Before I get to the player-by-player breakdown, it's only fair to give some credit to Juan Castillo.
He's taken a lot of heat this season - some of it warranted, some of it not - for the defense's poor performance.
But Castillo's group appears to be coming together, having allowed just 20 points in the past two weeks. What caught my attention Sunday night was that Castillo tried some new things we hadn't seen all season: having the defensive ends and defensive tackles switch places on a couple plays; going with five defensive linemen and having Babin roam behind the line of scrimmage pre-snap; bringing the blitz in the red zone.
And there was one thing we had seen before that Castillo stuck with: moving Nnamdi Asomugha around. Much more on that below, but if you think Asomugha stayed at right cornerback all game and shut down Dez Bryant, you'd be mistaken. Castillo has talked for months about using Asomugha like the Packers use Charles Woodson, and this game was the best example of that.
Details on everything I mentioned above in the player-by-player breakdown:
Jason Babin - The sack numbers are piling up. Babin added two more and now has nine on the season, behind only Jared Allen (12.5) and DeMarcus Ware (12). He put a nice spin move on rookie Tyron Smith and sacked Tony Romo in the first. On 3rd-and-5, Castillo used Babin in a way we hadn't seen all season. The Eagles went with five defensive linemen, one linebacker and five defensive backs. Babin started out standing up as a linebacker next to Jamar Chaney, but then moved to left defensive end pre-snap. Darryl Tapp lined up between Trent Cole and Mike Patterson on the right side, and looped behind Patterson once the ball was snapped. The Eagles only did this once, but it'll be interesting to see if they try it again in future weeks. Later, Babin delivered a big hit on the fullback, helping to disrupt a DeMarco Murray run that lost a yard in the third. He benefited from Patterson's pressure on his second sack.
Cullen Jenkins - Another wrinkle I mentioned above came when Jenkins and Trevor Laws lined up at the defensive end spots, and Cole and Babin lined up inside. They did this twice. Again, I don't think we'd seen this wrinkle in the first six games. Overall, it was a relatively quiet game for Jenkins. Against the run, he assisted in dropping Murray for a 1-yard loss in the third. And as a pass rusher, he got good pressure on Romo on a third-down completion that only gained 2 yards. No sacks or QB hits though.
Mike Patterson - Patterson is really playing well. He stopped Phillip Tanner after a 2-yard gain in the second. He gave Murray a little tap that sent him to the ground and disrupted a screen at the end of the first half. As a pass rusher, Patterson wasn't credited with a sack, but he was still a factor. He got good pressure up the middle on Cole’s sack in the second. And his pressure on 4th-and-goal forced Romo to step up into the Babin sack. The one play where Dallas got Patterson was when the left guard pulled and blocked him nicely, opening up a hole on Murray’s 20-yard run in the second.
Trent Cole - He returned to the lineup and notched his fourth sack of the season. Cole and Babin always talk about meeting at the quarterback, and they did just that on Babin’s first-quarter sack. Cole got decent pressure on Romo on 4th-and-12 in the fourth. With less than 1:20 left in the game, he lined up at left defensive end and forced Romo out of the pocket. The man has only one speed and doesn't take plays off. And there was no easing him in either after the injury. Cole played more snaps (33) than any other Eagles defensive lineman.
Darryl Tapp - He only played 19 snaps, mostly at right defensive end. Tapp got close to Romo on the play I described above with five defensive linemen.
Juqua Parker - He played 16 snaps, the fewest of any of the Eagles' eight defensive linemen. Against the run, Parker got sealed by Jason Witten on Murray’s 26-yard run. He was lined up in tight, by the way, on the play, not in the wide-nine. Later, he deflected (or at least came close to deflecting) a Romo screen attempt to Dez Bryant in the third. And Parker pressured Romo on the Cowboys’ final series.
Trevor Laws - He had been playing well in previous weeks, but did not have a sack. That changed on the first series as Laws looked great, looping behind the defensive end and sacking Romo.
Derek Landri - He pressured Romo and forced him to take off and run in the fourth. Didn't notice him much beyond that. Landri played 20 snaps.
