Kiffin's defense makes Birds look bad
Here's what to do the next time you think you have the NFL figured out: Shake yourself five times and return to the default position.
This beautiful autumn afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field that was ruined for 69,144 fans by the team that has lost its way at home was another perfect example of how up can be down and good can go bad on any given Sunday.
If you had followed the Eagles and Dallas Cowboys through the first six weeks of the season, you were sure that we were about to witness a shootout in South Philly. Tony Romo, the Cowboys' veteran quarterback, was playing as well as he had at any point during his career coming into Week 7. The Eagles' Nick Foles was coming off the best performance of his young career the week before at Tampa Bay and appeared ready to permanently relieve Michael Vick of his starting quarterback duties.
Both quarterbacks had significant weapons at their disposal.
The NFC East might be the worst division in the NFL, but at least the Eagles, who were fourth in the NFL in scoring, and the Cowboys, who ranked second, could provide us with an offensive show like the one Dallas and Denver staged a couple of weeks ago in Texas.
Halftime score: Dallas 3, Eagles 0.
Final score: Dallas 17, Eagles 3.
Entertainment value: 0.05.
As the sun set to the west early Sunday evening, the man who looked the best as he walked out of the Linc was Monte Kiffin. That's no easy task when you're 73 years old, you have a bloodshot left eye, and you've spent enough time in the sun to look 93. But, boy, the Dallas defensive coordinator sure looked good as he pulled his luggage behind him and headed for the Cowboys' team bus.
"We played more man, and our corners [Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne] stepped up and did a great job," Kiffin said. "We still played zone. You have to mix it. You can't play anything all day. You can't play man all day, you can't play Tampa 2 all day."
Whatever Kiffin dialed up, it took Foles, running back LeSean McCoy, and wide receiver DeSean Jackson out of their games. And the Cowboys did it without DeMarcus Ware, their best defensive player.
Kiffin, you may recall, was the defensive coordinator for Tampa Bay on that cruel winter day nearly a decade ago when the Buccaneers shut down Veterans Stadium with a stunning win over the Eagles in the NFC championship game.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly knew Kiffin better from showdowns between Oregon and Southern Cal. Those games were dominated by Kelly's Oregon teams, a fact that was mentioned a time or two before Sunday's game at the Linc. It may have been that Kelly had superior players rather than an unstoppable scheme at Oregon. Whatever the case, Kiffin looked more like the man who outsmarted Andy Reid in that NFC championship game than the USC defensive coordinator who got smoked by Kelly.
Kiffin said this wasn't vindication for the Pac-12 meltdowns.
"No, no," the old man laughed. "He's a great coach. Sometimes you get them, and sometimes they get you. He got us pretty good at Southern Cal. But our guys played their tails off today. Up front, you could tell their quarterback felt the pressure."
A deer caught in headlights would be offended if compared to the way Foles looked against the Cowboys. Making his eighth career start and second straight this season, Foles completed 11 passes for 80 yards. Both were career lows. His 46.2 passer rating was his worst since his first career start last November at Washington.
By the time the game was over, Foles was in a hospital being evaluated for a concussion and Matt Barkley was getting his first exposure to the NFL. To be kind, it did not go well.
Jackson had just three catches for a season-worst 21 yards. McCoy carried 18 times for 55 yards and caught six passes for 26 yards. He was a nonfactor.
"I just thought our defense did a really, really good job playing together and playing what the defensive scheme was," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said after his 4-3 team took over sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
The Cowboys held the Eagles to a season-low 278 yards, and 145 of them came after Barkley entered the game with Dallas holding a 14-point lead that seemed like it was 70.
Romo had trouble getting the Cowboys offense going in the first half, but he completed 17 of 24 passes and led Dallas on two touchdown drives in the second half. He said windy conditions made throwing the football deep and putting together big plays difficult.
"It was a tough day out there," Romo said. "It probably didn't seem like it, but the wind played enough of a factor where completing balls down the field was a little more difficult. Even when you threw them well, it was swirling."
Foles' head was swirling by the end of the day, and the Eagles' brief flirtation with first place was a one-week stand. The Eagles and Cowboys will not meet again until the final week of the season down in Texas. If this game was any indication, the Cowboys will likely have their 18th NFC East title wrapped up by then.
The only thing the Eagles have going for them right now is that nothing is ever exactly as it seems in the NFL.