Observations and notes after re-watching the Eagles’ 38-33 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday night:
ON SECOND THOUGHT
If you’re looking for a positive in the Eagles’ eighth straight loss – and there were a few – Nick Foles’ third start would have to head any list. Bryce Brown’s second straight 100-yard rushing performance was eye-opening -- and we’ll get to that -- but the rookie quarterback made some advancement with a less restrictive game plan.
With a rag-tag offensive line and a number of other injuries, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg gave Foles little to do in his first two starts. But they took off the shackles against the Cowboys – well, somewhat – and gave him more opportunities to throw downfield and go through his reads. Without wide receiver DeSean Jackson, running back LeSean McCoy and three-fifths of the starting line, Foles completed 22 of 34 passes for 251 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.
A potent running game aided Foles, but he made a variety of strong throws and, most important, did not turn the ball over. There were a few shaky moments, especially late, but Foles should have some momentum heading into the final four games after Reid named him the starter on Monday.
First, the good: Foles completed 64.7 percent of his passes, but tossed four passes out of bounds, one into the ground and had another batted down. Early in the first, the Eagles faced a third down and Foles was forced to check down to Brown for a short gain, but he kept his eyes downfield the entire time and you could see him going through all four progressions.
On the Eagles’ second series, he delivered a 19-yard strike to tight end Brent Celek over the middle with linebacker Ernie Sims bearing down on him. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan blitzed Foles on only 9 of 35 dropbacks. The rookie completed 6 of 9 passes for 58 yards when Dallas sent more than four pass rushers.
Three weeks ago against Dallas, Foles was erratic with some timing throws. He had his rhythm down with accurate throws to Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin on slant patterns. His one deep throw was off target, though. Just before the half, Maclin had a step on a defender and Foles overthrew him.
Foles was 2 of 4 for 44 yards when he threw beyond 20 yards. His best pass might have been a 29-yard completion to Jason Avant up-and-over the Cowboys’ zone defense. A 15-yard touchdown pass to Cooper in the third had great touch.
In the fourth, Foles hit Avant over the middle for 23 yards and again hooked up with the receiver when he eluded the rush, rolled out to his left and hit him on the run for 19 yards.
And now the bad: Foles’ worst moment came on the possession after Brown fumbled and the Cowboys went up, 38-27. He tried to force a pass to Maclin but failed to see Danny McCray underneath and threw it right into his hands. The Dallas safety dropped a would-be interception.
After Damaris Johnson’s punt return for a touchdown, Foles missed a wide open Brown on the two-point conversion. Earlier in the fourth, Foles bounced a pass to a wide open Cooper.
All in all, it was Foles’ best game thus far.
REWIND THE TAPE
The Eagles pass defense has been historically bad over the last six games. Case in point: Miles Austin’s 27-yard touchdown catch in the fourth. The Cowboys were in the I-formation. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo faked a handoff and three Eagles bit – DeMeco Ryans, Akeem Jordan and Kurt Coleman. Austin, outside and to Romo’s right, ran a slant underneath Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who was about nine yards off at the line. Whether the corner was playing zone or not was unclear, but when safety Nate Allen came up to make a play, he whiffed on Bryant. Rodgers-Cromartie then made a half-hearted effort to strip the ball from Bryant, who waltzed into the end zone. Dallas’ previous success on the ground set up the play action. Rodgers-Cromartie would later allow a touchdown when Dez Bryant bulldozed over him for a six-yard score.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
1. Riley Cooper didn’t put up great numbers in his first start of the season, but the wide receiver made the best of the two catchable balls thrown his way. On the first, he ran a slant and got extra yards after the catch when Foles led him. On his touchdown catch, Cooper out-muscled cornerback Brandon Carr. Both of his scores this season came against Dallas, in the red zone and with one hand. Cooper was targeted five times overall.
2. In his first start in place of the departed Jason Babin, Brandon Graham started off strong but faded. He played 31 of 64 snaps, second only to Trent Cole (44) among Eagles defensive ends. Graham had his way with Dallas tackle Doug Free early on. He got off a block with a bull rush and sacked Romo in the first. He got around Free and hit the quarterback, who threw an errant pass in the second. And on the next play, he overpowered a shared a sack with Cole, although Graham got there first. Graham finished with six tackles and had a few good stops against the run. In the fourth, he held Felix Jones to a two-yard carry. As for his pass rush after the break, Graham had less success getting into the backfield, although Romo was getting his passes off quick.
3. After a strong debut, very little was heard from Vinny Curry. The rookie defensive end played only 19 snaps. Curry had a tough time getting off blocks for most of the night. He did hurry Romo into a pass that lost a yard. He later made a tackle on Jones after he disengaged from a Jason Witten block. It’ll be interesting to see how Curry plays now that Jim Washburn and the wide-nine is gone. The Eagles said he was perfectly suited to the scheme when he was drafted.
Brown had great success with draw plays. The Eagles ran a few variations, but when the running back took a handoff from Foles in the shotgun, he ran 14 times for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Brown’s fumble also came during a draw play. When he took a straight handoff he gained 49 yards on nine carries.
THIS AND THAT
-- Celek had his best game in months. The tight end caught seven of eight passes for 73 yards and did not have a drop. He missed a few blocks on the Eagles’ first drive, but had a good block on Johnson’s 13-yard catch on the next possession.
-- The addition of Jake Scott has solidified the right side of the line. Dennis Kelly’s move to his natural spot at right tackle has also helped. The pair opened a number of holes for Brown on Sunday night. They did a great job of creating a wall on Brown’s 39-yard run in the second quarter. Celek and Maclin had strong blocks, too.
-- Left guard Evan Mathis has really been the anchor of the line. A case could be made that he belongs in the Pro Bowl. He had key blocks on both of Brown’s touchdowns.
-- Johnson’s 98-yard punt return for a touchdown set a franchise record. He’s made a few poor decisions in fielding punts inside the 5-yard line, but in this case it was forgivable. The Eagles needed a spark at that time. He gave them one. Johnson deserves to be back next season.
-- Cullen Jenkins has to lead the team in the number of missed sacks. The defensive end had Romo in his grasp in the second quarter, but failed to bring him down. It should be noted that Romo is one of the best quarterbacks in the league in slipping out of sacks.
-- It’s hindsight, but the Eagles probably shouldn’t have accepted the holding penalty on the Cowboys’ drive late in the second quarter. If the Eagles didn’t accept the penalty Dallas would have faced third and eight in their own territory. The Eagles accepted and two plays later the Cowboys picked up a first down. Dallas later converted a second and 18 and a third on 13 on the drive that resulted in a touchdown.
-- Allen may have had his worst game as a professional. It’s not like he and Kurt Coleman aren’t giving full effort over this eight-game slide. They just look like they’ve lost all confidence.
Brown’s three fumbles in two games are reason for concern, but it’s something that can be fixed. Surprisingly, the Cowboys didn’t really go for the ball until on the fourth quarter series in which he fumbled. Several plays before he lost the ball, Joshua Price-Bent made an attempt to strip the ball out and it looked like Brown came close to fumbling. The Cowboys defensive tackle, of course, pop it loose on his next tackle.