IRVING, Texas – Having spent my Friday with the tape of the Cowboys' loss to Philadelphia, here are some of my biggest observations about where this all went wrong for Dallas.
- In my post game thoughts from Thursday, I wrote that I wasn't willing to make any excuses in the way Tony Romo quarterbacked this team against the Eagles. Even after studying the film I have not changed my thoughts one bit.
Short week or not, Romo was ready to play, period. These coaches and trainers managed him in a way where he was able to get rest and have him in the best possible shape to win this game, but it didn't happen. The difference in this game was how the Eagles played him, and the film showed that.
They snuffed his running game, mixed coverages on his receivers and pressured him into making throws with little or no margin for error. Those holes in the running game that we had seen all season were filled by Fletcher Cox. When Dez Bryant tried to run that crossing route underneath on third down, there was safety Nate Allen sitting right there waiting for him. When Lance Dunbar was trying to run his "Texas" route inside like he did against Seattle, there was linebacker Casey Matthews grabbing him before he even had a chance to make his break.
There is no question that Romo was not at his best with the throws that he missed in this game, but this Eagles defense had a big hand -- more than some excuse of lack of rest.
- When you play a team that has as many offensively skilled players as the Eagles do, the last thing you can afford on defense is scheme mistakes. One of the best examples of this was when Jermey Maclin took a 2nd-and-19 pass from his own 22-yard line and went 58 yards to the Dallas 20-yard line.
From my seat in the press box, I saw Brandon Carr sink in coverage, which meant that Barry Church had to pick Maclin up on the sideline. I initially thought it might have been on Church, but watching the play and listening to Jason Garrett's description on where the break down was, Carr also had a hand in the missed coverage.
The defensive call was Cover 2, and Darren Sproles was lined up inside in the slot with Maclin on the outside. When Carr reacted to Sproles coming off the ball, Church went straight back in coverage, instead of getting width to the sideline – it left a hole for Maclin to operate.
It was nice recognition by Mark Sanchez to make the throw, but Maclin's run after catch was even better. He went across the entire field and when he avoided J.J. Wilcox's tackle in the middle of the field there was little doubt it was going to be a huge play.
- I will be the first to admit here that I did not give the Philadelphia secondary any credit before this matchup when I broke them down. I was convinced that Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams, Nate Allen and Malcolm Jenkins would not be able to match up with these Cowboys receivers and tight ends.
That was a mistake on my part, and I will not overlook them when these two teams meet again in two weeks. This Eagles secondary allowed little to no space, and when they had to deny the ball, they were in position to make windows tight for Romo to have to make throws in. They also did a nice job of tackling when they had to, which is an area where they have had their issues in previous games.
As a unit, they took the fight to their opponents and for that reason they were able to have the success they did on defense.
- The best pass rusher on this Eagles defense is Connor Barwin, but he was not nearly the factor I believed he would have been. This Cowboys offensive line and running backs did a nice job of handling his rush the entire game.
What hurt the Cowboys was the pressure that the Eagles were able to generate from their defensive line -- which was surprising. Coming into the game, other than Vinny Curry and his 6.5 sacks, the rush from Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton was limited to say the least. If the Cowboys were going to have problems, I thought it was going to be with Barwin, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham and not this defensive line -- but that wasn't the case at all.
As a unit they did an outstanding job of getting up the field with power and quickness, which put a great deal of stress on this offense to have to block them which they struggled with the majority of the afternoon.