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10 things we learned from the Eagles’ final regular season game against the Cowboys

Final takeaways from the season finale.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles finished 13-3 in the 2017 NFL regular season schedule after losing to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17 by a final score of 6 to 0. Here’s a look at some things we learned from this forgettable game.

1 - No one got hurt

This is the most important takeaway from a meaningless game. The Eagles have already dealt with so many injuries this year. They can’t afford to lose any more players. The only Eagles player who left the game early was Sidney Jones and that was just due to cramping.

It was nice that the Eagles got to rest some key players who have been battling through nagging injuries all season. The hope is they’ll be fresh for the Eagles’ first playoff game on Saturday, January 13.

2 - It’s hard to feel great about the offense heading into the playoffs

To no surprise, the Eagles’ offense has really struggled without Carson Wentz.

In the three games since Wentz went down for the season, the Eagles’ offense is averaging 15.7 points per game and 4.26 yards per play. For context, only two teams averaged fewer points per game in 2017. And the team with the lowest yards per play in 2017, the Colts, finished at 4.6. Philadelphia would rank dead last by a significant margin in that stat.

Doug Pederson seemingly wanted to play the Eagles’ starting offense against the Cowboys so that they could get in rhythm. It looked like that might happen when Philadelphia started their first drive at their own 23-yard line and moved to the Cowboys’ 42-yard line. But then Torrey Smith dropped a sure first down on 3rd-and-7. Nick Foles then threw a pass high of Smith on fourth down.

Smith’s drop was terrible, make no mistake about it. He’s been a liability too often this season. But there’s no excusing how poorly Foles played yet again. The Eagles’ starting quarterback finished the game with the following stat-line: 4/11, 39 yards (3.5 average), 0 TD, 1 INT, 9.3 passer rating. That’s terrible.

And, once again, it’s not like Foles faced a good defense. Dallas rank 22nd overall in defensive DVOA. Their defensive coordinator, Rod Marinelli, is reportedly in danger of losing his job. Dallas had nothing to play for in this game. And yet Foles looked terrible against them, just like he did against a Raiders defense that ranked 32nd by DVOA and 27th in opponent yards per play.

Foles continues to show the same issues we’ve seen all along. He doesn’t know where to go with the ball (so much for “knowing the offense”) and holds on to it for too long. He can’t regularly avoid pressure. He can’t consistently make accurate throws. He’s even struggling with something as basic as catching shotgun snaps. It’s just very hard to watch. He’s looked downright incompetent in his last two starts.

People will try to make excuses for Foles, as they always do, but the reality is he’s just been very bad. In his last 49 attempts, he has a 46.9% completion rate, a 48.2 passer rating, and 4.1 yards per attempt.

I’ve seen some try to blame Foles’ struggles on the Eagles’ scheme. That’s pretty ridiculous to me. Guys are getting open. The quarterback simply isn’t making the throws. Those are execution errors.

Moving forward, the hope is that Foles can somehow bounce back since we’ve seen him play well before. But that’s just a blind leap of faith at this point. The other hope is that the Eagles will really rely on the run game, and maybe they will. But it’s also much harder to run effectively when the quarterback isn’t much of a threat in the passing game.

3 - The defense is stepping up and that’ll need to continue

While the Eagles’ offense has sucked for the past two games, the defense has not. They’ve really rebounded from a bad outing against the Giants in Week 15. There was a feeling that Jim Schwartz’s unit would play better at home and that’s been the case.

Philadelphia has only allowed 16 total points and 4.56 yards per play in their last two games. They’ve logged five takeaways and have forced two turnovers on downs in that span as well. Those figures are even more impressive when you consider the Eagles had a lot of their backup players playing against the Cowboys’ starting offense in Week 17.

With the way the Eagles’ offense has struggled, they’re going to need to continue this defensive dominance at home. It obviously won’t be getting any easier since the teams the Eagles will face in the playoffs are significantly better than the Raiders and Cowboys.

The thing the Eagles can hang their hat on defensively is the expected strength of the team: their pass rush. Philadelphia ended the season ranked first in pressure generated.

The Eagles are going to have to make games ugly and grind it out. Unfortunately, that’s not very aesthetically-pleasing football, but it’s what it’ll take to win in the post-season.

4 - Sidney Jones made his NFL debut and that’s all that matters

Sidney Jones played 29 defensive snaps and seven special teams snaps on Sunday. He was targeted twice and allowed one reception for three yards. He also got beat deep on a double move but got bailed out thanks to a bad throw from Dak Prescott.

Jones didn’t overly impress in his debut but I’d argue that’s irrelevant. The rookie corner was playing in his first NFL action with only having nine days of practice reps. It was just good to see him out there getting some experience under his belt. That should serve him well as he prepares to compete for a starting job in 2018.

