By Pete Baxter
The Eagles were thoroughly outplayed and outcoached on Monday in a brutal 41-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Despite the considerable point differential, the game was actually even more one-sided than the score suggests.
Philly’s defense had no answer for Dak Prescott (21 of 26 for 238 yards and three touchdowns) or his duo of running backs. Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard combined for 155 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. They faced little to no resistance all game long.
Offensively, Jalen Hurts was thrown to the wolves behind an injury-riddled offensive line. Nick Sirianni’s play calling was highly questionable (we will dig deeper into this shortly). Hurts was running for his life all game long. His confidence seemed shaken, and the Cowboys’ defensive backs took full advantage of the young quarterback telegraphing his passes. Hurts threw his first two interceptions of the season, including a pick-six.
That said, Hurts gave it a valiant effort. We will discuss his performance in more detail in a moment, but he completed 25 of 39 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns. He also once again led the team in rushing with 35 yards on the ground.
So, what went wrong? Did anything go right? Where do we go from here? Let’s take a closer look at five key takeaways from the game:
Injuries Played a Huge Role
The Eagles’ entered the game with a very concerning injury report. Lead pass rusher Brandon Graham is out for the season. Fan favorite and recently re-signed left tackle Jordan Mailata was out for the game with a knee sprain. Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks is out for eight weeks with a torn pectoral muscle. Safety Rodney McLeod would miss his third straight game. Bad news.
The impact to the offensive and defensive lines was obvious. Jalen Hurts was pressured and forced into making bad decisions. He did his best to remain evasive and extend plays, but Andre Dillard and rookie Landon Dickerson were a far from adequate replacement for the two injured veterans on the offensive line. It is actually remarkable that Hurts was only sacked twice.
The defensive line, meanwhile, was pushed around all day. It didn’t help that the Eagles’ offense could not stay on the field and the defense was gassed early. Elliot and Pollard looked like Barry Sanders and Jerome Bettis as they had their way with the Eagles’ front seven. Javon Hargrave racked up two more sacks in Graham’s absence, but despite his best efforts, Dak Prescott looked comfortable and poised like an elite quarterback all day.
Mailata is not expected to miss much more time, fortunately. However, if the Eagles can’t get improved production from their young backups in the coming weeks, things could get ugly.
Nick Sirianni, What Are You Thinking?
As noted, Nick Sirianni was outcoached on Monday night. Not by Mike McCarthy, mind you, but by Kellen Moore. Moore kept the Eagles’ defense guessing all day. His offense found great success both through the air and on the ground.
Meanwhile, Nick Sirianni almost immediately and completely abandoned the run and put the entire game on Jalen Hurts’ shoulders. Miles Sanders exploded for a big 24-yard run early in the game. He only had one more carry from that point on. Impressive rookie backup Kenneth Gainwell had just one carry. Yep, you counted correctly. Just three carries by the Eagles’ running back duo.
For the entire second through fourth quarters, the Dallas defense knew with 100% confidence that Hurts was going to keep the ball, either as a passer or ball carrier. Hurts, under relentless pressure, threw the ball 39 times.
The Eagles’ play calling was predictable, inefficient, and uncreative. Not even a Philly Special. As a result, despite Hurts’ best efforts, the Eagles punted six times and lost the time of possession battle 25:02 to 34:58. They were four of 12 on third down and failed on both fourth down conversion attempts.
Nick Sirianni is an intelligent guy, and he seems to have the support of the locker room. However, the rookie coach’s lack of experience was on full display in Dallas. I’m still a Sirianni believer, but he has to learn from this and grow as a play caller if he or his young quarterback want to be in Philly long term.
Stay the Course, Jalen Hurts!
Despite his poor protection and having to overcome lackluster play calling, Hurts actually put up decent numbers in the loss. Granted, he was essentially a one-man show on offense. A good chunk of his stats also came in garbage time. However, I’m going to look at this as if the glass is half full.
Despite the obstacles, Hurts completed over 64% of his passes on the day. This puts his completion percentage for the season thus far at 66%. This is a massive improvement over the 52% he put up in his four starts last season. This is critically important considering his accuracy as a passer has been the biggest question mark in his skillset.
Through the first seven starts of his career, Hurts has completed 58% of his passes for 11 touchdowns to six interceptions. He has added four touchdowns on the ground. He has put up these numbers on a terrible team in decline during his rookie year and a rebuilding team during his second year.
Hurts looked amazing week one against a bad Falcons team. He struggled against a very good San Francisco defense in week 3. Hurts was up and down while managing a great deal of adversity on Monday night in Dallas.
This is just the beginning, folks. The Jaguars aren’t giving up on Trevor Lawrence after three abysmal starts. The Colts didn’t give up on Peyton Manning after a brutal rookie season. This kid has taken this team on his shoulders this season with mixed results, but he has shown the skills and leadership of a viable starting quarterback in the NFL. Plus, his “flush it and move on” speech is my favorite soundbite of the season so far.
Stay the course, Jalen. Live, learn, and fly.
This Punter is Still Awesome
Arryn Siposs, a 28-year-old former Australian rules footballer, is quietly putting up a Pro Bowl-worthy start to the season for Philly. Unfortunately, he had plenty of opportunities to show of his boot against Dallas. He launched six punts for a solid 43.0-yard average, while sticking two of them deep in Cowboys territory.
His stats through his first three games are outstanding. He has booted 14 total kicks for an excellent average of 46.5 yards. He has pinned his opponent inside their own 20-yard line six times, to just two touchbacks. He has a long of 68 yards.
As it is looking more and more like Eagles’ fans are in for a long season, the emergence of Siposs as one of the best special teamers in the league should be a silver lining. Awesome story, even more awesome punter.
The NFC East Is On Notice
The Dallas Cowboys have, as they have had for several years now, the most talented team on paper in this division. While they have faced a handful of injuries of their own, their key players on both sides of the ball are healthy and playing well. Even Ezekiel Elliot, considered washed by many, is putting up numbers again. Dak Prescott looks like he is on a mission to prove he deserves his $75 million payday.
We are only three games into the season, yes. However, the Giants are terrible. Washington’s defense has been a massive disappointment and Tyler Heineke, as cool a story as he is, is not going to save the day.
That leaves the Eagles as the only true challenger to the Cowboys’ push to win the division. With the injuries and growing pains we saw from Philly on Monday, this division is Dallas’ to lose.
In the End
Stay positive, Eagles fans. If you’re expectation was for this team to win 15 games and contend for a Super Bowl, you were mistaken. This is a rebuilding year led by a rookie head coach. This year is to let the team’s young players, namely their second-year quarterback, prove that they are foundation pieces for the future.
Despite that, thanks to playing in the NFC East, this will still be an exciting season. The team will get better. Sirianni will grow as a coach and a play caller. Hurts will become more competent and confident.
The Cowboys won the battle and have momentum in their favor, but the war is far from over.
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More to come from Philly. Fly Eagles, Fly!