ARLINGTON, Texas - Some thoughts after the Cowboys victory over the Eagles:
• On a night when head coach Jason Garrett's defense was less than perfect, his quarterback almost was. In the fourth quarter with the game on the line, Tony Romo was at his very best. The numbers will say that he was 5-for-5 throwing the ball with two touchdowns.
It was one of those performances for Romo where he was in total command of the situation and on each drive you could see the wheels turning in his head. The more that Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles tried to throw at him, the better he responded.
The pass to Dez Bryant with 5:40 left in the game that put the Cowboys ahead by four was vintage Romo. When the Eagles don't play press coverage on the outside, they really don't do a good job of handling the ball when it is thrown to their side as far as making an aggressive tackle. Romo knew this when cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was lined up across from Bryant. As soon as the ball went to the outside to Bryant, I knew that he was going to score, just because of the way these corners play. It was an outstanding read by Romo and a physical finish from Bryant.
• I wasn't surprised that the Cowboys were able to run the ball with better success, considering DeMarco Murray was back in the lineup. In studying the Eagles, they have had their struggles handling the run, so I knew that there was going to be a chance.
I don't believe that Murray was hurting coming into this game because my sources had told me that he looked outstanding in practice and Garrett even said as much in his postgame press conference. Was there rust or lack of game shape with Murray? Without a doubt, but for this offense it was a huge boost. It gave Garrett more balance and it allowed Romo to take some shots down the field with manageable down and distances.
The Cowboys run the ball differently now since Murray was last in the lineup against the Ravens. Sure, the type of defense that an opponent plays will usually dictate how they scheme, but regardless, you see more weak-side runs, traps and sweeps. Garrett is trying to help his line by angle blocking them and moving them. On Murray's touchdown run on the goal line, it was a nice pull by right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau that opened things up for Murray to get in.
With Murray in the backfield, there is that ability to not only attack holes but bounce plays as well. There will be some tougher defenses to run the ball against down the road, but getting Murray back not only helped the quarterback, but the play-caller as well.
• When right tackle Doug Free faced the Eagles last time, he had one of his better games, technique-wise, holding Philadelphia defensive end Jason Babin off the stat sheet. In this outing, Free had his hands full in the first half with defensive end Brandon Graham, who is a much different player than Babin.
I have always told you that when Free is bad, it's usually because he has problems when he plays against someone who uses power to speed, which is the type of player Graham is. When you play against the Eagles wide "9" defense, you have to be ready to face a rusher that is going to go hard up the field.
Where Free got in trouble in the first half is when he wasn't playing with a good enough angle to get to Graham. When he doesn't set your feet, the bull-rush is going to get him every time. Without watching the film, it appeared that Free did a much better job in the second half with his set, and by that I mean getting outside to Graham, but more importantly sitting down on him, which kept the pocket wide to that side and allowed Romo to work down the field.
I asked Garrett in the postgame press conference whether he thought about replacing Free in the second half. His answer was pretty simple: No, he didn't and his confidence was rewarded because Free did play better because his technique was better, which has been his biggest problem this season.
• Give a tip of the cap in this game on defense to a player you probably know very little about. When I left Valley Ranch on Friday night to head home, secondary coach Jerome Henderson had recently-signed Sterling Moore in his office, going through the game plan and trying to get him up to speed as quickly as possible. I thought there was no way Moore could be ready to help in this game at all, but with this team fighting for its playoff life, Moore was lining up at dime linebacker trying to get quarterback Nick Foles and this Eagles offense off the field.
I have always given defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and his staff a lot of credit for taking whatever players they have active and playing them in the game. Sometimes they have not had the best results, but in this case, Moore, with a little help from his teammates, was able to function, and from what I was able to see on the field, held up pretty well. What Moore's role will be going forward is still to be determined, but at least he was there when his number was called.