Eagles-Cowboys: What did we learn?

For really the first time this season, the shine on Chip Kelly was tarnished. The Eagles coach was handed his first comeuppance by a Cowboys defense that hadn’t really done much up until Sunday’s 17-3 pounding of the Birds. The Eagles are 3-4 and certainly not out of the playoff hunt, but Nick Foles and company were embarrassed. Here are some observations, starting with a look at each quarterback:

-- Nick Foles was dreadful. Let’s get this out of the way first: He didn’t get much help from Kelly’s game plan and any adjustments, his offensive line and his star running back and wide receiver. But Foles was mostly to blame for completing only 11 of 29 passes for 80 yards. I think I counted as least 10 throws that would have been completed had Foles hit his mark. Jeff Maehl didn’t help him with a couple of drops, but the passes weren’t exactly on the money either. Foles looked jittery from the jump. I can say I know why, but you have to wonder if the pressure of the situation – playing a division rival for the NFC East lead and having his best opportunity to wrestle the starting spot from Michael Vick – weighed on Foles. Dallas defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin obviously had a sound defensive scheme. I’m not sure exactly what he did, but it seemed like he did what other defenses that have been successful in slowing the Eagles did – he played a lot of man-to-man defense in the secondary with a single high safety. There was some zone and some of his famed Tampa 2, but Eagles receivers once again failed to get enough separation. And when they did, Foles either had pressure in his face, couldn’t hit the side of Lincoln Financial Field or held onto the ball too long like he did when he was sacked and injured. It was a brutal day for Foles and likely an end to his campaign to start unless Kelly wants to get a look-see at the future later in the season.

-- Matt Barkley was even worse than Foles, if that’s possible. He tossed four interceptions, one of which was brought back because of a Dallas penalty. Barkley was thrown into a rather precarious position – playing in his first NFL game, down 17-3 with around 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. But he did little to quell concerns about his arm strength. He hit on a few downfield, timing throws, and that was nice. And he got the ball out fast on a few quick hitters. And a few of the picks were just bad decisions. He’ll get better there. But it was the way the ball came out his hand that concerned the most. There were wobblers and air balloons that even if on target would have been prime bait for defenders. Barkley may get the opportunity to erase the effort right away. With Foles likely out with a concussion and Vick still questionable with the hamstring, Kelly may have no other choice but to start the rookie on Sunday against the Giants.

-- Which brings us to Vick, who has seemingly never looked so good. He’s not perfect, of course, but if Kelly wants to give his team its best shot at the playoffs he should stick with Vick once he’s healthy. I wrote more about Vick’s effectiveness in Kelly’s offense and the read option and how it relates to the running game here. Kelly’s quarterback of the future is in the draft, but the Eagles aren’t quite there yet.

-- For the first time this season, Kelly’s offense was held under 400 total yards – 300 for that matter – and gained only 278 yards. The Eagles managed only 3.7 yards a play – 3.7 (!) in the air. For three and half quarters, they managed to reach the red zone only once and that was because of DeMeco Ryans’ interception.

-- I’ll have to watch the replay to figure out how the offensive line fared, but it was by no means a clean effort. Todd Herremans seemed to struggle a lot. To be fair, Jason Hatcher is a handful. It seemed like Evan Mathis had his issues with the Cowboys defensive tackle, as well. There were hardly any running lanes for LeSean McCoy, especially in the first half when he was held to just 12 yards on eight carries. McCoy blamed himself after the game, but I saw little space for the running back.


Which QB’s performance was more disturbing?

-- It’s difficult to fault the Eagles receivers with how poor Foles threw the ball, but DeSean Jackson needs to finish with more than three catches for 21 yards. It looked like he saw a lot of cornerback Brandon Carr. Jason Avant was targeted 12 times but had only three catches for 33 yards. Again, it’s hard to fault him, especially on the end zone throw when he got wide open and Foles short-armed him. Riley Cooper played well or as well as you would expect out of him. He once caught a short pass and ran for a first down. Tight ends Zach Ertz (three catches for 33 yards) and Brent Celek (one catch for nine yards) were silent in the passing game.

-- At least Bill Davis’ defense came to play. The Eagles held the Cowboys to three points and 137 total yards in the first half. That’s very good against an offense that entered the game ranked among the leaders in most statistical categories. But the unit wore down as you would expect it would in the second half. No one believes this defense is a world beater and expecting anything more than holding Dallas to 17 points would have been unrealistic.

-- Ryans did his best to help the offense with a third-quarter interception that he returned 36 yards to the Cowboys 30. Earlier, he stopped Dallas running back Joseph Randle at the line on third down and one. He also sacked Tony Romo and finished with a team-high eight tackles.

-- I thought the defensive front did strong work in stopping the rookie Randle (19 carries for 65 yards). He’s not DeMarco Murray, but the Eagles needed to keep the running back in check and they did that. Defensive tackle Cedric Thornton was once again instrumental against the run. As far as getting pressure, there wasn’t quite enough. Aside from Ryans’ sack, defensive end Vinny Curry had the other Romo takedown. In significantly less snaps, he now has double the sacks of Trent Cole and only one less than Connor Barwin.

-- The secondary is limited, that we know, but they held their own for long stretches. Dez Bryant was eventually going to break through and he did, finishing with eight catches for 110 yards. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher each had moments where they kept the Dallas receiver in check and moments when they could do nothing to stop him. Fletcher broke up an early third down pass, but was called for pass interference when he mugged Bryant in the end zone. Williams got away with a blatant pass interference earlier in the third quarter.

-- A few quickies … Earl Wolff left for while with a head injury, but returned. He had what looked like an up and down game. I saw him make a strong tackle against the run at one point. He was also victimized a few times through the air. Kurt Coleman took his spot at safety when he left. … Coleman was set to jump in for cornerback Brandon Boykin in the slot after he went down. But the Eagles forced a punt and Boykin returned the next series. … Brandon Graham seemed to be playing a lot for Cole down the stretch. I asked Cole about that after the game and he just said he does what he’s told. … Fletcher Cox finished with one tackle and didn’t get much pressure as a pass rusher. … Mychal Kendricks had another bad angle missed tackle, but I thought he had some nice moments. … Donnie Jones punted nine times for 46.6 yards and finished with a 41.8 net. … Alex Henery appeared to have the distance on a 60-yard field goal attempt, but was wide left. … Damaris Johnson continues to provide little in the return game – one kick return for 23 yard and one punt return for five. …. The Eagles cover units were solid for the most part and held Dwayne Harris in check for most of the game.