The Dallas Cowboys made a statement in their first home game of the season, claiming first place in the NFC East by routing the rival Philadelphia Eagles 41-21. Even this 20 point margin that allowed Dak Prescott to sit out the Cowboys final series doesn't tell the full story of how well the team handled their first divisional test. Kellen Moore once again had a game plan to expose the Eagles weaknesses in their front seven, while the drastic improvements on Dan Quinn's defense were put in the national spotlight.
Here are a few of my notes from the Monday Night Football win.
- The Cowboys opening drive set the tone for the type of night this offense would have. With the threat of Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb out wide, the Cowboys ran the ball out of passing formations to draw the Eagles defense into the box. Ezekiel Elliott steadily moved the ball with physical runs throughout the night, but it was a 44-yard pass to Lamb that set up Dallas' first touchdown. Connor McGovern came in at fullback on this drive, digging out linebackers to create space in the run game as well.
- One of the plays to circle when it comes to the final score being closer than it should was the Eagles' first touchdown on a Fletcher Cox fumble recovery. Javon Hargrave beat Tyler Biadasz to put pressure in Prescott's face, causing the fumble with the Cowboys backed up in their own end zone. Connor Williams could have helped Biadasz from left guard on the play but did not make the right read, forcing the Cowboys center to deal with the bull rush on his own – something he's regularly struggled with.
- It was interesting to see the Cowboys line up Randy Gregory at left end as much as they did, using Micah Parsons on the right side. With their DL depth depleted by injury, it was known early in the week that Parsons would be playing end against the Eagles – who were starting backup Andre Dillard at left tackle. Gregory's speed would be a good matchup against Dillard, but the Cowboys also have speed off the edge in Parsons. Gregory played with better power and leverage from the strong side than I expected, getting in Jalen Hurts' face multiple times and forcing poor throws.
- Cowboys fans are going to have to get used to the fact this team has three safeties that can share the field together, with Dallas again playing their best defense in “Big Nickel” sets. Not only did pressure from the front four not allow Devonta Smith and Jalen Reagor to beat them vertically, but the Cowboys secondary did a great job taking away tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert as well. Jayron Kearse has been a great addition to the coverage unit, playing 54 snaps on Monday night. One play that stood out from the secondary was a Maurice Canady tackle in space to force a three and out immediately following Trevon Diggs' pick six. Anthony Brown also kept the Cowboys takeaway streak alive with his first quarter interception on Hurts' underthrow for Reagor.
Expectations have been high from the start for this year's Cowboys team, and with the rest of the NFC East struggling again it may be hard to judge just how good they are in divisional matchups. This blowout against the Eagles sets up a meeting with the undefeated Carolina Panthers in week four before their first game against the Giants in week five.
Erasing the memory of Dak Prescott being carted off the field in his last home game was part of the plan last night for the Cowboys, and they delivered as Prescott was taken out of the game in the fourth quarter. With a stout run defense coming to town next week, Dallas' game plan for Carolina should rely heavily on Prescott carrying them again.