A Look beyond the boxscore of the Dallas Cowboys season ending loss to the Philadelphia Eagles
By Matthew Postins
First and 10 is RattleandHumSports.com’s Cowboys wrap-up. Consider this an outline of the 10 most important things to come out of the previous game and how it related to the outcome. It’s analysis and opinion of each week’s game that goes beyond the box score. Today it’s First and 10 after the Cowboys’ 24-22 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
A word of praise for Kyle Orton. Sure, Orton threw the interception that essentially ended the game shortly after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter. But whatever your expectations were of Orton going into Sunday night he exceeded them. He threw for 358 yards, threw two touchdowns passes and, up until that interception, really didn’t do anything to lose the game for the Cowboys. But this team always seems to find a way to lose these games, and Sunday night was no exception.
Turnovers will kill you in the NFL. Need proof? The Cowboys have committed 13 turnovers in their four “win-or-go-home games” since 2008. If you’re looking for a reason why the Cowboys have lost all four of those games, start there.
And by the way, the Cowboys lost four games by five points this season. Just letting you know how close this team was to winning the division. Again.
Where was this Cowboys defense the past two months? They sacked Nick Foles five times on Sunday night. They applied constant pressure to him. They put wide receiver DeSean Jackson in a bubble, thanks to great coverage by cornerback Brandon Carr. LeSean McCoy had a great statistical game, but he didn’t dominate the game. Had the Cowboys played defense like this at any point since the first game vs. the Eagles we might be talking about a NFC East title for the Cowboys instead of another offseason of discomfort around Valley Ranch.
Had the Cowboys won the game, George Selvie might have been a minor hero in this drama. It was Selvie who pushed back Eagles tight end Brent Celek into running back LeSean McCoy, which robbed quarterback Nick Foles of his intended receiver just before the two-minute warning in the second half.
Any way you look at it, the Cowboys have to find a way to keep Selvie for 2014. He’ll be a bargain and he produces.
We don’t talk about DeMarcus Ware as a run-stopper. That’s not what his reputation is wrapped up in and that’s acceptable. But even though Ware didn’t have a sack, he did a wonderful job setting the edge on his side to help keep Eagles running back LeSean McCoy from truly breaking one. McCoy had nothing truly explosive and Ware was a big part of keeping McCoy from dominating the game.
I had thought entering this game that DeMarco Murray had to have a huge game. He had a good game, rushing 17 times for 51 yards and catching 5 passes for 39 yards. But could the Cowboys have used him more? I mean, they were never out of this game. And, yet, Murray only ran the football six times in the second half. It’s stunning how, even with Tony Romo out of the game, the Cowboys seem to refuse to allow Murray to be a bigger part of their identity. And, yet, Murray had his best year as a pro.
Dez Bryant and Jason Witten had to come up big and they did. Witten was Orton’s most reliable target on Sunday night, even with the tipped pass that ended up as an interception. Witten caught 12 passes for 135 yards. Bryant, meanwhile, was locked in a battle with Eagles corners all night, but still managed to catch 8 passes for 99 yards and the touchdown in which he broke a tackle on a slant. Both guys made things much easier for Orton.
How on earth does your home stadium clock operator screw up the 40-second clock? With 4:50 left and right after a long Witten reception for a first down, the clock operator gave the Cowboys a 25-second clock instead of a 40-second clock. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. How does that happen at home? Fortunately Bryant’s touchdown erased the debate.
Whatever defense the Cowboys play next season it needs to be based in man coverage in the secondary. Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne had a solid, combined effort against the Eagles, and their best games in coverage have been in the man scheme. I thought the Cover 2 would be a good scheme for them. Turned out the only one it fits is Scandrick. So either defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin needs to go all-in on man coverage – if he gets the chance to coach this defense in 2014 – or the Cowboys need to move on to someone who will do that.
Did you watch the NFL on Sunday? Nearly every game was meaningful. Carolina had to squeak by Atlanta to claim a first-round bye. Pittsburgh won and watched as San Diego’s overtime victory over Kansas City robbed them of a Wild-Card berth. And then the Cowboys and Eagles duke it out in prime time. The NFL wanted rigged the final weekend with divisional games to make it more exciting and it couldn’t have gotten much better than this.