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Eagles-Cowboys Week 16: 13 winners, losers, and I dunnos

The Eagles are the first team eliminated from the worst division in history SOOOOOOOOO

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll be honest — I was rooting for a division win, just for the fun of it. Top-5 pick is nice, too.

Winners

Brandon Graham

We’re officially in root-for-fun-stuff mode in this Eagles season — maybe we have been for a while — and the funnest of the fun stuff would certainly be a Brandon Graham 10-sack season. A longtime fan favorite even after his controversial early career — he was good, but he certainly wasn’t Earl Thomas — Graham finally snagged that elusive Pro Bowl bid for playing as one of the best all-around defensive ends in the NFC.

But a double-digit sack season is yet unachieved for Graham, who has seen 9.5 and 8.5 sacks in two of the last three seasons. After a late-game sack against the Cowboys when the game was still barely in reach, Graham now has 8.0 sacks on this season, with one game left against the Washington Football Team.

A 2-sack game is a tall ask, but Graham has had 2 this season, Washington’s tackles are pretty bad, and whoever is at quarterback for the Football Team — Dwayne Haskins, Taylor Heinicke, or Alex Smith — won’t be the toughest to bring down. That’s what I’ll be rooting for.

Matt Pryor

For giving us this moment.

Darius Slay

Hey: a great Slay game!

Well, anything would look great compared to the performances the Eagles got out of Michael Jacquet and Nickell Robey-Coleman — but in all seriousness, Slay played well. He discouraged targets and got his first pick as an Eagle — the first pick of any cornerback for the Eagles this season — on a nice play on invert Cover 2.

He’s still the best corner the Eagles have had in years.

Jalen Mills

Have we considered that Jim Schwartz’s fire-worthy mismanagement of personnel in the defensive backfield is just an elaborate scheme to make Jalen Mills continue to look like the least of all evils? He has one good coverage rep at outside corner and we’re all sighing in relief.

Quez Watkins

Better than John Hightower? Better than John Hightower.

Carson Wentz

Let’s be honest: this game was a win for Carson Wentz because it was a loss for Jalen Hurts. A win against the Cowboys would have further cemented Hurts’ leading position to win the starting job in camp of the 2021 season, assuming both Hurts and Wentz remained on the roster at that time. But Hurts struggled, the limits of his game apparent after the opening script expired.

Hurts will rebound — he’s a level-headed dude. But Wentz has to feel a little vindicated that Hurts’ magic ran out in the regular season, emphasizing that which has always been true: there are more problems than just the quarterback. That doesn’t exonerate Wentz at all — it’s just a fact. It is a zero sum game in the Eagles’ quarterback room.

Doug Pederson

I don’t really know how Doug decided which 4th downs to go for in this game and I don’t care. He continues to be wildly good at opening up receivers in simple, effective, one-read designs for Hurts. Whether or not Hurts needs to be so coddled is up for debate, but Pederson’s been spitting fire with his opening scripts and play designs over the last few weeks. Talk about run/pass balance and 4th down decision-making all you want — I want my offensive designer to open guys up in the passing game and create lanes in the running game, and he’s doing both.

I’ll stan Pederson forever man.

Losers

Jim Schwartz

Nobody was great today, but the plurality of the blame belongs to Schwartz, who flashed the necessarily flexibility to be called a good defensive coordinator against the Saints, and immediately pivoted right back into simple schemes and stubborn rigidity against the Cardinals and the Cowboys.

It’s not just “Oh, the Eagles should play zone, not man.” It’s not that simple. What is simple is the idea of humility as a coordinator. You should recognize that the Cowboys offensive coaching staff has targeted Michael Jacquet in man coverage and say “I can either do what they expect and probably give up a big play, or do something they don’t expect and maybe give up a big play.”

It’s okay to give up big plays when you’re taking risks, throwing punches, trying to create your own explosive plays via turnovers and sacks — especially when your personnel is limited. When the Eagles ran Invert Cover 2 for the Slay interception, that was an example of that. But it was too little, too late. Just sitting there and taking the punches is inexcusable in such a late-season, must-win game.

Michael Jacquet

I won’t pile on the young man, who was a winner last week for putting forth a valiant effort against DeAndre Hopkins. But when ex-NFL DBs in the media are begging the production team to stop putting you on camera to spare you the embarrassment, you know you had a rough day out.

Nickell Robey-Coleman

NRC doesn’t get the mercy that Jacquet does. He was brought in as a cheap veteran and expectations should have been kept low, but the Eagles’ front office and coaching staff went gassing him, and he’s been bad all year. Eagles need to acquire multiple starting-caliber corners this offseason.

Howie Roseman

I wanted to highlight a young player in the Winners section to get excited about and couldn’t think of a single one. What rookie deserves love, when Jim Schwartz wouldn’t play K’Von Wallace over Rudy Ford and Jalen Hurts struggled against a defense that made him throw the football? The Eagles’ 2020 class looks just as poor as their 2019 and 2018 ones, which is an indictment first and foremost on the front office. That buck stops with Howie.

Matt Pryor

Matt Pryor had 18 false start penalties and can’t play tackle, but he also can’t play guard, so there you go. Maybe the Lions will pay him $50M over 5 years in free agency.

I Dunnos

Jalen Hurts

Jalen Hurts is in this section because he really didn’t play that much differently in a losing effort to the Cowboys than he did against the strong opening performance against the Saints or the valiant come-from-behind effort against the Cardinals. He was a little less accurate than usual, but still better than Wentz, especially on deep balls to DeSean Jackson and Quez Watkins. He was scramble-heavy and smart outside of the pocket, picking up yards with his legs and throwing the ball away to avoid sacks. He was poor reading the middle of the field and missed easy underneath completions on goal-to-go and third down situations, which stymied drives.

That’s been Hurts all season — the big difference this week was he wasn’t hitting 3rd and 20 touchdowns or 4th and 3 hero plays inside the red zone. Hurts has been disproportionately good on the downs with the most riding on them, and as he settled back to his regular play level on those critical downs, the Eagles’ offense found a lot more drives struggle to get off the ground.

It’s okay — he’s still young, and the pendulum was always going to swing back the other way. There’s no reason to feel any worse about Hurts’ prospects moving forward, unless you previously felt certain he was the QB of the future, no competition needed. He hasn’t proven that with his play yet.