We have to look back and talk about Sunday's disaster, at least a little bit. Dallas kicked our butt. We all saw that. The important thing is to try and understand why. Any time you get shut out you must start with the offense.
A lot of fans are upset with the lack of a running game. That certainly was a factor. It wasn't the key to our problems. We simply didn't execute well. The passing game has three primary components. The offensive line must provide protection for the quarterback. The receivers must get open and catch the ball when it comes their way. The quarterback must be on time and on target with his throws. Anyone who has watched the Eagles this year has seen plenty of success in these areas. Not on Sunday, though.
We had multiple receivers drop passes. The most costly was a short pass to Brent Celek on a third-and-2 in Dallas territory. That drop set up the long field goal attempt that went awry. Blocking was mostly good in the first half. There was one badly missed block where a blitzer came free. There was miscommunication between Winston Justice and Leonard Weaver. They took the same rusher to the inside and let a defender come free off the edge and get to Donovan McNabb.
Good quarterback play could have covered some of the mistakes, but McNabb didn't have his best game. There were some good plays. He made good throws to Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson on crossing routes. Both of those plays went for more than 30 yards. The best play came on a third down when McNabb scrambled to his right and then found Celek open for a big gain.
Unfortunately, the missed plays really hurt. The biggest misfire was on a deep ball to Jackson. He was wide open behind the defense and McNabb had a clean pocket. McNabb simply overthrew Jackson. That cost us seven points. McNabb missed a throw to Maclin over the middle on a third down in Dallas territory. That would have moved the chains and Maclin had lots of room to run. We would have been in safe field goal range with that gain.
The design of the passing game worked. Plays were there to be had. Remember the game Whack-A-Mole? That was our passing game on Sunday. We'd solve one problem and then another would arise. We'd solve that and something else would pop up. We just couldn't quite get everything working at the same time. Things got out of hand in the second half. We were totally one-dimensional and the Dallas pass rush took advantage of that.
The defense also had a rough day. My biggest disappointment was the lack of pressure on Tony Romo. Sean McDermott called a conservative game, especially in the first half. That can work if the players win individual battles. Dallas won the line of scrimmage virtually the entire game. They have a good offensive line, but our pass rushers still should have won more battles. We're the Philadelphia Eagles. We get to the quarterback. That's been true for a long time. From Dennis Harrison to Greg Brown to Reggie White to Clyde Simmons to Andy Harmon to William Fuller to Hugh Douglas to Trent Cole. We punish quarterbacks. That didn't happen Sunday and it killed us.
The run defense also had some problems. Akeem Jordan started the game at middle linebacker and really struggled. He was over-aggressive and took some poor angles. Jeremiah Trotter took over in the second half and had a good showing. He has some coverage issues, but Trotter brought a lot of energy and attitude to the defense. I was very encouraged by this.
The offense seemed more and more down as the game moved along. The defense got better and played with some attitude, even when it was clear that Dallas would win. That showed me some pride. You know the old saying that it is OK to get knocked down as long as you get up. That was our defense on Sunday. They had a terrible first half, but then came out and did something about it. Romo got sacked a couple of times and hit a couple others. The Cowboys running game delivered one big play, but was kept under control for the most part in the second half.
Emotion and intensity can be important on defense. A linebacker who is playing all out might just fight off a block and get to the ball carrier. Effort goes a long way on that side of the ball. Offense is all about skill and execution. Seeing the defense play with passion even in a bad situation was a good thing.
The loss ended a six-game winning streak. The first win in the streak was at Chicago, but I think it really began in the fourth quarter of the loss at San Diego. We trailed 28-9 and the team really came alive. It was too little too late, but the offense got into a groove and that carried over throughout the win streak.
Could we have a similar situation with the defense coming out of Sunday's loss? I think it is definitely possible. I'm not projecting them to get into some awesome groove and start playing at an elite level. I do think the guys have shown us some good stretches of play recently, but they just haven't been able to stay at a high level. Something like the embarrassment of the first half could be the catalyst the players needed. I've re-watched parts of the second half and the defense looked completely different. The only personnel change was to substitute Trotter for Jordan, but the group played like a whole new set of players. Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom before you can get going in the right direction. Let's hope that happens with our defense.
One of the few bright spots to the whole situation is that we get a chance for revenge this weekend. We go right back to Dallas on Saturday night. In some ways it will feel like we're returning to the scene of the crime. The Cowboys did steal the division title and No. 2 seed from us.
The immediate question is this – can we win? Yes, of course. The offense needs to eliminate some mistakes and take advantage of plays when the chances present themselves. We don't need to make any personnel changes. I know some fans were curious about how the revised offensive line played. Nick Cole had one low snap that hurt us, but had an OK game. Max Jean-Gilles got sloppy after halftime and was called for a couple of penalties. The overall play of the two guys was OK. Take away the mistakes and the duo had solid games. Not perfect, but good enough.
Obviously, we need to run the ball more. We only had eight called run plays on Sunday. No matter how you slice it, that isn't enough. We need to give our line a chance to fire off the ball and go attack the Cowboys. We also need to get touches for our running backs. We might add Michael Vick back to the offense this week. That could be helpful in short-yardage situations and should we get inside the red zone.
I am curious to see if McDermott makes any changes on defense. He's tweaked the lineup several times this year, trying to find the right combination. Trotter could start in the middle. I would like to see Victor Abiamiri get some snaps at left defensive end to help out with our run defense. There aren't any drastic changes to make. We'll win or lose with the basic set-up from last week, but subtle changes can be helpful.
One thing that killed us was poor field position. Our first nine drives started at or inside our own 20-yard line. Quintin Demps wasn't able to play. Not having him hurt our kickoff return game. If he's back on Saturday, that could offer a boost to our returns. Demps has the speed and skills to go deliver a long return. Think about the importance of field position. If you start at the 20 you need to gain almost 50 yards to get into reasonable field goal range. Start at the 40 or so and you are one good pass play away from being in scoring territory.
I know we were all disappointed by the terrible showing on Sunday. You can bet that the players and coaches will come out with extra motivation to wipe away that embarrassing performance. That doesn't guarantee we'll win, but it sure doesn't hurt. I will guarantee you that we won't get shut out and that McDermott will be more aggressive with the defense. Dallas will get our best shot.