Surveying the wreckage of the Eagles’ 38-23 loss to the Cowboys:
Even if Michael Vick didn’t have a concussion, Nick Foles would be my starting quarterback Sunday against the Redskins, and not just because the Eagles are at death’s door and it’s time to get a long look at the kid. After watching him play against the Cowboys, I honestly believe he gives them a better chance of winning than Vick.
Foles certainly wasn’t perfect Sunday. But considering that he hasn’t taken a single practice snap with the first-team offense since the preseason, he played pretty well. Wasn’t a deer in headlights. Kept his cool under pressure. Got the ball out quickly. And made good decisions for the most part. Certainly made me want to see more.
Foles threw just two passes that traveled 20 or more yards in the air, including his 44-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin. Twenty-three of his 32 attempts traveled nine yards or less in the air.
The rookie did a good job against the Cowboys’ blitz. He had an impressive 144.0 passer rating against the blitz, completing seven of nine passes for 87 yards and one touchdown.
A look at the good and the bad in his 22-for-32, 219-yard performance:
--His 44-yard third-quarter touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin. He got a nice block from rookie running back Bryce Brown, who picked up blitzing cornerback Orlando Scandrick. That allowed Foles to get outside and extend the play, where he found a wide-open Maclin at the goal line.
--A 32-yard completion to rookie Damaris Johnson that set up the Eagles’ final touchdown. Again keeping his eyes downfield, Foles rolled away from pressure and got the ball to Johnson, who broke free from cornerback Brandon Carr.
-- His first pass of the game to Jason Avant. It was a timing throw that was right on the money. But Avant injured his hamstring making his cut and was off-balance and unable to make the play.
--A 14-yard completion to tight end Brent Celek on the Eagles’ first play after Dwayne Harris’ 78-yard punt return for a touchdown put the Cowboys up by seven. Foles drilled the ball to Celek.
--A 15-yard completion to Maclin on the Eagles’ final scoring drive.
--His interception early in the fourth quarter that was returned for a touchdown by Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr. DeSean Jackson, who was covered by Carr, ran a slant route. It wasn’t an awful throw, but it was behind Jackson. He tried to reach back and grab it, only to have it go off his hands and get picked off by Carr.
--A second-quarter pass to fullback Stanley Havili. Foles telegraphed the throw. Scandrick jumped the route and nearly came away with an interception.
--Foles’ across-the-body throw to Maclin on the Eagles’ final scoring drive. He managed to complete it for 13 yards, but it was a miracle it wasn’t picked off. He made the throw off his back foot with Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer in his face. The ball seemed to hang in the air forever.
--An incompletion to Maclin on the Eagles’ final scoring drive. Maclin pulled up when he found an open spot in the zone. Foles apparently thought he was going to keep running down the seam. It’s the kind of miscommunication you expect when a quarterback and a receiver haven’t worked together since the summer.
CRITIQUING THE OFFENSIVE LINE
Let’s start with the good news. Left guard Evan Mathis and center Dallas Reynolds played pretty well. So did rookie right guard Dennis Kelly except for one fairly significant exception: he was the guy responsible for getting Vick concussed early in the second quarter. Cowboys linebacker Ernie Sims came up the middle on a blitz. Kelly mistakenly thought Reynolds was going to be picking up Sims. Sims came through untouched. He didn’t sack Vick, but knocked him to the ground, where he hit his head on the turf.
As for tackles King Dunlap and Demetress Bell, both played poorly. Dunlap, playing right tackle for the first time since 2010, could find himself on the bench against Washington if right guard Danny Watkins, who has missed the last three games with an injured ankle, is able to play. That would free Kelly to move out to tackle.
Dunlap was flagged for three penalties against the Cowboys, including two illegal-hands-to-the-face calls where he completely knocked off the defender’s helmet. He was flagged for a blatant hold of Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer on the play right before Foles’ 44-yard touchdown throw to Maclin. A little later in the third quarter, he almost took Maclin’s head off on a poorly executed wide receiver screen.
On the same drive, he negated a 13-yard completion to Damaris Johnson that would’ve given the Eagles a first down at the one-yard line when he was flagged for his first illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty. On the next play, he failed to finish a block on DeMarcus Ware on a run play.
When the Eagles were forced to settle for a field goal on the drive, Dunlap, who also is a blocker on the Eagles’ field goal team, forgot to go out on the field, forcing the Eagles to waste a timeout. In the fourth quarter, with the Eagles trailing by two touchdowns, Dunlap was called again for his second illegal hands to the face, effectively stalling the drive.
Bell struggled all day with Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware, though a lot of tackles in the league struggle against Ware. He was called for a holding penalty in the second quarter when Ware beat him with an inside swim move. That negated an eight-yard completion to tight end Brent Celek. On the Eagles’ final scoring drive, he gave up a sack to Cowboys linebacker Victor Butler, who beat him to the outside. He also was called for a false start on the Eagles’ final possession.
