Here are my 10 takeaways from the Cowboys' 23-9 loss to the Eagles:
Kellen Moore mismanaged the game.
The Cowboys' margin for error is razor-thin with injuries ravaging the team's original starting lineup. To overcome the personnel losses with a rookie quarterback making the first start of his career, the Cowboys needed to stick with a disciplined game plan that featured a run-heavy approach with Ezekiel Elliott as the focal point. The game was going according to script with No.21 controlling the game as a powerful inside runner but the Cowboys' coaches (Kellen Moore) couldn't resist the cute plays and passes on the call sheet. The team failed to convert a first-quarter turnover into a score when Moore elected to pass in a "goal-to-go" situation following a series of Elliott runs. The Ben DiNucci fumble cost the Cowboys three points and a bigger early game lead.
Moore cost the Cowboys points in the third quarter when he called a reverse to Cedrick Wilson after seven straight runs to Elliott and Tony Pollard. The botched exchange resulted in a 10-yard loss and forced Greg Zuerlein to miss a long-distance field goal attempt. The mismanaged play-calling resulted in a 10-point swing when the Eagles scored a touchdown on the next possession.
Considering how the game was hanging in the balance until the late stages of the fourth quarter, the mismanagement of game situations cost the Cowboys a chance to win.
Ben DiNucci isn't ready for prime time.
The rookie quarterback completed 21 of 40 passes for 180 yards but couldn't come through when the Cowboys needed him most. He misfired on a number "money" down throws and nearly tossed a number of pick-sixes that were dropped by Eagles' defenders. In addition to his passing woes, DiNucci failed to protect the ball in the pocket, resulting in a couple of fumbles that proved costly in a close game. Although the Cowboys put a little too much on his plate as a first-time starter, the rookie needs to curb some of his gunslinging ways to play winning football as a starter.
Where is Amari Cooper?
The Cowboys WR1 finished the night with one catch for five yards on five targets. While the Cowboys' game plan was built around the run-heavy approach, the lack of touches by No.19 was surprising based on his history of torching the Eagles since joining the Cowboys. With Darius Slay missing part of the game with an injury, the Cowboys should've made it a point to get Cooper the ball on the perimeter in a must-win game with the NFC East lead on the line.
Tony Pollard emerges as a secret weapon.
The Cowboys RB2 was expected to emerge as a key contributor but stumbled out of the game. Against the Eagles, Pollard looked like the multi-purpose playmaker that garnered hype throughout the offseason. The second-year pro amassed 64 scrimmage yards on nine touches while exhibiting the stop-start quickness and burst that makes him difficult to bring down in the open field. If Pollard can continue to make contributions as a change of pace back, the Cowboys will have a formidable 1-2 punch in the backfield in 2021 and beyond.
The Cowboys might've found a winning recipe.
There aren't any moral victories in football but the Cowboys might find a silver lining in the 23-9 loss to the Eagles. The offense finally appeared to click for the first time in three weeks once they committed to running the ball extensively behind Zach Martin. The Pro Bowler excels at knocking defenders off the ball and his ability to create a push at the line of scrimmage enabled Elliott to enjoy some runs between the tackles. With the rest of the crew (Cam Erving, Connor Williams, Tyler Biadasz, and Terence Steele) executing runs better than passes, the Cowboys wisely decided to opt for a ground-and-pound strategy that plays to the strengths of their personnel and optimizes their chances of winning.
It's all about the ball.
The Cowboys have been preaching the need to generate more turnovers since Mike Nolan took over as the defensive coordinator. The defense finally responded with a four-takeaway effort that kept the Cowboys in the game. Treyvon Diggs led the way with a couple of spectacular interceptions that showcased his ball skills and awareness. Donovan Wilson and Dorance Armstrong pitched in with early game fumble recoveries that put the Cowboys in a prime position to walk away with an upset win.
Treyvon Diggs has star qualities.
Don't let the bad plays overshadow all of the quality work being done by Diggs on the island. The rookie came up with a pair of interceptions that showcased his athleticism, ball skills, and instincts. He has a knack for tracking the ball in the air and his natural playmaking skills will give him a chance to develop into a premier CB1 in the league. Sure, he needs to eliminate deep balls and big plays due to shoddy technique and mental lapses but Diggs' five-star talent and potential stand out whenever he steps onto the field.
The pass rush finally shows up.
The Cowboys' much-maligned pass rush bruised and battered Carson Wentz* in the pocket. The defense registered four sacks on the way to harassing the Eagles into a disjointed performance that featured four giveaways and streaky passing production (completed 15 of 27 passes for 123 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions) from the veteran. Demarcus Lawrence sparked the effort with six tackles, three tackles for loss, and a sack while flashing dominant playmaking ability off the edge. Aldon* Smith and Randy Gregory added some pop to the unit with their energetic play and disruptive skills. Against a marginal Eagles' offensive line, the Cowboys' frontline finally looked like the dynamic unit that we expected to see at the beginning of the season.
Randy Gregory looks primed for a bigger role.
You never know what to expect from a player returning from an extended layoff but Gregory could become a key contributor for the Cowboys as an edge defender. The 6-foot-5, 242-pounder is a natural stand-up player with the length and athleticism to handle a number of responsibilities as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Gregory put those tools on display against the Eagles while notching four tackles on high-energy, effort plays. The hustle and determination shown by No.94 masked some of his technical flaws but added some energy to a defensive unit that's been lackadaisical at times. Gregory ran to the ball with reckless abandon and his effort stood out on tape. If he continues to play with the energy that he displayed against the Eagles, Gregory will add some juice to the defense as a role player.
Donovan Wilson is settling in as a starter.
The second-year pro is thriving as a starter after quietly being inserted into the starting lineup a few weeks ago. Wilson has given the secondary a tough, hard-nosed defender with a versatile game that enables him to play as a centerfielder or box safety based on the call. He flashed his versatility against the Eagles with five tackles and a "trifecta" (sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery). Wilson's speed, urgency, and overall physicality add a dimension to the secondary that was missing prior to his insertion into the lineup. He brings a level of toughness and "thump" that raises the intensity and nastiness of the unit.