“The Cowboys didn’t have Tyron Smith! Sean Lee got hurt! Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t playing! Dan Bailey was out!”
Guess which other team has been playing without their left tackle (Jason Peters), middle linebacker (Jordan Hicks), running back (Darren Sproles), and kicker (Caleb Sturgis)?
Oh, that’s right, the team with the best record in the NFL at 8-1: the Philadelphia Eagles.
And when you look at it more closely, the Eagles’ injury adversity is much worse.
There are three big reasons why the Eagles have done a better job at responding to this adversity. These reasons bode well for Philadelphia’s chances of beating the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football.
1 - The Quarterback
I’ve gotta admit, seeing all the “It doesn’t have to be one or the other, it’s OK to admit Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott are both good quarterbacks, ” was driving me crazy this week. I’m not trying to single anyone out here, by the way, I saw a lot of people saying this.
Look, if that’s how you feel, fine. Personally, I’m not as big on Dak as many seem to be. You can say I’m biased, and I probably am, but I’d like to think it’s more complex than that.
Dating back to last season, I’ve been arguing all along that Prescott has benefited greatly from his supporting cast. Ezekiel Elliott’s presence has been especially great for him. Zeke being such a talented running back has made life SO easy on Prescott. In 2016, Prescott attempted the third fewest passes of any quarterback in the league. Contrast that to Wentz, who attempted the second most passes of any rookie quarterback EVER.
It’s not just about the fewer attempts. It’s also about those attempts being assisted by effective play-action. And those attempts coming on 2nd-and-4 situations instead of 2nd-and-9. What I’m trying to say is that Elliott’s presence has a huge impact on Prescott. And that’s why it’s such a joke that Prescott won Rookie of the Year over Zeke.
So my whole thing is that I’ve really been wanting to see how Prescott operates without Elliott. And though it’s only been one game so far, and Tyron Smith wasn’t playing, the results don’t look so great. In the Cowboys’ loss to the Falcons, Prescott didn’t look very resilient. It was a tough situation, yes, but adversity isn’t an aberration in the NFL. A quarterback isn’t always going to have the perfect situation around him.
Part of the reason why franchise quarterbacks are at a premium is because elite ones can elevate the team around them. That’s exactly what Wentz HAS done this season. Wentz was getting hit a lot early in the Eagles-Panthers game. He didn’t fold. Instead, he continued to play at an MVP level like he has for most of the 2017 season.
So I don’t really wanna hear “they’re both good quarterbacks” because I do think that gives Dak more credit than he deserves while also taking away from Wentz. I think Dak is a fine game manager type who can have success when everything around him is going good. I think Wentz is a potentially elite quarterback who can elevate a team to greatness. At least, that’s what we’re seeing this season.
2 - The Head Coach
I still have no idea what Jason Garret even does.
He doesn’t call the plays. He doesn’t pick the players. Beside clap on the sidelines, what does he even do?
Does he formulate the game-plan? The one that called on Chaz Green not getting a lot of help and allowing five sacks against the Falcons?
Just as it is with Prescott winning Rookie of the Year last season, it’s a joke that Garrett won Coach of the Year in 2016.
The 2017 Coach of the Year, Doug Pederson, is much more inspiring than Garrett. I don’t know if I expected I’d ever be saying that about Pederson, but here we are.
Pederson’s just done a tremendous job this season. The play-calling has been creative. The team chemistry is great. There isn’t a lack of leadership or discipline. Can’t really say enough good things about the guy.
One of the most impressive parts about Pederson and his coaching staff is how they’ve operated around such key injuries. The players filling in for the injured guys haven’t look unprepared. The offense/defense hasn’t suddenly collapsed with the absence of one or two key players. The Eagles have been able to scheme around some of their injuries.
That’s all a testament to good coaching.
3 - The Front Office
The Cowboys’ front office has gotten a lot of praise in recent seasons. People look at Dak, Zeke, the offensive line and think: wow, this team is loaded!
Well, not exactly.
The Cowboys’ problem is that they’re obsessed with their logo. They’re all about star power. You need premier talent to win in the NFL, yes, but you also need depth. Dallas does not have depth.
Look no further than the Tyron Smith situation. He goes down and his backup, Chaz Green, surrenders five sacks. Now Green has been benched for a guy who has also really struggled: Byron Bell.
This isn’t the only position of concern for Dallas. The running backs behind Zeke aren’t scaring anyone. Sean Lee is hurt for the billionth time in his career and there’s no great option behind him despite the fact the Cowboys should know better by now.
I mean, the Cowboys do have Jerry Jones, former Executive of the Year, after all.
Contrast the Cowboys’ lack of depth to the job that Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas have done building up the Eagles’ roster. Philly invested in offensive line depth. Jason Peters goes down and Halapoulivaati Vaitai looks at least serviceable in his absence. Darren Sproles goes down but the running game doesn’t struggle since the blocking is still good. Defensively, the Eagles alleviated their secondary concerns by investing in a defensive line that now leads the league in generating pressure. Not to mention being historically great at stopping at the run.
Earlier this week, our friend John Stolnis wrote a great piece about how you shouldn’t feel bad about other teams dealing with injuries. He’s right. The Eagles have had to deal with a lot of adversity.
But unlike others, they haven’t made excuses. They’ve been able to rise above it.
That shows the mark of a truly great team.