The Cowboys? At this time of year? At this time of day? In this part of the country? (Please don’t watch the game in your kitchen, that’s where the knives are.)
As rookie head coach situations go, Nick Sirianni has it pretty good. His team isn’t expected to be good, and the team isn’t long term committed to any of it’s QBs. Neither are unusual, but to get them both is a good, low pressure situation.
Until tomorrow. No pressure Nick, but you’ve got to beat Dallas. In primetime.
History is not on the side of first time Eagles head coaches in this matchup. Since the Eagles-Cowboys matchup became a heated rivalry in the wake of the 1967 game where Lee Roy Jordan hit Timmy Brown late, Doug Pederson, Chip Kelly, Ray Rhodes, Buddy Ryan, Marion Campbell, Dick Vermiel, and Ed Khayat have lost their Eagles-Cowboys debut. Only Andy Reid, Rich Kotite, and Mike McCormack won theirs.
The three coaches who reached a Super Bowl went 1-2, so this isn’t any kind of bellwether. So again, no pressure.
But beat Dallas.
Earth, Wind, Fire and the Cowboys
It’s far too early in the season for Cowboys week, but here we are. How rare is it for these teams to play each other in September you may ask, and I just did. The answer is it doesn’t happen often!
In the past thirty years the Eagles and Cowboys have played each other in September just eight times. Not that it means anything to Monday’s game, but the teams have split the September series, they both have four wins.
As you would expect in this rivalry, there were some memorable games associated with September matchups. The Pickle Juice game kicked off three straight seasons of a September matchup. The last time the Eagles and Cowboys played on a September on a Monday night was 2008, the Eagles lost that game but then won the rematch 44-6, you might remember that game. A 1996 September Eagles loss was also followed by November win, and a 2015 September Eagles loss was followed by a November overtime win.
Come on Jeffrey Lurie and Jerry Jones, you guys have some pull with the league. Eagles-Cowboys games should be played mid-October at the earliest. The league is making us wait all weekend and then some for this one somehow just makes it weirder. At least we get the Manning brothers broadcast.
Never mind the aesthetics though. While missing three starters is a setback, the timing might benefit the Eagles. The Cowboys could miss as many as eight players on defense, and Amari Cooper has a rib injury.
Turn it over
This game features an interesting dynamic in how both teams have the same record but have gotten wildly different performances on the field.
For the Eagles, nearly everything that went wrong against the 49ers, and the few things that were suboptimal against the Falcons (because nothing really went wrong) are fixable or unsustainably bad. Of course whether or not the fixable aspects will be repaired is different from can be repaired.
For the Cowboys, a big part of what has gone well has been unsustainably good.
Specifically, turnovers. The Cowboys have been especially lucky, while the Eagles especially unlucky.
Dallas have faced 91 pass attempts and intercepted four of them for a 4.4% interception rate. In the past five seasons a team has eclipsed 4.0% just five times. In 2020 both the Cowboys and Dan Quinn’s Falcons had a 1.9% rate, which was 19th in the league. In 2019, the Cowboys were 30th and Quinn’s Falcons 19th. This is neither a roster nor a coaching staff that routinely gets the ball. The only reason the Cowboys were able to keep pace with the Buccaneers was several fluke turnovers, and against the Chargers Justin Hebert threw an interception in the end zone and another in field goal range (and a missed FG, and two TDs called back by penalties). That’s a way to win a game, but not a way to win games. The 2021 Cowboys turnover luck will end and end hard at some point. So maybe this is a good time to play them.
On the other side, the Eagles are just one of two teams with no defensive turnovers, the other team being the Jaguars. In the past decade only two teams have had fewer than 11 turnovers in a season. The Eagles will get theirs.
That’s the unsustainable for the Eagles. For the fixable, Nick Sirianni needs to look no farther than a mirror. The good news here is that he knows this. His playcalling on Sunday was, to say the least, uninspiring. The Philly Not So Special was a classic case of a coach outsmarting himself during the week. With an extra day to prepare or to overthink, we should learn something about Sirianni on Monday. The identity of this offense is going to stem from the ground game, don’t get cute, just run the damn ball. The Cowboys front seven for Monday will be held together with tape and rubber bands, get run heavy and wear them down. Once again, maybe this is actually a good time to play them.
Three statistics of various utility
Favorite stat of the game:
Remember in 2016 when the Eagles got out to a hot start and certain “analysts” cried about how Carson Wentz’s air yards indicated that actually he was crap, as if a rookie QB with the worst WRs in the league should be expected to be bringing the Air Raid to the NFL? My absolute favorite part of that was one of the more vocal proponents later that season wrote an article (that was flawed, why would you include screen passes?) that concluded “It could easily take another decade before we can more definitively conclude anything about how air yards progress over a quarterback’s career.” Hmm, maybe figure that out before screaming about it.
Anyway, after the Week 1 stomping of the Falcons some people were up in arms about how Jalen Hurts rarely threw the ball downfield, like that’s a really good idea when you have a two score lead that you keep building on for half a game against an offense that can’t get out of neutral.
So of course in Week 2 Jalen Hurts led all passers in average intended air yards, while Jimmy Garoppolo was dead last.
Least favorite stat of the game:
This isn’t really a stat but it made the rounds and it’s similar to AIRYARDS:
Through two weeks, 64% of the passes Jalen Hurts has thrown beyond the LOS have targeted the right side of the field pic.twitter.com/jAUZmiL3NM— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) September 20, 2021
Much was made about the lack of action around the hashes.
Why I don’t like it is that it’s just two games, two games where the offense came out with two very different approaches that got a big win in the first game and should have in the second game. If the Eagles had been able to convert in the red zone against the 49ers, Jalen Hurts’ passing chart wouldn’t be as much of an issue. The criticisms of the offense would be similar to the Week 1 stomping of the Falcons: not a sustainable offense for 17 games, but for one game it got the job done.
If two months into the season we’re still seeing the middle of the field get avoided each week, which was a reasonable concern heading into the season, that’s a legitimate problem. What lost them the 49ers game wasn’t three targets to tight ends against a defense that has Fred Warner patrolling the middle of the field, it was bad play calling and execution in the red zone.
Stat that may mean something for this week:
In the past six years the Cowboys have drafted Jaylon Smith (34th overall), Leighton Vander Esche (19th overall) and Micah Parsons (12th overall). Their top linebacker by snaps played so far this year? Keanu Neal, who until this season was a safety. Neal may miss the game due to COVID protocols, and Parsons is playing DE at least part time due to the wave of injuries the Cowboys have suffered on their line. Seems like a good time to get the middle of the field going in the passing game.
Devonta Smith Rookie of the Year Watch
An awful week for Smith’s chances. A very quiet game against a bad secondary saw Smith fall to 5th among rookies in receiving yards; meanwhile Ja’Marr Chase caught his second TD. But it wasn’t all bad. None of the rookie QBs are making their case so far: Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson have more INTs than TDs on teams that don’t look any better than last year’s miserable versions, while Mac Jones is staking a claim to the next great dink and dunk passer. Through two weeks the door is wide open for a WR to win the award, but Smith will need to pick up the pace to claim it.