FRISCO, Texas – From my vantage point inside our studio at The Star, here are my first impressions from that overtime thriller against Philly.
As always, I’ll have a more detailed analysis when I can watch the game back, but here’s what I saw right away during that crucial division win.
· On the game-winner to Amari Cooper: what a tremendous block by Ezekiel Elliott to give Dak Prescott just a split second more time in order to get the ball to Cooper. If Elliott doesn’t pick up Malcolm Jenkins blitzing through the “A” gap, then he’s right on top of Prescott -- maybe even knocking the ball out of his hand. Prescott was able to account for Nigel Bradham on the other side, because he was right in his line of sight. Thus, he was able to get the ball over him.
· By my count, of the balls that to Zach Ertz, the Cowboys were in zone coverage on three of those snaps. Jeff Heath had him for three snaps while Byron Jones and Anthony Brown took him one snap each. One of the biggest concerns I had going into this game was how Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard were going to treat him. When I sit down and study the tape, I’ll get a better understanding of how they played him the entire game. My gut feeling was that Byron Jones might have been the primary guy.
· Dak Prescott just took a slight peek in the direction of Michael Gallup before loading up and delivering the deep ball to Amari Cooper for the 75-yard touchdown down the right sideline. It was just long enough to hold Corey Graham in place to allow Cooper to separate. Cooper never lost sight of the ball and was able to adjust back to the inside to track it down.
· Talk about being prepared for a play. The Eagles faced a third and short and went to a play that they ran for a two-point conversion against the Redskins on Monday night with success. It was the option with Carson Wentz coming to the right. What was interesting about this play was the Eagles ran it to the short side of the field, not giving themselves much room to work with. DeMarcus Lawrence destroyed Lane Johnson and took Wentz while Jeff Heath went with Josh Adams to take the pitch away. It was textbook assignment football that allowed the defense to get off the field.
· What a great start to the game for Blake Jarwin with the adjusting reception that he was able to make coming across the field to convert an early third down The ball by Dak Prescott was thrown in a terrible spot, but Jarwin was able to slow the ball down with his left hand and then turn his body around in order to bring the pass in. The reception spun him completely around as he was able to maintain his balance the entire time.
· What an effort by Tyrone Crawford to end up on the ground, crawl two yards, then lunge into Carson Wentz to knock the ball out of his hands and record a sack. Crawford was running a twist game with Randy Gregory that totally put Jason Peters off balance. Peters had no chance but to knock Crawford to the ground -- but somehow he had the awareness to keep moving in toward Wentz, where he was able to finish him off for a key turnover in the game.
· I have always loved the call from Scott Linehan to fake the toss going one way and then throw the ball coming back the opposite way with a two-level read for Dak Prescott. The design of the play works not only because the fake toss, but also because one tight end can run the route while the other secures the edge. Prescott could have hit Noah Brown underneath, but instead he went down the field to Dalton Schultz -- who easily made the reception in front of Corey Graham.
· Anthony Brown should have had a pick-six if he just had read Carson Wentz better instead of playing Zach Ertz down in the red zone. Brown and Byron Jones did a superb job of exchanging responsibilities at the snap. Jones took Alshon Jeffery, while Brown picked up Ertz when the two offensive players crossed. Brown mirrored Ertz and was in tremendous position to defend the play, but if he could have just had his eyes inside he would have had a huge play. Instead, the Eagles were forced to kick a field goal.
· Nifty design of the counter out of “21” personnel, where Jamize Olawale set up right behind Zack Martin and went inside on his block like they were going to run a trap. Just that simple movement influenced the Eagles’ linebackers, as both of them stepped up and allowed Xavier Su’a-Filo and Zack Martin to pull to the outside. Both Su’a-Filo and Martin were able to get blocks to get Ezekiel Elliott around the corner. Rico Gathers tried to late adjust to pick up Kamu Grugier-Hill, but he just couldn’t make it or the play would have gone for a bigger gain.
· Coming into this matchup, I really thought the Eagles would have attacked Chidobe Awuzie more than they did. To Awuzie’s credit, the 3rd-and-short play where he avoided the pick by Nelson Agholor and fought Alshon Jeffery to the inside was an impressive play. Awuzie was glued to Jeffery’s hip and then when the ball came inside, he took his right hand and managed to put it in between Jeffery’s to knock the ball away. Jason Garrett said that Awuzie needed to attack the ball more aggressively and he was able to do just that.
· Ezekiel Elliott was one missed tackle from having a chance at an 82-yard touchdown run. The Eagles had seven in the box and the Cowboys accounted for six of them, leaving Michael Bennett unblocked because they knew he wasn’t going to be a factor in the play. La’el Collins was able to wash Fletcher Cox down to the inside and Dalton Schultz was able to cut Malcolm Jenkins off from the play. This resulted in a huge hole for Elliott once he made the cut. Elliott tried to set up Corey Graham by running straight up the field and at the last possible moment breaking back to the outside, hoping Graham would overrun the play. It almost worked -- except Graham lunged and was able to trip Elliott as he made the cut. If not for that tackle, Elliott was off to the races.
· I asked my teammates on Talkin’ Cowboys on Wednesday: between Jason Garrett and Doug Pederson who would roll the dice on fourth down more in this game? The Cowboys came into the game converting 8-of-13 of those attempts, while the Eagles were 8-of-16, so there was a chance that we could see that happen with these two coaches. I have often been super critical of Jason Garrett for not knowing the condition of his club and doing the exact opposite of what needed to be done to win the game. I have to tip my hat to Garrett for doing the absolute right thing in that overtime period and giving his team a chance to win that game. With the way the Eagles were moving the ball in the second half, there was no guarantee that he was going to get a stop. Garrett put it on his offense and they rewarded him for his faith.