Jamar Chaney - He's definitely improved in recent weeks and played well specifically in coverage. Chaney was matched up with Witten and tackled him immediately after a 3-yard completion. He tackled Laurent Robinson after a 5-yard catch in the second. He had good coverage on Witten on a third-quarter incompletion and was all over Murray, forcing an incompletion in the fourth. A couple ups and downs in the run game. Chaney dropped Murray for a 1-yard loss in the third. He got blocked by Smith, had a chance to tackle Murray, but missed on a 20-yard run. It would have only been about a gain of 4 if Chaney had made the initial tackle.
Brian Rolle - Rolle had a couple nice plays. He stopped Murray after a gain of 1 in the third. And he joined Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to drop Murray for a 2-yard loss after a pass in the flat. The Eagles played a lot of dime in the second half so Rolle was on the field for just 29 snaps.
Moise Fokou - With the Eagles mostly in nickel and dime, Fokou only played eight snaps. The Cowboys fullback took him out on Murray’s 26-yard run. He assisted Patterson in stopping Tanner after a 2-yard gain in the second. In coverage, Fokou got beat initially, but didn’t give up the play and helped break up the pass to Martellus Bennett that was intercepted by Nnamdi Asomugha. It helped that Bennett basically whiffed when trying to catch it.
Asante Samuel - By my unofficial count, Romo threw at him seven times, completing three passes for 28 yards. The Cowboys attacked Samuel with a couple WR screens. Robinson picked up 11 early, but there was not much after that. Samuel gave up another 11-yard completion, although his coverage was pretty good. And he did a good job on Robinson on a third-quarter incompletion. Overall, good game for Samuel.
Nnamdi Asomugha - All season, critics have advised Castillo to just stick Asomugha on the other team's best wide receiver and have him play man/press coverage. But Castillo's had his own ideas, and he stuck with them. Asomugha was very active and has played well in the past three games. He and Kurt Coleman brought Murray down after a 4-yard gain early on. Good reaction and concentration by Asomugha on the interception that bounced off of Bennett’s hands. He lined up one-on-one on Witten, who came off the line of scrimmage, and broke up a pass in the second, although it was a poor throw by Romo. He lined up in the slot on the left side on Miles Austin at the end of the first half. When the Eagles were in dime at the end of the first half, he was lined up like a linebacker and came up in run support, tackling Murray after a 7-yard gain. He played deeper, like a safety, on the next play as the Cowboys ran it with Murray on 3rd-and-17. Asomugha made a good read, but missed the tackle. Later, he lined up at safety, made a good read and had a chance to bring Witten down for a loss, but missed the tackle. Hanson cleaned up 2 yards later. In the fourth, he lined up as a linebacker and matched up with Witten one-on-one, but got beat for a 12-yard gain on 4th-and-12. Romo threw to Bryant’s back shoulder in the end zone with Asomugha on him, but he broke it up. Overall, there are things to work on. The tackling is better than earlier this season, but still not great. Asomugha looked comfortable and capable of being an active playmaker though.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie - He was on the field a lot (40 of 49 snaps), and the Cowboys only threw at him once, completing an 11-yard pass to Bryant in the red zone. It's tough to tell off TV tape, but that tells me he was probably doing a good job in coverage overall. Rodgers-Cromartie played both slot and outside. He made a nice tackle on Murray in the flat, dropping him for a 2-yard loss. It didn’t look like he made much of an effort to make a tackle on Murray’s 20-yard run in the second, running alongside the Cowboys running back and never making any contact.
Joselio Hanson - The Eagles played a lot of dime in the second half, meaning Hanson was on the field for 18 snaps. He got beat by Austin on a slant that went for 13 yards on 3rd-and-6 in the third. The Cowboys went at him on their very next third down, but Hanson broke up a pass intended for Witten and nearly had an interception. He’s the Eagles’ best tackling cornerback and brought Witten down on third down after Asomugha missed, forcing a Cowboys punt in the third. He gave up a 9-yard completion to Austin in the slot in the fourth.
Nate Allen - It didn't seem like the Eagles needed too much from Allen in this one. He assisted on a tackle of Tanner after a 2-yard gain in the second. And Allen tackled Murray 2 yards short of the first down at the end of the first half.
Kurt Coleman - He was in the middle of a couple of the Cowboys' biggest plays. Coleman bit on a Romo fake on Robinson’s 70-yard touchdown. He was actually playing up like a linebacker, but got blocked by the right tackle on Murray’s 26-yard run. Later, he assisted on a tackle of Murray after a 4-yard gain in the first. And he broke up a pass intended for Witten in the end zone in the fourth.
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