THE PUNT RETURN
Mat McBriar had 4.88-second hang time on the 49-yard punt Dwayne Harris returned 78 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. That’s high enough and short enough to force a fair catch. But neither of the Eagles’ gunners – Colt Anderson and Brandon Hughes – got downfield particularly quick. Hughes then took an inside route, which allowed Harris to get to the sideline and use the blocking wall the Cowboys had set up. It appeared that Hughes was blocked in the back by Scandrick on the play, but it wasn’t called. McBriar should’ve been able to force Harris out of bounds at the Philadephia 40, but didn’t. And I’m not sure what linebacker Jamar Chaney was doing on the play. Instead of taking an angle to the sideline to cut off Harris, he seemed to be waiting for McBriar to force him back inside to him.
MORE BAD TACKLING
The Eagles had seven missed tackles against the Cowboys. Six of them came on two of the biggest plays of the game. The first was Felix Jones’ 11-yard touchdown catch and run late in the first quarter that tied the game. Defensive end Darryl Tapp, safety Nate Allen and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha all had opportunities to bring Jones down and failed.
Then there was Tony Romo’s momentum-turning 25-yard completion to Miles Austin on a third-and-five late in the third quarter. The Eagles got excellent pressure on Romo on the play. Fletcher Cox, Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins all had opportunities to sack Romo. Somehow, he got away from all of them and delivered the ball to Austin. That kept the drive alive. Three plays later, Romo threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant to tie the game.
"It was sporadic," Andy Reid said of the tackling. "There were some plays where I thought we really made some nice tackles, and then there were some plays, a couple of key plays, where we didn’t make tackles.
"One of the things you’re seeing is we’re not doing a good job of wrapping up, of using our arms with our body and our feet and running through tackles."
Case in point was cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie trying to bring down Cowboys tight end Jason Witten with a shoulder nudge in the first quarter. It was like a bug hitting your windshield on the Schuylkill.
THIS AND THAT
--The Eagles used two-tight end sets on four of 10 plays on their game-opening touchdown drive, then went with two tight ends just 10 times the rest of the game.
--The Eagles continue to increase rookie running back Bryce Brown’s reps. While he only carried the ball three times (for 1 yard), he played 13 snaps against the Cowboys. He had a big block on Foles’ 44-yard touchdown pass to Maclin, picking up blitzing cornerback Orlando Scandrick, which allowed Foles to get outside and extend the play. On another play, though, he failed to give Bell help with Ware.
--This hasn’t been one of tight end Celek’s better blocking seasons. On Sunday, he missed a seal block on linebacker Anthony Spencer on a third-and-four run by Vick. He also failed to block linebacker Bruce Carter on a Bryce Brown run early in the second quarter. Carter tackled Brown for a one-yard loss.
--DeSean Jackson had a nice block on cornerback Morris Claiborne on a 12-yard screen pass to LeSean McCoy in the second quarter.
--The Eagles’ back-to-back sacks of Romo in the second quarter both came on blitzes. So did Romo’s 49-yard completion to Dez Bryant on the Eagles’ second scoring drive. The Eagles blitzed Romo six times. He was 2-for-4 for 58 yards when they send extra rushers.
--I’m still not sure why, after choosing not to use their two remaining timeouts to stop the clock on their final possession of the first half, Reid and Marty Mornhinweg called a pass play on second-and-five from their own 13 with 34 seconds left. And why fullback Stanley Havili, who caught the pass for a three-yard gain, ran out of bounds.
--The Eagles got good inside pass-rush push from the defensive tackles Sunday, which hadn’t been the case the previous four games.
--The best evidence of Bryce Brown’s speed. On Foles’ 44-yard touchdown throw to Maclin, Brown picked up Scandrick on a blitz and still was the first guy down the field to congratulate Maclin in the end zone.
--For the life of me, I don’t understand why Rodgers-Cromartie was playing outside leverage on Dez Bryant on Bryant’s 30-yard touchdown catch. The Cowboys had four wide receivers on the field on that play. He wasn’t going to be getting any safety help. Yet he still allowed Bryant to get inside of him.
BY THE NUMBERS
--Tony Romo completed 7 of 10 third-down passes for 83 yards, a touchdown and five first downs. In the last three games, opposing quarterbacks are 19-for-25 for 253 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and 15 first downs against the Eagles. In the last three games, Eagles opponents have completed 75.6 percent of their passes, averaged 8.7 yards per attempt and thrown seven touchdown passes and no interceptions.
--The Eagles, who have just 10 takeaways, have failed to force a turnover in four of their first nine games. They have just two interceptions in their last seven games.
--Just two of the Eagles’ 14 possessions Sunday started beyond their own 22 yard-line. They’ve had just five drive starts beyond their own 40 in the last seven games (78 possessions).
--With 16 touchdowns in nine games, the Eagles are on pace to score just 28 TDs this season. That would be the fewest since 1998 when they scored just 17 and finished 3-13.
--The Cowboys rushed for 50 yards on their first seven carries Sunday, and just 51 on their final 17 rushing attempts. Thirteen of the cowboys last 17 carries went for three yards or less.