Domo: Eagles' defense can't quite finish the job

ARLINGTON, Texas - You pretty much knew going in that this game probably was going to bear little resemblance to last week's win over the Vikings.

The Eagles' defense wasn't going to dominate the Cowboys' offensive line the way they did Minnesota's.

They weren't going to use quarterback Dak Prescott for a punching bag the way they did immobile Sam Bradford.

And they sure as hell weren't going to put a muzzle on NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott the way they did the Vikings' Jerrick McKinnon and Matt Asiata.

No, on this night, you knew Jim Schwartz's defense was going to bend. The question was would they break?

Could a front seven missing one of the league's top run-stoppers (Bennie Logan) neutralize Elliott enough to prevent him from being the difference in the game?

Could a secondary that lost one cornerback last week to a season-ending injury (Ron Brooks) and had another playing with a balky hamstring (Leodis McKelvin) shut down a receiving corps featuring Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley?

Could they win enough first- and second-down battles to force Prescott into uncomfortable third-and-longs?

Could they continue to come up big in the red zone like the way they have much of the season? Could they negate the mistakes of youth, like rookie running back Wendell Smallwood's fourth-quarter fumble?

The answer for much of Sunday night's key NFC East battle with the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, was yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

For the better part of the first 55 minutes, Schwartz's defense kept the dangerous Elliott in check and neutralized the Cowboys' passing game.

But the Cowboys finally tied the game late in the fourth quarter on a 22-yard Prescott touchdown pass to Bryant, and then eventually won it in overtime, 29-23, on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Prescott to tight end Jason Witten.

"That was a game we needed to finish," said cornerback Nolan Carroll, who gave up the game-tying touchdown pass to Bryant with 3:04 left in the fourth quarter. "It was one we needed to put away. We weren't able to do it."

The Cowboys drove 75 yards on 12 plays for the game-winning touchdown after winning the overtime coin toss to improve to 6-1 and take a two-game lead in the division over the Eagles, Redskins and Giants.

Elliott was a big part of the game-winning drive as a receiver, picking up one first down with a 12-yard catch and then another with a 10-yard reception on a second-and-10 that gave the Cowboys a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line.

Prescott, whose mobility gave the Eagles trouble much of the evening, escaped the rush on his game-winning touchdown pass to Witten.

"He's real agile," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "We knew we had to have a cohesive rush. He did a great job using his legs to extend plays. I think next time we see him we'll make adjustments there.

"We tried to collapse the pocket a little too much and he kept escaping outside."

Elliott rushed for 52 yards in the first half on eight carries, including 11-, 13- and 15-yard runs. Prescott added 23 on two runs, including a 7-yard touchdown run.

But the Eagles stopped Elliott when they had to. They limited his first-down yards and forced Prescott and the Cowboys into more second- and third-and-longs than they've been accustomed to.

Elliott finished with just 96 yards on 22 carries. Prescott, who came into the game ranked fifth in the league in passing and second in completion percentage, completed just 19 of 39 passes. But he was a perfect 5-for-5 for 56 yards on the Cowboys' game-winning drive in overtime.

The Cowboys, who came into the game ranked second in the league in first downs per game, had just 20 in regulation. An offense that was third in the league in third-down efficiency converted just four of 14 chances against the Eagles.

The Eagles had a golden opportunity to make it a two-score game with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter when they had a third-and-8 at the Dallas 32.

They were in field-goal range for their red-hot kicker, Caleb Sturgis. But a flare pass to Darren Sproles backfired and resulted in a 4-yard loss.

Sturgis already had made a 55-yarder earlier in the game. But that was at the end of the half. If he missed what would have been a 54-yarder, it would've given the Cowboys excellent field position. So the Eagles punted the ball away and left it to their defense to hold on to a seven-point lead.

It looked like they just might do it, but then the Cowboys put together an 11-play, 90-yard drive to tie it and a 12-play, 75-yard drive in overtime to win it.

"We're not that far off," Graham said. "We just have to keep fighting and make the plays at the end of the game. I believe in this team.

"We can build on a lot of the things we did tonight. We held a guy that gets over 100 yards every game under 100. That was a big emphasis, stopping the run. At the end, we just need to stop beating ourselves. We couldn't get over that hump."


pdomo@aol.com

@Pdomo Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian.com