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10 takeaways from the Eagles’ crucial win over the Cowboys

Here’s what we learned.

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Eagles are just one more win away from clinching the NFC East and heading to the 2020 NFL playoffs after defeating the Dallas Cowboys, 17 to 9. Here are some thoughts from the game!

1 - Carson Wentz won the biggest game of his career

Unlike the past two weeks, Wentz didn’t engineer a late game-winning touchdown drive to lead the Eagles to victory. But he still came up pretty clutch in the context of the Eagles’ situation.

Losing to the Cowboys would’ve eliminated the Eagles from the playoff picture. Wentz didn’t allow such an outcome to happen; he played great. Wentz made some big time throws in this game, including his touchdown pass to a tightly covered Dallas Goedert.

Final stat line: 31/40 (77.5% completion), 319 yards (8.0 yards per attempt), 1 TD, 0 INT, 108.2 passer rating. Wentz clearly outplayed Dak Prescott: 25/44 (56.8% completion), 265 yards (6.0 yards per attempt), 0 TD, 0 INT, 74.5 passer rating.

Wentz is now up to completing 68.2% of his attempts for 1,220 yards (6.8 yards per attempt), 9 TD, 1 INT, and a 101.7 passer rating in the month of December. He’s led the Eagles to three straight wins that have the team one more win away from clinching the division.

And Wentz is doing this all with no experienced NFL receivers and arguably the team’s most important offensive lineman missing games. It’s nothing short of remarkable. Wentz is playing like the franchise quarterback the Eagles paid him to be.

Wentz’s work isn’t done yet; he still needs to beat the New York Giants in Week 17. Still, it’s hard not to feel very encouraged by his progress. There’s ample reason to feel good about the team’s long-term outlook with the starting quarterback playing this well and delivering in high pressure situations.

2 - December is Doug Pederson’s month

December Doug is now 10-3 in the final month of the regular NFL season since he was hired back in 2016. Pederson will be 11-3 if the Eagles can beat the Giants.

Coming up big when it matters most has been a hallmark of Pederson teams. It’d sure be nice if they didn’t have to come back from the adversity they sometimes create for themselves! Regardless, Pederson clearly has his guys locked in for the most important moments.

Pederson and his offensive coaching staff — much-maligned offensive coordinator Mike Groh and quarterbacks coach Press Taylor included — deserve a lot of credit for the offense hitting a groove down the stretch. The Eagles only scored 17 against Dallas but they easily could’ve had more if not for some missed field goals and a sacrificed touchdown run at the end of the game. The Eagles moved the ball well; they put up 431 yards of offense against the Cowboys. It was the third straight game where the Eagles logged at least 415 yards. And, again, they’re accomplishing this with what little they’re working with at wide receiver and Lane Johnson missing games!

The Eagles’ offensive identity still lacks ideal explosion; this team mostly has to win games by grinding it out and controlling to the clock. It’s been working for them, though. The Birds possessed the ball for 36:12 to the Cowboys’ 23:48. And back to the explosive note, the Eagles actually did show some progress in that area:

A number of these big plays were created by scheme as opposed to having the sheer talent to create these chunk gains.

I still think Pederson could afford to upgrade his coaching staff after the season is over. For now, though, the assistants appear to be pulling their weight.

3 - Miles Sanders is the real deal

The 22-year-old Sanders has made so much progress since the season began. He’s evolved from “promising rookie talent” to “legitimate weapon to run the offense through.”

Sanders had 20 carries for 79 yards and one rushing touchdown against the Cowboys. And he could’ve had even more had he not wisely slid down in Brian Westbrook fashion at the end of the game to seal the deal. Sanders also had five receptions for 77 yards. He regularly made defenders miss, such as when he made Sean Lee look silly. Sanders’ burst is also apparent. Simply put, he’s got plenty of juice.

Sanders’ combined rushing and receiving output allowed him to set the Eagles’ rookie record for most all-purpose yards in franchise history.

Sanders is also now just 40 yards away from overtaking Josh Jacobs as this season’s rookie leader in total yards from scrimmage. Jacobs is dealing with an injury so it’s unclear if he’ll play again this season. If Jacobs doesn’t, Sanders should be able to overtake him. Sanders probably won’t end up winning Offensive Rookie of the Year but he’s earned his way into the conversation at the very least.

He’s really good.

4 - There’s no place like home for Jim Schwartz’s defense

The Eagles’ defense plays a lot better at Lincoln Financial Field than it does away from home. The splits:

Home defense — 16.9 points allowed per game

Road defense — 29 points allowed per game

Kudos to Schwartz and his unit for really turning in a great effort against a Cowboys offense that ranked No. 2 overall in DVOA. The Eagles were previously 0-5 against Ezekiel Elliott but they found a way to shut him down to just 47 yards in total and 3.6 yards per carry. The Eagles also became the first NFC East team to beat the Cowboys since Amari Cooper joined the division last season.

There’s a lot of credit to go around. We should start with Fletcher Cox. The Eagles needed him to be a star in this game and he made one of the most crucial plays by forcing Tony Pollard to fumble to set up a Malcolm Jenkins recovery. The Cowboys could’ve gone up 13 to 10 or at least made it a one-point game had Cox not made that play. The Cowboys were at a 51.4 win percentage by ESPN’s metrics prior to Pollard losing the ball ... then it immediately flipped to the Eagles with a 66.9% win percentage upon recovery. Huuuge play.

