Day of rest for Eagles, but that was only one of the reasons they lost to Cowboys | Domowitch

Eagles offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai blocks Dallas Cowboys defensive end Tyrone Crawford on Sunday, December 31, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer

 

Five reasons the Eagles lost to the Cowboys:

Rest day for the starters

Most of the Cowboys’ starters played the entire game, including quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

As for the Eagles, with home-field advantage in the playoffs already locked up, this was a meaningless game. So, Doug Pederson did the smart thing and either gave his starters and regulars the day off or played them sparingly.

On offense, running back Jay Ajayi didn’t play. Tight end Zach Ertz played just 14 snaps. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery played 18. Pro Bowl offensive linemen Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson played just 19 snaps. Center Jason Kelce called it a day early in the second quarter.

Poll

Will other teams’ interest in Jim Schwartz and John DeFilippo be a distraction for the Eagles?

On defense, linebacker Nigel Bradham, defensive end Brandon Graham, safety Rodney McLeod and cornerback Jalen Mills didn’t play. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was out after three plays, and safety Malcolm Jenkins and corner Ronald Darby were pulled after six snaps.

Camera icon MICHAEL BRYANT
Dallas cornerback Chidobe Awuzie intercepted a Nick Foles pass on a second-and-14 play in the first quarter.

Third-down struggles

The Eagles, who were so good on third down with Carson Wentz at the controls, are heading into the playoffs with some major third-down worries.

This is the down that the Eagles were able to convert and keep alive all of those 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drives this season. Now, without Wentz, not so much.

They were 1-for-14 on third down against the Raiders and just 2-for-11 on Sunday. That’s 3-for-25 in their last two games.

Pederson said Sunday that the problem isn’t third down, but first and second down. That’s partially true, particularly during the first four drives of the game when Foles was in at quarterback.

Four of their seven second downs with Foles were 10 yards or more. His interception came on a second-and-14 play that followed a botched shotgun snap.

On the Eagles’ fourth and final drive with Foles, Ertz and Kelce drew back-to-back penalties that put the offense in a second-and-21 hole.

But just three of their 11 third-down situations Sunday were 8 yards or more. Against the Raiders, they had just five third-and-longs. Two of the three sacks of Nate Sudfeld came on a third-and-4 and a third-and-5.

On the Eagles’ very first drive, Foles hit Torrey Smith in stride on a third-and-7 play for what should have been a first down well inside Dallas territory. But Smith dropped the pass.

Bottom line: The offensive problem is more than just Foles.

The drops

There were just two of them, but both came on drives in Dallas territory.

The first was Smith’s, which, even if the Eagles didn’t gain another yard on the drive, would have put them in position for a very makable Jake Elliott field-goal try.

The second drop was by rookie Mack Hollins in the second quarter. Drop probably isn’t the right word, since the pass by Sudfeld basically went right through his hands.

The Eagles had a first down on the Dallas 39. Hollins was wide-open inside the 30. He almost certainly would have been able to advance the ball to at least the 25, given that there wasn’t a defender within 5 yards of him.

Instead, the Eagles were stuck with a second-and-10. Two plays later, tackles Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Will Beatty were simultaneously beaten by DeMarcus Lawrence and Datone Jones, resulting in a sack and forcing one of Donnie Jones’ seven punt attempts of the day.

Camera icon MICHAEL BRYANT
Eagles QB Nate Sudfeld is sacked by Dallas’ Datone Jones (56) and DeMarcus Lawrence.

The protection

It wasn’t good even when the starters were in there with Foles in the first quarter. It was even worse after Brooks, Johnson and Kelce left the game.

Brooks was beaten by Lawrence on the Eagles’ first possession. Lawrence hit Foles’ arm as he was throwing, forcing an incompletion. Lawrence was able to get pressure again three plays later when the Eagles went for it on fourth-and-7 at the Dallas 39.

Vaitai didn’t have a particularly good game. Besides giving up the sack, he was called for a hold on a third-and-13 that negated a 17-yard completion to Marcus Johnson.

Sudfeld completed 19 of 23 passes, but most of his throws were dinks and dunks. Sixteen of his 22 aimed throws (he had one batted at the line) traveled 5 or fewer yards, including five behind the line of scrimmage (mostly screens) and another three right at the line of scrimmage.

Nowhere to run

In their 37-9 win over the Cowboys in Week 11, the Eagles rushed for a season-high 215 yards on 33 carries.  Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement combined for 198 of those yards.

On Sunday, the Eagles finished with just 70 yards on 18 carries. And 22 of those yards came on a third-quarter scramble by Sudfeld. On their other 17 rushing attempts, they averaged just 3.4 yards per carry.

Ajayi didn’t play Sunday, but in the first quarter, when the Eagles had all of their offensive-line starters in the game, they managed just 18 yards on seven carries.

The Eagles finished the regular season ranked third in rushing (132.2 yards per game) and fourth in rush average (4.5 yards per carry).

But in the three games since Wentz got hurt, they have averaged just 85.3 rushing yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry.

The Eagles haven’t had a rushing touchdown in their last six games. Their nine rushing TDs are the ninth fewest in the league.