The Dallas Cowboys’ defense has had a very up and down season. Against St Louis, they looked like the 1985 Bears. Against Denver, they looked like the 2008 Lions. In a game that was as close to a must-win as a mid-October game could get, the Cowboys defense played brilliantly in a battle against the Philadelphia Eagles that gave the Cowboys sole possession of 1st place in the NFC East. While the offense did struggle at times, Tony Romo threw for 317 yards and a score, and Dez Bryant tallied 8 receptions for 110 yards en route to the 17-3 victory.
While many, myself included, expected a shootout, the two teams offenses were, well…offensive. The first half alone featured eight drives by each team. One drive ended in a 38 yard field goal by Dan Bailey to put Dallas up 3-0, one drive ended in a missed 60 yard field goal by Eagles K Alex Henery, and another ended with Romo’s interception on a desperation pass at the end of the first half. The other 13 drives ended with Chris Jones and Donnie Jones (no relation) exchanging punts.
Dallas took control of the game with a 10 play 66 yard that ended with a one yard touchdown run from RB Phillip Tanner. The drive opened the 2nd half and put the Cowboys up 10-0. After another series of punt exchanges, the Cowboys appeared to be on their way to another score, but an interception by Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans set Philadelphia up on the Dallas 30. While it appeared to be a bad throw by Romo, head coach Jason Garrett revealed after the game that a wrong route run by Tanner brought the extra attention from Ryans. Despite the good starting field position, and CB JJ Wilcox’s interception being called back by a booth review, the defense stood strong and allowed only a 31 yard Henery field goal. After the drive, QB Nick Foles (11-29, 80 yards) left the game with a head injury.
With Philadelphia back in the game, Lincoln Financial Field started to get loud. Romo, however, stayed calm, cool and collected, calmly leading the Cowboys on a 10 play, 72 yard drive, culminating in his 9 touchdown pass to WR Terrence Williams. The rookie’s third touchdown catch in as many games made it a two possession game and put the Cowboys up 17-3.
Already facing quarterback woes with Michael Vick out, Foles’s absence allowed for the NFL debut of Matt Barkley, and the Dallas defense gave the former Heisman contender a rude welcoming. Barkley did finish with somewhat respectable numbers for a 4th round rookie (11-20, 129 yards), but a trio of interceptions shot down any hope and dreams of a comeback. Interceptions by Sean Lee, Barry Church and Brandon Carr solidified the Cowboys victory, their third consecutive win over the hated Eagles. Sinc
e an embarrassing 44-6 loss that cost them a playoff spot, the Cowboys are 7-3 against the Eagles, including 4-1 at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Cowboys were missing RB DeMarco Murray and DE DeMarcus Ware, but you wouldn’t have figured that if you watched the game without viewing the injury report. After Foles threw for 296 yards and 3 scores in a win over Tampa Bay last week, he couldn’t even make to 100 before leaving the game. He was also sacked three times, with DE George Selvie leading the way with 1.5 and DT Jason Hatcher picking up his 5th. New acquisition Jarius Wynn had an assisted sack. Dallas’s defense also held the Philadelphia QB duo to just 22 completions compared to 49 attempts. Also paramount to the effort was the fact that Dallas held LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher, to just 55 yards on 18 carries. Top Eagles target DeSean Jackson was limited to 3 receptions for 21 yards.
As for their own run game, which was missing Lance Dunbar as well, Joseph Randle had a respectable first career start. The 5th round pick out of Oklahoma State finished with 19 carries for 65 yards. The missing Murray led to more throws for Romo, who responded well. Despite the two interceptions, Romo finished 28 for 47 with 317 yards and 1 TD. Behind Bryant, Williams finished the game with 6 receptions with 71 yards. Cole Beasley also tallied 6 receptions for 53 yards. P Chris Jones took advantage of his many punts, averaging just under 39 yards a kick, with 6 of his 9 punts landing inside the 20.
While the Eagles visit Dallas on December 29, the final Sunday of the season, the Cowboys now look ahead to next week as they continue their road stretch against the Detroit Lions, a team they last faced in 2011. While it’s nice to get a win over the Eagles, the Cowboys would love to get a win over the Lions to not only enter the second half of the season at 5-3, but also add some credible wins to their resume. Dallas leads the all time series 13-11. Check back this week for my preview!