Some other plays that stood out:

  • Malcolm Jenkins deflecting Prescott’s first third down pass to force a punt.
  • Avonte Maddox deflecting a Prescott third down pass to force a punt.
  • Josh Sweat coming up with a coverage sack.
  • Vinny Curry sacking Prescott on 2nd-and-4 to bring up 3rd-and-8. Two incompletions later, the Cowboys’ final drive ended with zero points.

It must be noted that the defense was aided by Prescott looking less than 100% (likely due to his shoulder injury). Prescott simply missed throws to some open receivers, including deep shots that could’ve tied the game late in the fourth quarter. Prescott also had to deal with five or six drops (hm, sounds familiar).

Still, give the Eagles’ defense a lot of credit. They came to play.

5 - Sidney Jones saves the season ... again!?

It’s pretty absurd has made two huge season-saving pass breakups in the span of the last three weeks. I mean, it wasn’t even that long ago when the Eagles were making Jones a healthy scratch behind six other cornerbacks on the 53-man roster.

But credit where it’s due: Jones has stepped up twice now in really big moments. First it was knocking down Eli Manning’s third down pass in Week 15. Now it was playing textbook coverage on the Cowboys’ final offensive play of the game on 4th-and-8. Jones stuck with his man into the end zone and broke up the pass.

There’s still a long way to go before Jones can be counted on as a reliable full-time starter. But the 2017 second-round pick is at least showing some flashes of potential. It’d be irresponsible to merely hand him a starting job beyond 2019 but perhaps there’s hope he can step up and seize such a role in the future.

6 - Dallas Goedert spearheads the offensive youth movement

Goedert — the Dallas that doesn’t suck — had a career game against the Cowboys. It was a great moment for him to step up with Zach Ertz suffering a rib injury and the Eagles not working with much at wide receiver. Goedert hasn’t quite taken the leap that many expected to see this year. But with his one-handed catch against Washington last week and this kind of performance against Dallas, there’s encouraging potential here. The Eagles need to continue to get Goedert more involved moving forward.

I’ve already written about Goedert and Sanders to this point but other young players deserves mention:

  • Stealing this from my snap counts observationsGreg Ward caught four of his five targets for 71 yards. Ward is now up to 23 receptions for 211 yards and one touchdown in his last five games. For perspective, Nelson Agholor has 21 receptions for 195 receptions and zero touchdowns in his last eight games.”
  • JJ Arcega-Whiteside had two nice contested grabs on his two targets. Good to see him showing something.
  • Boston Scott had kickoff returns of 33 yards and 30 yards. He brought the juice on special teams this week.
  • Robert Davis only had one catch for six yards but it went for a first down.

Last week I wrote a post titled: “Maybe there’s something to the Eagles’ young guys being hungry for an opportunity.” I feel like it’s safe to say there IS something to the young guys just wanting it more. They’ve provided this team with a much-needed spark.

From Wentz’s postgame presser:

“I’m so proud of these guys; I’m so proud of them. It’s been really fun. Obviously we’ve had our backs against the wall for a while now. You can see the sense of belief these guys have, and you see it each week with them getting better and better and believing in themselves and believing in this team. I can’t say enough good things about these young guys that are continually stepping up for us. And we are going to need these guys down the stretch.”

The Eagles getting production out of young guys is an exciting part about this late season run; it bodes well for the team beyond 2019.

7 - Jake Elliott needs to be better

Elliott missed two field goals in this game. They admittedly weren’t the easiest kicks in the world considering them came from 53 yards and 55 yards out.

But it wasn’t like there was a ton of wind at the Linc. And we all know Elliott has the leg to make kind of kicks. He should’ve had at least one of those.

The Eagles recently made Elliott the third most valuable NFL kicker in terms of total guaranteed money. He’s only 6/10 on field goal attempts since then. 60% isn’t good enough, plain and simple. The Eagles need Elliott to rebound.

8 - Injuries continue to be an issue

JJAW, Ertz, Goedert, Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Fletcher Cox, and Timmy Jernigan were among players to leave the Cowboys game at one point due to injury.

On one hand, it’s pretty impressive the Eagles were still able to control the game the whole way. Pederson’s teams have usually been resilient when it comes to injury.

On the other hand, this Eagles really need to stop getting so banged up! They’re already thin to begin with.

9 - The end of the Jason Garrett era is upon us

The Eagles can officially seal Garrett’s fate by beating the Giants to clinch the NFC East next weekend. Once that happens, it’s pretty clear the Cowboys will be moving on from Garrett.

Garrett’s had the Eagles’ number at times but his departure will be a sad one because he ultimately kept the Cowboys mediocre enough to prevent them from winning anything meaningful. Pour one out.

In other “you hate to see this” news ...

Tough scene to see the Eagles living rent free in the Cowboys’ heads.

10 - There’s still work to be done!

It’s hard not to feel good about where the Eagles stand after beating the Cowboys. There are some flaws, sure, but Wentz looks great, Pederson’s inspiring confidence, Sanders is awesome, the defense is battling, etc.

Now it’s time to keep the good times rolling. The Eagles can’t screw around and lose to the Giants. Beat them and clinch the division. Then host a home playoff game (potentially against a banged up Seahawks team?) and win that. Then get DeSean Jackson back for the divisional round and win that game. Then host the No. 6 seed Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game and blow out them out 38 to 7 again. Then pray a lot and somehow beat the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl. It’s all there for them.

Okay, so I’m getting slightly ahead of myself. Just beat the Giants and work from there.

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