It seems unlikely Jones will have much of a role in the playoffs.

5 - Nate Sudfeld looked competent in his NFL debut

Nate Studfeld (sic) wasn’t exactly “turning heads” in Week 17 but I did think he looked competent. Especially when you compare his numbers next to Foles’ performance.

Nate Sudfeld: 19/23, 134 yards, 5.8 avg, 0 TD, 0 INT, 90.9 rating, 1 rush for 22 yards

Nick Foles: 4/11, 39 yards, 3.5 avg, 0 TD, 1 INT, 9.3 rating

Foles was also playing with the Eagles’ starters while Sudfeld was not.

Sudfeld’s best throw of the day came on a play that got called back due to holding. He sidestepped a pass rusher and delivered a bullet to Marcus Johnson along the sideline. That was pretty nice. Sudfeld also showed some decent mobility while picking up a 22-yard gain with his legs. That was the second longest run by an Eagles quarterback this season.

It was a small sample size, but I think Sudfeld showed enough to legitimize the Eagles’ efforts in keeping him around as a developmental passer.

There’s already been some talk about making Sudfeld the starter for the rest of this season. It’s not the majority calling for that, to be clear, but some have suggested it.

Now, the Eagles almost certainly won’t bench Foles for Sudfeld. With that said, I don’t think it’s crazy to wish they would make that change. Although unrealistic, there’s an argument for it.

Foles has been absolutely dreadful. Sudfeld at least looked competent. Foles is also likely gone after this season; he can be traded for a savings of $5.2 million and we all know the Eagles can use all the cap space they can get. Sudfeld has more long-term usefulness as a backup to Wentz and/or potential future trade bait.

Sudfeld looked much more decisive and mobile than the statuesque Foles. The second-year passer also doesn’t look like his confidence is completely shot.

Again, I don’t expect it to happen. And I doubt it would make much of a difference either way. But I sure wouldn’t mind it. I’m just so over watching Foles be predictably terrible.

While we’re on the topic of quarterbacks, I wanted to share the results of this poll.

62% of voters would rather have Tony Romo or Colin Kaepernick over Foles. The Eagles won’t be signing those guys. But the thought comes up because Foles has been so bad and the Eagles have a unique window here. One could argue they need to do something desperate to maximize their chances. You can talk about how those quarterbacks “don’t know the offense,” which is true, but you can also wonder how much Foles “knowing the offense” is really helping him right now.

It’s just depressing to think Foles could turn in another stinker and the Eagles could be one-and-done after getting the No. 1 seed. The hope is that’s not the case ... but after these past two games, it certainly wouldn’t come as a shocker.

6 - Dallas Sucks

For real, though, the Cowboys suck.

Dak Prescott is a fraud. He was crowned way too early. Some people were so adamant that he wasn’t just a product of his system. Unfortunately for them, that’s exactly the case. Prescott could end up being the Cowboys’ version of Foles: one fluke year and then a lot of mediocrity (at best). I think he’ll probably be better than Foles, especially since his mobility is a big positive going for him, but he’s just not all that threatening with his arm. In a game largely against the Eagles’ backups, Prescott posted the following stat-line: 17/30, 179 yards (6.0 average), 1 TD, 0 INT, 85.3 passer rating. Not unlike Foles, Prescott missed a lot of open receivers and left a lot of easy plays on the field.

Ezekiel Elliott was also getting shut down by the Eagles’ backup defense. He went over the 100-yard rushing mark, yeah, but it took him 27 carries to get there. That’s only 3.8 yards per carry. Zeke was getting tackled in the backfield for losses by Najee Goode.

Dez Bryant is a shell of himself. He can’t catch a cold and he got lit up by Rasul Douglas a couple times.

Cole Beasley is too scared of Howard Eskin to even travel to Philly.

Dan Bailey is no longer looking like one of the best kickers in the NFL. He missed a key kick in the Cowboys’ loss to the Seahawks in Week 16. I noted that he missed two straight attempts from 44 yards out in warmups prior to the game on Sunday. Then he missed an extra point (33 yards) and a freaking 23-yarder!

The Cowboys were actually pretty dumb for beating the Eagles because they could’ve had the No. 15 pick if they lost. By winning, however, they’ll either have the No. 19 or No. 20 pick based on a coin flip. I’d argue the No. 20 pick is the worst one to have because 1) you don’t get to be in the playoffs and 2) you don’t even get a good pick. Mediocrity is the worst place to be.

