Friday, August 29, 2014
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Eagles-Cowboys: Second Take

Some thoughts and observations after reviewing the tape of the Eagles’ 20-16 loss to the Cowboys: This Is Just Me

Eagles-Cowboys: Second Take

LeSean McCoy runs past Dallas Cowboys´ Gerald Sensabaugh during the second quarter. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)
LeSean McCoy runs past Dallas Cowboys' Gerald Sensabaugh during the second quarter. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)

Some thoughts and observations after reviewing the tape of the Eagles’ 20-16 loss to the Cowboys:

This Is Just Me

Andy Reid made his share of screwups Sunday, but I don’t think his decision to have David Akers kick a field goal on fourth-and-11 with 4 1/2 minutes left in the game was one of them.

Their chances of converting a fourth-and-11 weren’t particularly good. Even without any timeouts left, if their defense, which to that point had held the Cowboys to 56 rushing yards on 17 carries, had managed to force the Cowboys to go three-and-out, they would have gotten the ball back with enough time to score.

But a defense that already was missing strongside linebacker Chris Gocong, lost weakside linebacker Akeem Jordan on the kickoff after the Akers field goal.

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On the Cowboys’ first play, running back Marion Barber ran for 16 yards. Picked up those 16 through a gap on the left side that was created when Fokou couldn’t get off a block by Jason Witten. Ran the same play again right after that. Again, Fokou couldn’t get off Witten’s block and Barber gained six yards. So much for hoping your defense could get you the ball back.

Still, kicking the field goal was the right move.

Did You Notice?

* LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver combined for 87 rushing yards on 21 carries against the Cowboys. All eight of Weaver’s rushing attempts came out of two-tight end sets. So did five of McCoy’s 13 carries. The other eight were split between two- and three-wide receiver sets with a single tight end.

* Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott threw a number of different fronts at the Cowboys on passing downs. He went with as few as two down-linemen and as many as five, often dropping linemen into coverage when linebackers or safeties came on blitzes. On one play, defensive end Juqua Parker wound up covering wide receiver Roy Williams. There is a risk with doing that, though. That was apparent late in the first half when linebacker Tracy White ran into defensive end Chris Clemons as he was trying to run across to pick up wide receiver Patrick Crayton in coverage. The collision allowed Crayton to get free down the field for a 64-yard catch and run that set up a Nick Folk field goal.

 * Free safety Sean Jones tipped the blitz too early on the third play of the game. Quarterback Tony Romo saw it and hit Roy Williams with a 21-yard slant in the area Jones vacated.

* The Cowboys used the Wildcat formation four times Sunday, with running back Tashard Choice taking the direct snap. On all four plays, they had a guard pulling. On the first, a seven-yard gain by Choice that was wiped out by a holding call, left guard Kyle Kosier pulled. On the second, Choice’s two-yard touchdown run, right guard Leonard Davis pulled and took out linebacker Moise Fokou. On the third one, a nine-yard run to the left by Choice in the second quarter, Kosier pulled again and took out weakside linebacker Akeem Jordan. Davis pulled again on the fourth one, a two-yard run by Choice for a first down on a second-and-one play in the second quarter.

* The effective way the Cowboys countered a lot of the Eagles’ blitz packages with wide-receiver screens. Kevin Ogletree, who had just one reception in the Cowboys’ first seven games, had two catches for 38 yards Sunday. Both of his catches – a 21-yarder and a 17-yarder – came on wide receiver screens. Both also came on third-and-longs.

* Defensive end Jason Babin had another good game. Babin, who was signed in August and was inactive for four of the first five games, has played the last three weeks because of an injury to Victor Abiamiri. He collected his third sack in as many games Sunday and also had a couple of pressures. He was used some at left end in the Eagles’ base package and also as an inside rusher in their nickel package. He got his sack at tackle in a five-man front, beating Cowboys left guard Kyle Kosier and nailing Tony Romo for a seven-yard loss on a third-and-8 play in the second quarter.

* The difference between Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy was clear on a second-and-one run by McCoy in the fourth quarter, two plays before the infamous fourth-and-one replay challenge. McCoy didn’t have a lot of running room, but had enough to pick up the first down. But he started making like Barry Sanders rather than just putting his head down and driving forward for the first down. He ended up being stopped for no gain. On the next play, McCoy failed to follow his lead blocker, Leonard Weaver, and was stopped for no gain again. McCoy also had a costly drop on a second-and-10 screen pass on the Eagles’ final possession

Fokou’s Day

Moise Fokou, the seventh-round rookie who started at strongside linebacker in place of injured Chris Gocong, had a tough day.

He had two costly third-quarter penalties that wiped out big gains. He was called for holding on Ellis Hobbs’ 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown at the beginning of the second half. He also was penalized for a low block on Sheldon Brown’s interception. Brown returned the interception 54 yards to the Dallas 35. Fokou’s penalty brought the ball back to the Eagles' 12.

Fokou also struggled against the run. He got blown up by pulling guard Leonard Davis on Choice’s two-yard touchdown run out of the Wildcat in the first quarter, and also couldn’t get off blocks on Marion Barber’s two game-clinching runs on the Cowboys’ final possession.

