The Eagles were supposed to roll. They opened as 6.5-point favorites and all eight CBSSports.com experts picked them to beat the Cowboys on Sunday night. Turns out, Dallas had different ideas and held on for a 27-20 victory to move to 4-5. Not only are they catapulted right back into the divisional race, but Philly remains winless in consecutive weeks and falls to 4-5.
It’s hard to imagine that six days ago the Cowboys were thoroughly and utterly embarrassed at home by the Titans and looked every bit the outfit destined for a top-10 pick in the draft — well, if they hadn’t traded it to Oakland for Amari Cooper. Now they remain two games back of the Redskins — just like the Eagles — though these two teams appear to be going in different directions.
Wentz and Ertz sharp, Eagles D anything but
Save a terrible interception on the first play of the second series — Leighton Vander Esch, who is battling Derwin James for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, materialized out of nowhere — Wentz had a very good evening.
He finished 32 of 44 for 360 yards, two touchdowns, the aforementioned interception and a 102.5 passer rating. That’s his fifth straight game with a passer rating north of the century mark, and each and every week he looks more like the 2017 MVP candidate and less like the guy recovering from ACL surgery. Wentz was sharp with his reads, strong with his throws, mobile in the pocket despite a shaky offensive line, and was tough to bring down. These are all positive developments for an Eagles team that has been wildly inconsistent this season though looked to be clicking in recent weeks.
But the bye week didn’t help Philly on Sunday; they looked slow and lethargic early, and after the offense finally got going, the defense remained … slow and lethargic. Despite all of Dak Prescott‘s warts (a lot more on that below), he still managed to go 26 of 36 for 270 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. That’s the good news for the Eagles’ D. Because Zeke Elliott went off. He ran for 151 yards on 19 touches (7.9 YPC), including a touchdown, and added another 36 receiving yards on six catches and another score.
The Eagles had no answers, and this is a huge problem going forward. Because unless Wentz and Co. can put up 30 points a game, Philly is going to struggle to win from one week to the next.
In related news: Zach Ertz might be the key to the Eagles scoring 30 points a game. We’re exaggerating — Philly has surpassed 30 just once this season — but Ertz was damn near unstoppable against the Cowboys. He had 14 catches for 145 yards and these two touchdowns:
And he’s particularly dangerous against Dallas.
But again, if Philly’s defense doesn’t improve, they have no shot at returning to the playoffs. (And yes, we know, their secondary has been decimated by injuries. But it’s the middle of November — every team is battling injuries. And by the way, the Eagles lost Wentz last December and won the Super Bowl.)
Is Dak Prescott the future in Dallas?
This isn’t all about Dak Prescott. Yes, he’s the Cowboys’ unquestioned starter, and that’s been the case since the official announcement midway through his rookie campaign two years ago, when he replaced the injured Tony Romo. But the Prescott we’ve seen this season barely resembles the Prescott we saw in 2016. In 16 starts he helped Dallas to a 13-3 record, completing 67.8 percent of his passes for 3,667 yards, 23 touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer rating of 104.9. Prescott was also the beneficiary of the league’s best offensive line and a running game that featured Ezekiel Elliott. How good was Prescott? Beyond the conventional stats, he ranked fourth among all quarterbacks in Football Outsiders‘ total-value metric — and he was third in their value-per-play metric, behind only Matt Ryan and Tom Brady. No matter how you looked at it, there wasn’t much not to like.
But Year 2 didn’t go nearly as well, and Year 3 has been more of the same. Prescott entered Sunday night completing 62.9 percent of his passes (10 TDs, 5 INTs) with a passer rating of 88.9. Through nine weeks of the ’18 season, Prescott is 29th in total value and 28th in value per play, behind Eli Manning and Jameis Winston. So yeah.
But the issues extend beyond Prescott’s play. The offensive line has been beset by injuries and inconsistencies, the wide receiver position lacked a true playmaker for the first two months of the season and there is no No. 1 tight end to speak of (when NBC’s Cris Collinsworth describes Geoff Swaim as the closest thing Dallas has to a No. 1 tight end, well, that should give you some indication where things stand).
Still, Prescott has regressed. He regularly stares down receivers, holds the ball too long in the pocket, misses easy outlets, and tries to shoehorn ill-advised throws into way-too-small windows. In fact, we saw this on the very first play of Dallas’ third series; Prescott stared down his receiver and his pass hit the Eagles’ defender in the hands. It very easily could’ve been a pick six.
And then, late in the second quarter, with the ball on the Cowboys’ 40-yard line, Prescott inexplicably takes a sack. On second-and-23, Elliott gains eight yards. And on third-and-15, Michael Gallup takes a short throw 25 yards to keep the drive alive. Prescott then redeems himself and makes a fantastic throw down the sideline to Cole Beasley and three plays after that, he scores to give Dallas a 10-point lead at the half.
So here’s the question: Is Prescott the long-term answer in Dallas? Jerry Jones said last week that Prescott would be getting an extension, presumably in the offseason. But Jones says a lot of things. And even if he’s serious, what kind of money are we talking about? Aaron Rodgers averages $ 33.5 million a year. Carson Wentz, who is still on his rookie deal, averages just $ 6.7 million a year. We’re guessing Prescott will be looking for something in the $ 20 million range, slightly more than what Ryan Tannehill, Case Keenum, Blake Bortles and Andy Dalton make, on average. Because, really, if you’re paying your franchise quarterback less than the four names we just mentioned, then you don’t really think of him as a franchise quarterback at all.
Zeke is the key
As a rookie, Elliott averaged 108.7 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. Through eight games this season, he’s averaging just 85 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry. But he looked more like his 2016 self against the Eagles, and he was a big reason for the Cowboys’ offense sustaining drives even as Prescott struggled to find his form. Here’s Zeke midway through the second quarter, taking some of the pressure off the pass game and setting up a Cowboys field goal:
Turns out, hurdling runs in the family:
And this isn’t a one-off, it’s a recurring theme:
Then early in the fourth quarter, Zeke put the Cowboys back in front, 20-13, with this reception:
He finished the drive with 10 receiving yards and 25 rushing yards.
A series later, Prescott got the Cowboys to the red zone and Zeke did the rest to give the Cowboys the 27-20 lead:
Things get immeasurably more difficult for the Eagles (4-5); they travel to New Orleans to face the red hot Saints (8-1) before returning home to take on the hapless Giants (1-7). The Cowboys (4-5), meanwhile, travel to Atlanta (4-5) to face the Falcons, who are fresh off getting embarrassed by the resurgent Browns. After that it’s back to Dallas for a meeting with the division-leading Redskins (6-3).
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