The Eagles lost a heartbreaker on Monday night in a classic showdown with the Dallas Cowboys. That was as good a regular season game as you will see. While the loss was tough to take, there was plenty to be happy about. Anyone who had doubts about the win over the Rams meant quickly saw that the 2008 Eagles are for real.
I mentioned last week that some people wanted to compare the opening win over St. Louis to last year's victory against the Detroit Lions. After beating the Lions 56-21, the Eagles went on the road to play an NFC East team. You may recall that game. Winston Justice started at left tackle. The Giants had 12 sacks and the Eagles lost 16-3.
This time around the Eagles responded to a dominant 35-point win by going on the road in the division and playing very well. Dallas did win, 41-37, but the Eagles showed that they are going to be a force to be reckoned with. Donovan McNabb and the explosive offense are back. The offense is second in the NFL in points and third in total yards. This unit looks primed to have a great year. I'm sure there will be games where they struggle. That happens to the best teams. Even the Patriots' juggernaut offense had some weak showings last year. The Eagles have scored 75 points so far this year. The last time they had consecutive games with 35 or more points was early in the 2002 season.
The defense did not fare so well against Dallas. They struggled big time. In the first half, the Cowboys beat us with their wide receivers. Terrell Owens had a pair of touchdowns, including a 72-yard bomb. He had another long play called back by a holding penalty. The defense contained tight end Jason Witten until the final seconds of the half when Tony Romo hit him for a 42-yard strike to set up a field goal.
Jim Johnson and the defense adjusted. Owens didn't catch a pass in the second half. Unfortunately, Dallas adjusted as well. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett had Romo throw more to the backs and tight ends. That group had nine catches in the second half. None of them were huge plays, but they kept the chains moving. That was a huge factor in the game. The Eagles offense couldn't score when sitting on the bench watching Romo and company move the ball.
In the first half, the Eagles ran a total of 36 offensive plays to the Cowboys' 22. In the second half, the Cowboys ran 32 offensive plays to the Eagles' 28. And remember that seven of the Eagles plays came on the final drive of the game.
Jim Johnson went with a rather conservative scheme, much to my dismay. I think his goal was to rush four and keep seven guys back in coverage, hoping to limit big plays. That clearly wasn't working at halftime and Johnson did get more aggressive after the intermission. Still, he never attacked on a regular basis. It was frustrating to watch Romo drop back and have time to read the defense and get the ball out. He felt some pressure, but not nearly enough and not with any consistency.
The only defensive lineman who played well was Trent Cole. He didn't get a sack, but did draw a pair of holding calls. He got into the backfield on a regular basis, but the lack of pressure from the other three spots allowed Romo to simply move up in the pocket and get his pass off.
Don't hit the panic button, Eagles fans. The Cowboys had a great offense in 2007 and are off to a great start this year. Having trouble with them is nothing to be ashamed of. The Eagles defense is very talented. They will be an above average group. I think they should be one of the best defenses in the league, but after Monday there is pressure on them to prove that game was an aberration. Right now, they have a dominant showing (Rams) and a poor showing (Dallas). The truth is somewhere in the middle, hopefully closer to the Rams game.
I want to single out a couple of individual for good games. Rookie receiver DeSean Jackson had his second straight 100-yard game, finishing with six catches for 110 yards. That has only been done by one other player in NFL history, former Eagle Don Looney. The Eagles threw eight passes to Jackson on Monday. He caught the six and the other two were drops. That tells you they are using him smartly. Jackson is being used in a role he can handle. He's getting open and when that happens McNabb is getting him the ball. One of the drops was costly. It stalled a drive deep in Dallas territory. Had he caught the ball, the offense would have been inside the 10-yard line.
I think most people know about Jackson's blunder on Monday night. He caught a bomb from McNabb and just before he crossed the goal line dropped the ball while trying to showboat. Instead of a 61-yard touchdown pass, the ball was at the one-yard line. Luckily Westbrook went over the top for the score and ""all's well that ends well."" Big mistake, but it didn't cost us. As maddening as the play was, I don't think the coaches even needed to yell at Jackson. Simply walk up, look him in the eye, and say ""Never again."" Jackson will catch grief from every person he knows or sees for the next year. I don't think we'll ever see him do anything like that again.
One player on defense who did stand out was safety Quintin Mikell. He had five tackles and broke up a pass to Witten. Mikell was aggressive against the run and came up quickly to help shut down Marion Barber. The Eagles might have been burned by the passing attack, but Barber never got going on the ground. He finished with 18 carries for 63 yards, not a good game. Take away his long run of 19 yards and you can see that the Eagles really bottled him up most of the game. Mikell had one terrific play in stopping the run. The Cowboys ran to their right. They pulled a couple of linemen. Mikell came up flying and took out the right tackle. Barber had to jump over the lineman and several defenders got to him for no gain. You love to see a safety who will take out a 330-pound lineman.
• The 2-0 Steelers travel across the state to play the Eagles on Sunday. This will be another tough matchup for the Eagles. Pittsburgh has a lot of weapons on offense and they have a stout defense.
• The Eagles have the number one run defense in the NFL. That ranking will be put to the test by the Steelers. They annually have one of the best running attacks in the league. Willie Parker has run for more than 100 yards in each of the first two games of the year. He's speedier than the other two backs the Eagles have faced.
• Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may or may not have a bum shoulder, depending on what you read and who you believe. He's only thrown 33 passes so far this year, but has been incredibly efficient. Roethlisberger has completed 76 percent of his throws, has three touchdowns and has a rating of 136. Not too bad for a guy who doesn't get to throw the ball much.
• The Steelers run the 3-4 defense. Facing Dallas was good preparation in that sense. Pittsburgh is the best zone blitzing team in the league. That will be a challenge for the offensive linemen and McNabb. You have to figure out who is coming and from where on just about every snap.
• The last time the Eagles and Steelers met was 2004. Pittsburgh physically dominated the game and won 27-3. I don't expect anything close to that this time around. The Eagles are bigger and more physical on defense. The offensive line is much better. I can't guarantee a win, but I can tell you that the Steelers won't come to Lincoln Financial Field and just push the Eagles around. That won't happen.
• This game will give the Eagles another chance to show how they stack up against the best teams in the league. Against Dallas, the Eagles played well and lost. Hopefully Sunday will be a good showing and a win.