McNabb Watch

A week ago against the Giants, the Eagles quarterback turned in one of the best performances of his career. Sunday, well, this one was closer to the way he played in Washington and Oakland. Completed just 16 of 30 passes and had his first regular-season multiple-interception game since he was benched in Baltimore last November. Threw some good balls, threw some bad balls. A quick look at Donnie Mac’s day:

* His second pass, to DeSean Jackson, was nearly intercepted by Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman. To be fair, it wasn’t all his fault. Jackson ran a poor route that allowed Newman to cut in front of him.

* His first interception went off of Jeremy Maclin’s hands and into the waiting arms of Cowboys strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh. Yes, McNabb could’ve used a little more touch on the pass instead of making like Nolan Ryan. But the rookie should’ve caught the ball. He’s had plenty of time to get used to McNabb’s fastballs.

* McNabb’s poor third-and-one toss to tight end Alex Smith on the Eagles’ second possession set the tone for the Eagles’ 4-for-12 third-down day. McNabb ran a boot to the right. But it didn’t fool linebacker DeMarcus Ware. McNabb attempted an awkward jump pass to get the ball over Ware. But the pass was too high for Smith to catch.

* One of McNabb’s worst passes of the night probably was a first-down throw to Jeremy Macline late in the first quarter. McNabb had time, but his mechanics went south and he ended up throwing the ball into the ground about seven yards in front of Maclin. Two plays later, though, he made an outstanding pass in tight coverage to wide receiver Jason Avant, who picked up 23 yards and a first down. Followed that with a 20-yard strike down the middle to tight end Brent Celek.

* McNabb had DeSean Jackson wide open down the field on a post route on the play after Celek’s catch. Probably would’ve been seven points. But DeMarcus Ware beat Todd Herremans, who had moved from left guard to left tackle after Jason Peters got hurt. Ware hit McNabb from behind just as he was releasing the pass, causing it to go astray.

* In the third quarter, McNabb had Jackson open again on a crossing route and threw behind him. No pressure on the play. He had a clear passing lane to Jackson. Just threw a bad ball.

* McNabb made one of his nicer throws early in the fourth quarter on a sideline pass to Jeremy Maclin on a third-and-12 play. McNabb got the ball over the linebacker and to Maclin, who made a nice catch.

The Sacks

McNabb was sacked four times Sunday. That brings the number of sacks allowed by the Eagles this season to 21, which is just two fewer than they gave up all of last season. A look at Sunday’s four sacks:

* The first one wasn’t really a sack. Flushed out of the pocket and with no one open, McNabb took off to the left and ran out of bounds for a one-yard loss. Linebacker Keith Brooking, who was the closest player to McNabb, was credited with the sack.

* The second one, a seven-yard sack by nose tackle Jay Ratliff, was a team effort. Ratliff ran a stunt behind blitzing linebacker Steve Octavien. Technically, he beat right guard Stacy Andrews. But right tackle Winston Justice gave up too much ground to Octavien, which allowed Ratliff to come around the corner clean. McNabb might’ve been able to step up in the pocket to avoid the rush, but defensive end Steven Bowen had beaten Herremans, who was still at left guard then, and there was no pocket.

* No team effort on the third one. Andrews just got flat-out beat by Ratliff, who sacked McNabb for a 10-yard loss. The Eagles had to settle for a 45-yard David Akers field goal.

* The last one came on the Eagles’ final possession, a third-and-10 play in which he was flushed from the pocket, appeared to have running room to the right, but was tripped up by diving linebacker Victor Butler for a one-yard loss.

By the Numbers

* The Cowboys converted 7 of 15 third-down opportunities against the Eagles, including a pair of important third-and-14s, a third-and-9 and a third-and-8. Romo’s 49-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Miles Austin came on a third-and-14. So did Ogletree’s 17-yard catch-and-run. His 21-yard catch came on third-and-9.

* After going three straight games without a turnover, the Eagles have committed four of them in the last two games.

* Since last November’s loss to the Ravens, the Eagles had converted 26 of 31 third downs of two yards or less going into Sunday night’s game. They were 1-4 against the Cowboys. Also failed to convert a fourth-and-one. Or so the zebras claimed.

* The Eagles have had 13 scoring drives of 7 plays or more this season. Just three of them have resulted in touchdowns.

* The Cowboys, who picked off Donovan McNabb twice Sunday, had just four interceptions in their first seven games.

* Before Sunday, the Cowboys were just 11-11 in games in which Tony Romo was sacked more than once. He was sacked four times by the Eagles.

Oddest Play Call

Reid called pass play on two of four third-and-short situations Sunday. Yet, faced with a third-and-four at the Dallas 31 with two minutes left in the first half, he went with a run play to McCoy out of a three-wide receiver formation. McCoy gained just one yard, and the Eagles had to settle for a David Akers field goal. The play actually might’ve worked if right tackle Winston Justice had done a better job of blocking. He pulled on the play, but got crushed by defensive end Stephen Bowen, who buckled Justice’s knees and made the play on McCoy.

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To read our report from Andy Reid's Monday news conference, click here.

Paul Domowitch Daily News NFL Columnist
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