*FRISCO, Texas – *Having watched that full performance from our studios here at The Star, here are my early impressions from the Cowboys’ 37-9 loss to Philadelphia.
I’ll have more information when I’ve had a chance to study the tape, because there’s a lot to unpack from a breakdown like this. But for the time being, here are some of the standout moments from an ugly night at AT&T Stadium:
- I never thought I would see a game against the Eagles where Jason Witten would only catch one ball. I understand that Witten had to help with the pass protection, but I am positive that there were other opportunities where he could have been more of a part of the game plan -- especially on early downs. Witten is great working underneath, just chipping away on defenses and picking up first downs.
- I have to admit that I really didn’t know what to expect from Byron Bell. It appeared that the rookie Derek Barnett gave him more problems than Vinny Curry, who is the Eagles’ starter at right end. Barnett was able to get around Bell and get to Dak Prescott on his initial interception. I was worried that the Eagles were going to flip Brandon Graham to his side and really create some problems. Bell did get some assistance throughout the game from tight ends and running backs, but there were also snaps where he was left to do the job on his own.
- Dak Prescott admitted that the interception down the middle of the field to Dez Bryant was a throw he should not have made. I believe that, initially, Prescott wanted to hit Rod Smith in the flat, which would have likely been about a seven to eight-yard gain. Instead, he took the shot to Bryant with Derek Barnett bearing down on him. If Prescott would have stayed more in the center of the pocket, he might have had a chance. But he drifted toward Barnett, who delivered a solid blow to him as the ball was leaving his hand.
- I think if Dak Prescott had to do it over on the “zero” coverage blitz, he would have tried to throw the ball in the middle of the field to Cole Beasley instead of trying to hit Dez Bryant on the outside. Prescott didn’t have much time to begin with and was forced to try and throw it off his back foot. Prescott knew that Mychal Kendricks was a free rusher and even moved to his right away from him but just wasn’t accurate with his throw.
- Unreal the number of times that the rush forced Carson Wentz to have to scramble and couldn’t bring him to the ground. There is no question of Wentz’s athletic ability and strength, but to allow him to buy a second and sometime third chance to deliver the ball was back-breaking for this defense. Just a poor job all around allowing him to flourish when they had the chance to finish the play.
- How strong is Fletcher Cox? Early in the game, Dak Prescott tried to fit a ball to Dez Bryant between Rodney McLeod and Jalen Mills. As he was winding up to throw, Cox had driven Travis Frederick into his ribs, causing the ball to take a strange flight toward Bryant. Even if Bryant was able to adjust to the ball, I am afraid that Mills would have knocked Bryant out of bounds before he got his second foot down.
- On the Jay Ajayi 71-yard run, give credit to Jason Kelce and Halapoulivaati Vaitai for some outstanding blocks on Anthony Hitchens and Jaylon Smith. Brandon Brooks was able to drive Richard Ash inside, which created the gap that Ajayi needed to get to the second level. I initially thought it was a poor run fit by Byron Jones, but he was responsible for the outside edge. If there was a defender that took a poor angle on the play, it was Xavier Woods -- who didn’t see Ajayi make the cutback.
- The Eagles found a scheme to neutralize David Irving just by trapping him. There were snaps where they didn’t even block him. That was the case on the 30-yard run by Legarrette Blount. Brandon Brooks flashed at him, while Lane Johnson avoided him, causing him to go to the ground. Stefen Wisniewski didn’t have to take him and that allowed him to go all the way to the outside to get a piece of DeMarcus Lawrence. Justin Durant and Jaylon Smith were caught to the inside and Blount was off to the races.
- Kavon Frazier is a fine special teams player, but his hesitation at safety cost him a chance to make a play on the ball when Carson Wentz threw to Alshon Jeffery for a touchdown. Instead of driving on the ball inside, Frazier got caught flat-footed as Jeffery made his break. Jourdan Lewis could have used his help in order to make it a contested ball that Jeffery juggled but no one was there to knock it away.
- Sometimes as a play caller, you just get lucky. Doug Pederson’s call of the throwback to Brent Celek on third down was one of those plays. Anthony Brown came on a corner blitz off the backside of Carson Wentz as he rolled to his left. That left Byron Jones to have to pick up Torey Smith streaking through the middle of the field. Anthony Hitchens lost Celek as he sneaked out the backdoor. If Brown hadn’t blitzed and stayed with Smith, Jones would have likely been right there to make the play on the ball. Instead the play went for 28 yards to keep the drive going.
- We all didn’t understand the third down call by Scott Lienhan when he motioned Cole Beasley into the backfield and then had Prescott hand the ball inside to Rod Smith. It was the same call that the Cowboys ran last week against the Falcons, but Prescott kept for a first down. The Eagles actually had the play defensed well with Rodney McLeod taking Prescott and Patrick Robinson running with Beasley. Travis Frederick and Jonathan Cooper got no movement at the point of attack on Timmy Jerrigan and Chris Long did a great job of chasing the play from the backside.
- I understand what Dak Prescott saw on his final pass of the game, which was intercepted by Malcolm Jenkins. When he broke the pocket to his right, he saw Brice Butler break to the inside and thought that he was going to continue in that direction. If Butler had maintained that path, the ball would have been right on his chest. Instead he curled to the outside thinking that Prescott was going to keep running but instead he let the ball fly and Jenkins was right there to make the play.