IRVING, Texas – A few big impressions from my breakdown of the Cowboys' game tape of Sunday night's 38-27 win against Philadelphia.
- If the Cowboys were going to leave Philadelphia with a victory, it was going to have to be on the strength of their offensive line and how well they could handle the Eagles front seven – which they managed to do, for the most part.
The players that I was the most concerned about were Fletcher Cox, Connor Barwin and Mychal Kendricks. Going through the tape, Barwin paced the defense in tackles and he had a sack, but he registered that against James Hanna in max protection -- when Hanna allowed him to get inside of him.
As for Cox and Kendricks, they combined for five stops and were nowhere as effective as they were two weeks ago. There were several snaps where the offensive line was winning the battles one-on-one with these Eagle defenders. I thought Tyron Smith played the best he has all season. Travis Frederick was outstanding anchoring the middle with Ronald Leary, and Jeremy Parnell was much better filling in for Doug Free than I thought he appeared from my seat in the press box.
I have to give a special tip of the cap to Zack Martin and how he managed to preform -- playing on just one leg. Before his ankle injury, he was a dominant player in all areas of this game. After the injury, it was clear that he was robbed of his mobility and power. Through all of that, he managed to continue to play at a high level -- which is credit to his toughness and will to finish this game.
- As well as this team runs the ball on offense, they are going to be forced to play more "11" personnel to continue to have success. There were several situations where they faced eight and nine men in the box and still attempted the run the ball. DeMarco Murray is good, but he is not the type of back -- and I mean this as not a slam at his ability, but he doesn't have the quickness or burst to consistently avoid that extra man put there to stop him.
It is different with Joseph Randle and even Lance Dunbar, but it is just reality with Murray. Scott Linehan has the ability to make teams pay for stacking the box against him by using Cole Beasley the way he has. If teams want to play with a safety down, are they willing to take a chance with one-on-one down the field against Dez Bryant? Because we all saw what happens with that.
Be prepared to see this Cowboys offense spread these defenses out and give Murray a better chance at success.
- There is no one in the Dallas media that has been more critical of the Cowboys secondary than me, but with that criticism comes the opportunity to prove me wrong.
On Sunday night, they did exactly that. Across the board I did not have one bit of confidence that this group would be able to hold these Eagles receivers in check after what I observed two weeks ago, but when Bruce Carter intercepted that final Mark Sanchez pass they had done just that.
Sure there was the gamble that Brandon Carr took on third down against Jeremy Maclin in zone coverage, mind you, and the Josh Huff reception that went for 44 yards and had three missed tackles along the way. But other than those plays, this secondary was on their game.
It was to the point where their coverage actually helped Jeremy Mincey and Tyrone Crawford get home for two sacks -- each due to how well these Eagles receivers were taken care of. As a unit, they made this game difficult for Sanchez. He didn't have the windows to throw the ball like he did two weeks ago, and when you force him to have to make those contested throws he tends to make mistakes, which he did.
- It might have been usual when, during the Eagles' first punt of the game, Dwayne Harris came forward to pick up Josh Huff on the outside when he appeared to be uncovered.
It was a smart play by Harris -- not only to protect against the possible fake by Donnie Jones throwing the ball, but it more importantly opened up the real possibility of a blocked punt from the left inside from J.J. Wilcox. When the Eagles snapped the ball, they only had four men, including snapper Jon Dorenbos, to block five rushers. There was such a push by Orlando Scandrick, Jeff Heath, Crawford and Cameron Lawrence that Wilcox had a free run at Jones.
What made the rush potentially more successful is that the ball was snapped to the side, in which Wilcox was coming on the rush. If Wilcox doesn't stumble on his first step, he was going to be on Jones before he had a chance to punt the ball.
Instead, he arrived just a tick late -- which allowed Jones to hit a punt that landed at the Cowboys' 34 and rolled another 22 yards before it is touched down. It was a heck of a punt by Jones, but it could have also been another huge special teams play by the Cowboys if Wilcox could have just kept his balance.