or skill. We saw bad middle linebacker play for much of the 2009 season. Chaney's performance on Sunday night was very calming. He'll have some ups and downs, but he immediately looked better than the guys we tried last year (Joe Mays, Akeem Jordan, Omar Gaither, Chris Gocong for a game, and the old version of Jeremiah Trotter). The bottom line - Chaney showed he can play.
There was another injury in the game. Rookie Brandon Graham tore his ACL and is done for the year. He didn't play a lot in the game. We focused our defense on stopping the run more in that game so Juqua Parker got the bulk of the snaps. The bad news for Graham is that this injury will carry over to next season. I was hoping he'd emerge as a force at left end next year, but that schedule just got altered. I wish him the best on his surgery, rehab and recovery.
Parker did have a good game for us. The game book shows him with a couple of tackles, but that hardly tells the story. Parker held the point of attack when Dallas tried to run in his direction. There were some plays when he moved his blocker backward and disrupted things. He got pressure on Jon Kitna a couple of times. We're going to need Parker to play like that for the rest of the year.
The run defense overall was very good. We gave up 110 yards, but Kitna ran for 27 yards and Miles Austin ran for 26. Dallas tailbacks had 20 carries for just 57 yards. The defensive tackles played well. Mike Patterson, Antonio Dixon, Brodrick Bunkley and Trevor Laws controlled the middle of the line. They got penetration and were disruptive at times. They ate up blocks so that Chaney and his linebackers could make tackles. The defensive tackles didn't make many big plays, but they did exactly what we needed. They shut down the Dallas run game.
Quintin Mikell had a terrific night. That might have been his best game of the year. He was credited with six solo tackles. Some of those were impressive. Mikell closed to the ball quickly so receivers couldn't get run-after-catch yards. He got Felix Jones down on a screen pass that had big potential. Mikell also picked off a pass. The ball was tipped by Austin and Mikell made a diving grab.
The young corners had a solid night. Dimitri Patterson had four solo tackles and picked off a pass. That pick led to a field goal that proved to be the margin of victory. He did have a couple of penalties. One canceled out a third-down stop and extended a drive. Trevard Lindley played the best game of his short NFL career. He didn't do anything spectacular, but he covered well and looked so much more confident than he has in past weeks. You can see that he's getting more comfortable each week.
The Eagles are now 9-4 and remain atop the NFC East. Beating Dallas was good (and something that we the fans needed), but the game of the year will be this Sunday. We have a showdown with the Giants that will go a long way to deciding who wins the division, as usual. It always seems that the end-of-the-year games between us, Dallas and New York decide the division race. Do you ever feel bad for Washington for being left out? Nah, me either.