ARLINGTON, Texas – Everything that could go wrong, it seemed, went wrong for the Eagles on Sunday night at AT&T Stadium in a showdown for first place in the NFC East and, literally, from the very start of the game. Sixty minutes of dreary football ended with an Eagles loss, 37-10, with many questions to answer (see below) as Philadelphia lost its second consecutive game to fall to 3-4 with one more road trip, in Buffalo on Sunday afternoon, remaining in this three-game jaunt.
If this is a defining stretch for the Eagles in this 2019 season, they need to turn the narrative around quickly, because after a stinker a week earlier in Minnesota, things continued to trend in the wrong direction at Dallas.
"We just got embarrassed on national TV," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "That's just the truth. We got embarrassed and they kicked our (butts), if you want to know the truth."
Five plays after the Eagles won the coin toss and elected to put the offense on the field rather than defer – head coach Doug Pederson said all week he would do that to try to shake things up for an offense that has had trouble starting fast all season – tight end Dallas Goedert caught a Carson Wentz pass over the middle and had the ball jarred loose by linebacker Jaylon Smith, and Dallas recovered and took possession at the Philadelphia 45-yard line and scored six plays later as receiver Tavon Austin took a pitch from quarterback Dak Prescott and danced 20 yards for the score.
Dallas 7, Eagles 0.
"Obviously, it’s not an ideal way to start the game," Goedert said. "I put our team in a really tough situation, but it’s a part of football. Obviously, I don’t want to let that happen again. Maybe be a little bit more careful with the ball. He made a good play maybe. Maybe I was little careless, I don’t know.
"It’s pretty disappointing, obviously. You’re on prime time and we went out there and got our butts kicked. That’s pretty embarrassing. I guess we have two choices after this: We can go forward, grow as a team, use this as motivation, and I think that’s what we’re going to do. I’m over this game. I’m ready to go play next week.”
The misery was just starting.
On the Eagles’ next possession, Wentz was sacked and stripped of the football – his first fumble of the season – as defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence beat right tackle Lane Johnson (who had a tough night, allowing another tackle for loss and taking an illegal use of hands penalty). Dallas needed only two Ezekiel Elliott runs after taking over at the Philadelphia 14-yard line to go ahead, 14-0.
"I think I got off the ball a little bit sluggish and he ended up getting my edge and getting around me," Johnson said of the play.
A 28-yard Wentz touchdown pass to Goedert cut the deficit to 14-7, but it was only a temporary respite. The Eagles couldn’t get off the field on defense, failed to sustain drives offensively, and played poorly on special teams.
And now, at 3-4, where do the Eagles go? They’re certainly not out of the race in the NFC East, but Sunday’s trip to the 5-1 Bills is going to be anything but a picnic. The team that played Sunday night at Dallas is not even close to the team the Eagles thought they put together in the spring and summer, and while injuries have crippled a team that played without wide receiver DeSean Jackson, left tackle Jason Peters, running back Darren Sproles, defensive tackles Malik Jackson and Tim Jernigan, linebacker Nigel Bradham, and cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Avonte Maddox in the secondary, the Eagles just weren’t competitive with what they brought to Texas with a chance to take control of first place in the division on Sunday night.
Of particular concern in all three phases …
1. The offense just can’t get anything going down the field in the passing game.
Dallas pressured Wentz and collapsed the pocket regularly – Johnson wasn’t at his usual dominating level and Andre Dillard, making his first NFL start at left tackle, gave up too much room – and the wide receivers combined for just four receptions for 62 yards. Not only that, Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz was quiet again with just two receptions and 38 yards. The turnovers, of course, were killers. But the offense has taken a significant step backward without Jackson stretching the field, and while the Eagles took a few deep shots in the passing game, they’re scaring nobody. Defenses are smothering the underneath game with the lack of vertical explosiveness in the passing game. The Eagles lack dynamism throwing the football.
"The only thing we can do is continue to work and work harder," wide receiver Nelson Agholor said. "It's frustrating. We know we can play better than this, but you can only look at the results and we're not getting it done."
2. Staying with the offense, while the Eagles put up a touchdown in the first quarter, they also turned the ball over four times after giving it away three times in Minnesota. The giveaways this season have led to losses – the Eagles had three in Atlanta, two against Detroit, three in Minnesota, and four on Sunday night.
3. Defensively, there are major issues. The pass rush isn’t there – the Eagles aren’t winning many one-on-one battles and the coverage on the back end isn’t good enough and the combination is lethal. Dallas rang up 189 yards on the ground, averaging 5.3 yards per attempt, against a defense that entered the game ranked second in the NFL against the run, controlled the football for 32 minutes, 22 seconds and truly moved the ball at will, converting 8 of 14 third downs and converting the one time they went for it on fourth down. The defense had no answer for Prescott’s mobility, nor Elliott’s power running game. And when Prescott dropped back to pass, he generally had a clean pocket and time to find open receivers.
"We did a lousy job tackling and we didn't have good gap discipline," linebacker Nathan Gerry said. "We just played poorly out there. It was uncharacteristic and disappointing."
4. The special teams don’t escape the scrutiny, either. Miles Sanders made poor decisions on two kickoff returns, bringing them out of the end zone instead of taking a knee and giving the offense the football at the 25-yard line. On Sanders’ first return, which went to the 27-yard line, the Eagles were penalized for holding. On his second return, Sanders reached the 13-yard line. Rudy Ford committed an illegal block in the back penalty on a Boston Scott punt return, wiping out a 36-yard punt return.
All in all, it was the worst performance of the season. The Eagles have time to turn this season around, and it has to start in Buffalo. Reaching the midway point of the season at 4-4 would be a considerable step forward. Certainly, though, the Eagles aren’t going to get there if they play the way they played in Dallas when nothing went right from the very start of the game until the end. It was ugly, embarrassing, and humbling.
And now it’s in the rear-view mirror. The Eagles have to find some way to rebound, starting immediately.
"It's kill or be killed in this league," Johnson said. "We need to come back from this."