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Eagles vs. Cowboys: 5 Good Things & 5 Bad

There was a lot to love about the Eagles' dismantling of Dallas -- let's rehash some more! --but there were also a few disturbing developments.

Count 'em, five!
Count 'em, five!
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

This is going to be a tough game to find 5 bad things about, and tougher to limit the good list to the fingers on one hand, but I'll do my best. Read BLG's take on the game here.

The Good

1) LeSean McCoy dominance.

Shady is not only back, he's doing it every week again now that the offensive line is healthy.  Sproles and Polk had good games too, and Josh Huff ran for 7 yards and a first down on the last non-victory-formation play from scrimmage. (He ran some at Oregon, too.)

The Birds are going to need a strong run game to beat Seattle or go deep into the playoffs, so this is a great time to pull together a potent running attack.

2) Sanchez on the run

Several of us have been wondering why Sanchez -- who is considerably faster than Foles -- has been running less than Nick on read-option plays.  Until the Dallas game, they weren't even really read-options, more like oddly-angled handoffs.

That all changed Thursday, which is great.  It caught the Cowboys off guard, notably on the one red-zone touchdown that Philadelphia scored (a two yard read-option keeper by Sanchez). It will force linebackers to stay honest in the future, opening up more room for RBs, and should help with sweeps as well.

Why hasn't Sanchez kept the ball more before this game? It may be that Chip didn't think he was executing it properly yet in practice. Maybe the injuries to the offensive line made the play too dangerous. Or maybe it was part of the coaching chess match, playing against expectations. Whatever the reason is, the QB keeper on a read option will be an important weapon for this team going forward.

3) The defense

The secondary got nasty, contesting throws and grabbing two interceptions and a forced fumble. The front 7 was even nastier, sacking Romo four times, delivering constant pressure and stuffing Dallas' vaunted running game. Beautiful.

4) Cody Parkey, god among men.

How quickly we've gone from panic at the thought of field goals to taking them for granted.  Red zone problems should be a huge worry for this team, but they're only a medium worry because the Eagles keep racking up points three at a time. His touchback percentage is excellent too, and will undoubtedly improve with coaching and weight training.

5) The Four Minute Offense

While the Eagles' tempo exhausted Dallas' D, Chip Kelly has steadily improved his clock management by developing the team's slowdown game.  At the end of the first half, the Eagles (up 17-7) burned nearly four minutes off the clock in the process of scoring another field goal, though Dallas still managed to get 3 of their own before the half ended.  Then, starting with 2:37 left in the 3rd, Philly burned off six and a half minutes before scoring another FG for the final margin.

The Bad

1) Red Zone Offense

The first worry is easy.  In a great game, the Eagles only converted one of five red zone opportunities into touchdowns.  It's wonderful that Cody Parkey is money (4/4 in this game), but against better teams in the playoffs, the Birds are going to need all 7 points to win.

There are a lot of reasons for this failure.  The second quarter sequence where the Birds started 1st and goal at the 5 illustrates most of them.  On first down, the call for a run straight up the middle was predictable and predictably got stuffed.  Chalk it up to bad play calling.

On second down, it may have been an odd play call or poor execution. The imbalanced line, with Jason Peters shifted over to the right side, implied a sweep or run in that direction.  James Casey motioned right up to the left side of the line opposite Barry Church, but instead of blocking him, Casey ran forward and to the right.

Shady ran to his left, against the line's direction, which has been a play for the Eagles this year. The unblocked Barry Church was right in front of him. It looks like McCoy could have outrun him to the left sideline -- it's hard to tell because the coaches' film is not available yet - -but LeSean chose to cut back inside into a wall of Cowboys, and Church made the initial tackle from behind.

Third down was a pass to Riley Cooper, one on one against Sterling Moore.  Moore had inside leverage, but Cooper looked inside and Sanchez threw there.  Moore tipped the ball back toward the goal post and it was nearly intercepted.  A fade or back shoulder throw on the outside should have been an easy touchdown, but the pass inside was right into traffic.

2) Ertz so bad

He's not bad, really, I just couldn't resist the pun.  But both Zach Ertz and Riley Cooper have lost the ability to catch short and medium passes for touchdowns, which is a big part of the red zone offense problem.

Here is what the Eagles did on third down in their four failed red zone trips Thursday:

-- Incomplete pass to Ertz, knocked away at the goal line.

-- Incomplete pass to Cooper, knocked away in the middle left of the end zone.

-- Sanchez, under heavy pressure, missed Cooper at the 2. It looked like he had Cooper wide open in the end zone right at the start of the play.

-- Sanchez beans Cooper with a bullet to his thigh. (See next item)

The two tall receivers, prized specifically for red zone ability, are not getting separation and not winning jump balls. Is the problem predictable play-calling, poor route running, or Sanchez' inability to throw perfect fades as well as Nick Foles?  Yes.

3. Sanchez fighting with Cooper.

Clearly, Cooper has better chemistry with Nick Foles than Mark Sanchez, though Coop caught four passes for 32 yards on the first two drives Thursday.  The bad chemistry erupted into a yelling match after Cooper couldn't figure out where Sanchez wanted him lined up on a 3rd and goal from the 4 yard line.  The Birds had to call a time out, and Sanchez was livid, restrained by Brent Celek from escalating matters.

After the time out, Sanchez threw a very quick screamer right into Coop's leg that must have given him a charley horse, as if to say "You want the ball? I'll give you the friggin ball."  The pass, even if the right choice (doubtful), was low and behind Cooper's hands, too.

It would have been funny except that it gave Dallas another stop inside the 5 yard line. Hopefully the coaches will work the disagreement out.  Sanchez said encouraging things after the game, not denying a rift or sugar coating it.

Both of us had something to say, we said it and that was it. ... That's it. We move on, because we've got another team to play, and no matter what we're going to play together and play our butts off for each other, whether we're upset or not.

Cooper, however, left the locker room quickly before reporters could interview him.  Not a good sign. The Eagles need as many red zone receivers as they can get to make a run this year.

4) Still giving up long passes.

Philadelphia's secondary actually played very well Thursday, responding to the referee's lax flag work by muscling Dallas' receivers.  Any time Dez Bryant is whining about the mean DBs, that's a good day for Philadelphia's defense.

They still gave up long passes to Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and DeMarco Murray, though. (Can you sense that I'm scratching to find bad things, here? Points 1, 2 and 3 overlapped a lot, and this is kind of faint criticism.)

5) The game ended.

Yeah, this beat down of the cocky Cowboys was fantastic, but it ended all too soon.  In a better world, it would still be going on, early in the second quarter with the score 398 to 12, and the Dallas defenders literally collapsed from exhaustion all over the field.  Sadly, this is an imperfect world, and Eagles fans will have to settle for humiliating their arch-rivals in front of 20 million football fans and seizing control of the NFC East.

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