FRISCO, Texas – It's probably not a game you'll be in a hurry to re-watch, but the Cowboys' loss to the Eagles was the last time we'll see them in action before the playoffs start.
From that standpoint, it's worth a second look – to see who struggled and who succeeded, not to mention how the younger players fared in some extended action. And even with the number of players sitting out, the Cowboys still played the majority of their roster – giving us a solid look at the depth of the pass rush and the secondary.
Heading into the postseason, here's a quick look back at some of the positives and negatives from the regular season finale:
- Line judge Kevin Codey cut Jason Garrett a huge break on the 3rd-and-11 pass from Tony Romo to Terrance Williams. Garrett ran down the sideline in an effort to get Codey's attention to call a time out and actually ended up in front of him on the field as the ball was being snapped. Codey calmly moved around Garrett and begin tracking the play as Garrett worked himself off the field. The play resulted in a first down with outstanding protection from the offensive line and a well-executed route by Williams, coming back for the ball to avoid linebacker Jordan Hicks, who was looking to deliver a hit to separate him from the ball.
- One of the best traits about this defense is their ability to defend in the red zone. The Eagles tried to get creative with a play to flood the zone with five receivers off reverse motion from Darren Sproles. As the receivers scrambled in the end zone for position, the secondary went right with them. Carson Wentz booted to his right, and, as he worked his way to the outside, Jack Crawford took a hard inside charge to beat Zach Ertz up the field. Crawford wasn't fooled at all and forced Wentz to have to duck, which took his eyes from down the field. Wentz was off balance and had no choice but to flip the ball to Trey Burton, who was swarmed under by Randy Gregory and Richard Ash coming from the inside.
- It's not often that we think of Cole Beasley as a downfield threat, but the catch he pulled off by splitting Jalen Mills and Malcolm Jenkins will make you feel differently about him. Mark Sanchez had a chance to hit a wide open Gavin Escobar across the middle for the first down, but he instead he took the shot to Beasley. He couldn't have thrown a better pass, as Beasley never had to break stride to haul it in.
- As impressive as Zach Ertz was in this game, he did most of his damage against off or zone coverage, where he found spots in the zone and sat down. To his credit, he did have the two touchdown receptions where he was working against Andrew Gachkar and Byron Jones. The coverage was tighter there, and he made outstanding plays. What was surprising from my film study was that the defensive game plan allowed him the space to operate. I thought we would have seen more snaps where Jones would have carried him more like he did on the ball thrown by Wentz in the corner of the end zone. Jones was in perfect shape to knock the pass away.
- Big miss by Mark Sanchez and the offense in the third quarter, sitting on the Eagles' 5-yard line with the game tied. Doug Free was beaten badly off the snap by Brandon Graham, who was in Sanchez's face before he had time to react. Somehow Sanchez did manage to spin out of the sack, but that move got him rolling to his left. He saw Lance Dunbar open in the flat to that side. Dunbar had turned to receive the ball to the outside, but Sanchez delivered the ball to the inside and Dunbar was forced to try to adjust – and the ball glanced off his hand. If Sanchez had gotten the ball to the outside, Dunbar would have gotten the first down and the drive would have continued. Instead, the drive stalled and Dan Bailey had to come in and kick the field goal. As a side note, this was the point of the game where Free started to struggle with Graham.
- The Cowboys continue to do a nice job of playing in their dime package. They made it hard on Carson Wentz with this "Clog & Cover" approach. David Irving, Maliek Collins and Benson Mayowa have been getting pressure due to the way that the secondary has been able to pick up receivers and tight ends down the field. Damien Wilson was a nice addition this week to the scheme with his ability to play as a spy on Wentz. When the rookie quarterback tried to move around in the pocket to buy time, Wilson was right there to force him to have to make a decision with the ball, and that benefited the defense. His closing speed is a real asset in these types of situations.
- David Irving continues to make impressive plays when given the opportunity. Irving wasn't able to generate the pass rush that we had seen him have the previous two weeks, but he was finding other ways to help the defense. Irving, lining up at end, made a really nice play on a 3rd-and-5 where Doug Pederson tried to pop a nickel run with Darren Sproles. Irving was able to fight through a double team block of Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks to get up the field and trap Sproles for a four-yard loss, forcing the Eagles to punt.
- The Eagles receivers had a difficult time getting away from these Cowboys cornerbacks. I thought that when he was in there, Brandon Carr played exceptionally well. There was one play in particular where the Eagles were facing a 3rd-and-10 on the Cowboys' 35-yard line. Carr lined up wide on Dorial Green-Beckham and just ate him up. Green-Beckham tried to spin him but Carr flipped his hips inside, then quickly back to the outside, driving to maintain position on the out to limit the window for Wentz to deliver the ball.
- Give an assist to Leon McFadden, Anthony Brown and Mark Nzeocha for helping Randy Gregory grab his first career sack. If not for their lockdown coverage, Wentz doesn't hold the ball, allowing Gregory to get off the ground after being cut by Jason Peters. Gregory showed tremendous effort along with an explosive close to make that play happen. Wentz had no chance to escape once Gregory got to him.
- The one bright spot in the running game came from Darren McFadden on a nifty 24-yard cutback with some outstanding blocking on the backside. McFadden wanted to take the ball to his right, which is the weak side, but Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham were jamming things up. With vision, McFadden planted his right foot in the ground, angling back to his left. With blocks from Emmett Cleary, Jason Witten and Keith Smith, he was able to get around the corner. McFadden got one more block down the field from Brice Butler that got him outside the numbers. It was the second-longest play of the game for an offense that really lacked any type of explosive ones.
- When the Cowboys are in punt formation, Chris Jones' heels are 14 yards away from the line of scrimmage. On the blocked punt, he was only 12 yards deep due to Mark Sanchez taking a 19-yard sack, which carried the ball inside the two-yard line. Steven Means did a nice job of working around Damien Wilson and then going up vertically on Jeff Heath to get his right hand on the ball for the block.
- I didn't need one series from Tony Romo to tell me what I already ready knew, but I am happy that he had the success he did. With that being said, you should feel great about the quarterback situation going into the playoffs with both Dak Prescott and Tony Romo.