7 - Donnie Jones gets the game ball

Jones was pretty busy on Sunday since the Eagles’ offense was terrible. He punted seven times for 299 yards. Three of those were downed inside the 20, including one that went out right at the 1-yard line. Coffin corner. No joke, that was probably the best play of the game for the Eagles. None of Jones’ punts went for touchbacks.

Most importantly, though, Jones provided some entertainment in an otherwise very boring game.

8 - LeGarrette Blount got his money

Blount needed 21 yards to get a $300,000 incentive bonus. He exceeded that figure by rushing nine times for 37 yards. Good for Blount.

The Eagles signed the veteran rusher to a one-year deal worth $1.25 million back in the offseason. He was inked at a time when the Eagles didn’t have a very inspiring backfield. Blount hasn’t played his best football lately but he’s still had a nice season on the whole. Good to see him rewarded for his efforts.

9 - The game was a good opportunity for bottom of the roster guys

The guys on the 53-man roster who usually don’t play a lot got to see more snaps than usual against Dallas. Here are some random observations about them.

  • After being a healthy scratch for six weeks in a row, Wendell Smallwood rushed four times for six yards.
  • Torrey Smith’s bad drop prompted me to call for more Mack Hollins in the offense. Then he went on to drop a pass himself. Sigh. Hollins finished with three receptions for 25 yards on five total yards. Hollins was actually Philadelphia’s leading receiving in this game, depressing as that is.
  • Marcus Johnson made some nice catches. He had three for 23 yards.
  • Shelton Gibson made his first two NFL catches for a total of 11 yards. Considering how much he struggled with drops in the offseason, it was good just to see he caught the ball.
  • Interesting that Corey Clement only got one touch in this game. Eagles saving him for the playoffs, I suppose.
  • Dannell Ellerbe now has two tackles for loss in two starts at middle linebacker.
  • Rasul Douglas struggled in coverage. He had a few nice moments early in the game but otherwise he showed why he hasn’t been getting on the field more often.
  • Love what we saw from Steven Means in this game: three solo tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, and two quarterback hits. Means is a fun player to watch. It’s a shame he can’t get more playing time since the Eagles already have four good defensive ends in front of him. Means is a guy that Eagles offensive linemen often praise. They talk about he prepares them for games with the way he practices hard. Cool to see Means get a moment to shine.
  • Speaking of defensive ends, this was heck of a game for Vinny Curry. The stats only show two solo tackles and a quarterback hit but his impact was apparent in the game. He was the one who blew up a Cowboys running attempt on 4th-and-1.
  • Nate Gerry almost picked off a pass that Dak threw right at him. Would’ve been nice to see him get that one. Gerry also recorded 0.5 tackles for loss. Encouraging performance for the rookie linebacker.
  • The Eagles should’ve forced the ball to Brent Celek a little more. As Les Bowen notes, he only needed two more to get to 5,000 career regular season receiving yards. Celek very well might not be back after this season.

10 - It’s OK to be honest how you feel about the Eagles

I felt the need to bring this up because some Eagle fans have been criticizing others for their current stance on the team. This really goes both ways.

The fans who aren’t skeptical of the team have been criticized for being not realistic.

The fans who aren’t super optimistic about the team have been labeled as negative.

I’ve personally been lumped into the former category. Someone on Twitter specifically said “Brandon Gowton is the epitome of what’s wrong with #EaglesNation.”

Listen. I’m not giving up on the team. I believe in the defense - they play well at home. Dave Fipp’s special teams unit is always capable of providing some nice moments. Doug Pederson had earned trust this season.

But you guys know I’ve just never been a big Nick Foles believer. And quite frankly, it’s just not enjoyable watching him play. I don’t even know how you could argue otherwise at this point. And I just don’t get this concept that “the fans need to rally around him.” What does that even mean? Am I just supposed to pretend that he’s not playing awful? I get criticized for being “negative” any time I point out his terrible stats.

The reality is the Eagles have been playing like a team that could easily be one-and-done in the playoffs. It’s possible they could play better once the post-season starts. We’ll see. But I don’t blame people for being honest about how they feel in the meantime.

If you want to be super optimistic about the Eagles, that’s your right. If you’re not feeling great about their chances, you shouldn’t be criticized for being honest. Just my take.

Anyway, we’ll next see the Eagles when they play their first playoff game on Saturday, Janaury 13. The Birds will host one of the following three NFC South teams: the New Orleans Saints, the Carolina Panthers, or the Atlanta Falcons. The Saints are the most likely opponent for Philadelphia. That’ll be a tough challenge if that’s the case.

If the Eagles win their first post-season, they’ll be going to the NFC Championship Game. If they somehow win that, they’ll be going to the Super Bowl. The path is there in front of them. Now they just need to defy the odds.