There is not a lot of room left for error as the Dallas Cowboys now find themselves on the brink of falling out of playoff contention. Another game without running back Ezekiel Elliott and left tackle Tyron Smith, another blowout loss. The most recent coming in a 37-9 fashion at the hands of the division-leading Philadelphia Eagles in Dallas on Sunday. With just six games remaining on the schedule and Dallas standing at 5-5, the Cowboys are going to have to go 5-1 to get to the magic 10-win threshold and have a shot at making a Wildcard spot. With their traditional Thanksgiving Day home game coming up on Thursday, the pressure is on the Cowboys to turn it around and quick with the Los Angeles Chargers coming to town.
Winners and Losers: Cowboys Blown Out By Eagles In Week 11
Winner: Backup Running Back Alfred Morris
The Cowboys had numerous problems offensively, but it wasn’t because of their Pro Bowl running back missing. In place of the suspended Elliott, Morris rushed for 91 yards on 17 carries. That’s 5.4 yards per carry, improving on a respectable 4.5-yard average last week against the Falcons. The six-year pro also showed good burst on runs of 22, 20 and 13 yards coming against a rush defense that ranked number one coming into the game. Have the Cowboys missed Zeke? Sure, but Morris has performed capably in his stead.
Loser: Second-Year Quarterback Dak Prescott
This was a complete regression by young Prescott in this contest. His three interceptions and 30.4 quarterback rating were both career-worst performances. Dallas was lucky that none of those interceptions led to any points, however, the defense still scored a touchdown. Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett on the pass rush knocked the ball loose from Prescott’s hand and linebacker Nigel Bradham scooped and scored to put an exclamation point on Philly’s big win. The offense also failed to score a touchdown for the first time in the 27 games started by Prescott.
Statistics aside, Prescott’s throws were off all night. A fade route to the corner of the end zone during the first quarter, intended for Dez Bryant, was easily defended. A back shoulder throw would have been a touchdown.
Later, Prescott bounced a throw, threw too low on a pair of bubble screens that amounted to short gains. Another bad throw came on a key third down in the third quarter that sailed over Cole Beasley‘s head, who was open at the sticks. The Cowboys were forced to punt and the Eagles quickly scored their second of three offensive touchdowns in the second half to pull away. With Dallas missing a couple of key pieces on offense, Prescott needed to step up in a big game and he faltered miserably.
Winner: Cowboys First-Half Defense
After giving up an eight-play 75-yard touchdown drive on Philadelphia’s first possession, the Cowboys defense played excellent for the rest of the first half. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, began the game 5-of-5 completing the football. After that, Dallas kept last year’s second overall pick in check. Wentz was just 2-for-12 for nine yards until halftime. The defense hung in there for 30 minutes and helped give the team a 9-7 lead going into the break. However, that only lasted so long…
Loser: Dallas Is A Terrible Second Half Team
As good as the defense played in the first two quarters, it was awful in the second two. Wentz and the Eagles shook off some of the rust from the bye in Week 10 and scored touchdowns and three consecutive drives to finish off the Cowboys. A 28-yard pass to Brent Celek setup the first score.
In his second game as an Eagle, Jay Ajayi broke off a 71-yard scamper that led to another touchdown. Then LeGarrette Blount busted a 30-yard rush to help the third scoring drive. Ajayi finished with 90 yards on the ground, followed by Blount’s 57 yards and Corey Clement added 50 more including a TD.
This was the first time the Eagles had three players rush for 50-plus yards in a game since 2003. This might be called the “Sean Lee-effect.” The oft-injured linebacker was forced out of the lineup after tweaking a hamstring that hampered him earlier in the season. In the last 15 games with Lee on the field, the Cowboys are 12-3 and hold opposing teams to 18.9 points per game. Over the past 16 games with Lee on the sideline, including Sunday against Philadelphia, Dallas is 7-9 and gives up an average of 25.3 points.
The offense wasn’t good either if that wasn’t figured out from the evaluation of Prescott’s performance. Five drives in the second half amounted to three punts, two turnovers and just 99 yards (55 of which came after the Eagles increased the deficit to 28). More concerning is the trend this team has shown in the second half in each of its five defeats. The Cowboys have been outscored 110-23 in the second half by opponents in those five losses this season. Further, Dallas has been outscored 47-0 in the last two weeks and 62-16 in the three beatings at home. This isn’t a trend of a team that makes the playoffs.
Winner: Starting Left Tackle Tyron Smith
More significant than the loss of Elliott has been the two games Smith has been on the shelf with a groin injury. Chaz Green struggled mightily in Smith’s place in Week 10 against the Falcons, yielding six of eight total sacks.
This week the Cowboys gave the nod to six-year veteran Byron Bell, who relieved Green at the end of the game in Atlanta. Bell was better in protection than Green and Dallas made a more concerted effort to bring in multiple tight ends to help with the pass blocking. As a result, Prescott was sacked four times, but Bell was still responsible for the fumble that led to an Eagles touchdown. It was the second strip-sack Bell has given up in the past two games.
In 754 pass block snaps, Smith has a pressure rate (sack, hit or hurry) of just five percent and has four sacks against him since 2016 (according to Pro Football Focus). Before Sunday’s game, other left tackles have seen 151 pass block attempts at a 16 percent pressure rate and have allowed eight sacks. The good news is that Smith is expected to return in Week 12 against the Chargers.
Loser: Cowboys Offensive Line
Usually touted as one of the best units in the NFL, the Dallas offensive line may not even be tops in the NFC East. The Eagles are also missing their starting left tackle, Jason Peters, but still played magnificently on Sunday. Just six QB hits and zero sacks as the Cowboys pass rush, featuring the NFC’s sack leader, Demarcus Lawrence, was held in check. Credit the success of the rushing attack to the offensive line as well. The versatility shown by the unit, pulling on certain play calls, opens up the running lanes for the Eagles three-back attack. According to Pro Football Focus, four of the five linemen rank in the top five at their positions, led by number one rated center, Jason Kelce. Much of the credit for the Eagles success on offense this season is given to Wentz and rightly so, but we saw the roots of that success on full display Sunday.