By Matthew Postins
First and 10 is RattleandHumSports.com’s Dallas 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’ 17-3 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Defense won the day: There will be plenty of talk about how the Dallas Cowboys were able to successfully mount pressure on Eagles quarterbacks Nick Foles and Matt Barkley without DeMarcus Ware, and it’s a worthy conversation to have. But what the Dallas Cowboys did to the Eagles on Sunday was complete defensive domination of a team that was in the Top 10 in every major offensive category entering the game. The Eagles averaged more than 400 total yards per game entering the contest. The Eagles had 278 net yards. After horrible performances against San Diego and Denver, the Cowboys’ defense seems to have turned a corner.
I thought safety J.J. Wilcox had the defensive play of the game: Wilcox broke up a potential touchdown pass in the end zone, coming in from across the field to break up the pass. Had the pass been completed, it would have been a sure touchdown and it might have changed the course of the game. Wilcox’s reputation is built around being a big hitter. But based on the last couple of weeks his coverage skills may be coming around.
Free of Vick: The fact that Eagles quarterback Michael Vick didn’t play surely influenced the outcome. With Vick in the game there’s much more concern about holding the edge outside the tackles when Vick escapes the pocket. Defenses are conscious of that and I believe that’s one reason why LeSean McCoy has such good numbers. The threat of Vick getting outside spreads defenders out and opens up more space between the tackles for McCoy. Without Vick on Sunday the Dallas Cowboys could take a more conventional approach – stuff McCoy and force Foles to make them pay. He couldn’t. Foles was not sharp and the Dallas Cowboys secondary smothered DeSean Jackson much like they did McCoy. The Eagles’ top two offensive weapons had little impact on the game, and that might have changed had Vick been able to play.
What to make of Chip Kelly’s system? The jury was out before this game and it’s still out after this game. You can’t judge a new system on just a few games. But I think two things are clear. First, Vick is critical to making it work. Second, a quarterback with his skills is critical to make it work. From here, that means that Kelly doesn’t have the right quarterback-in-waiting in either Foles or Barkley.
Austin’s problem. Miles Austin clearly had a setback this week with his hamstring injury. He played on Sunday but he had no impact on the outcome. A couple of weeks ago I wrote it was not yet time to overreact to the rise of Terrance Williams when it comes to Austin’s job. Well, now it’s time to overreact. Williams is showing no signs of slowing down. He caught a touchdown pass for the third straight game Sunday and he clearly understands his role in the offense. In fact, his progress from the start of the season to now is rather remarkable. Two months ago we were talking about whether Williams would even make an impact this season. Now the perception is that the Dallas Cowboys can’t live without him.
Romo’s day: We’re going to focus on those two interceptions, but only one mattered and the Dallas Cowboys defense bailed him out. That interception to DeMeco Ryans was clearly Romo’s fault. In fact, I couldn’t tell if he intended to throw that ball to Phillip Tanner or Cole Beasley. He finished with 317 yards and the crucial touchdown pass to Williams. Through seven games Romo has, in my opinion, made three critical errors. Honestly, I think that’s acceptable. What the Cowboys need to remedy is the workload. Romo threw 47 passes on Sunday. I’d love to see them reduce that figure.
Randle’s breakdown: All in all, not a bad first start for running back Joseph Randle. He rushed 19 times for 65 yards and caught 3 passes for 28 yards. He didn’t break a big run, but he didn’t make any critical mistakes, either. He actually saw more action in the second half, even before the Cowboys were trying to milk the clock. Perhaps they wanted to start him slow so he could get his feet under him. The Dallas Cowboys don’t trust him as a three-down back yet, though, as Tanner handled third downs. That means he clearly lags in understanding pass protection, which isn’t uncommon for rookies.
A rookie re-draft: Seven games into the season, if you were to re-draft this Dallas Cowboys rookie class today you wouldn’t change much. Center Travis Frederick would still be the first rounder. I’d reorder Williams, Wilcox and tight end Gavin Escobar, based on production. And you could even have cornerback B.W. Webb leapfrog Escobar at this point, as Webb has become a productive special teams player. Escobar is the one player in this class that, so far, has not provided the bang for the buck, based on where they were drafted. The Cowboys might have gotten this draft class right. MIGHT.
I thought the Dallas Cowboys set the tone for the game on the second play. That’s when defensive end George Selvie sacked Foles. I thought that was their way of saying, “You know, we can get this done without Ware.” Selvie had 1.5 sacks on Sunday and has 4.5 sacks for the season. This guy wasn’t in football last year. I look at him as a dark horse comeback player of the year candidate.
You remember Doug Free right? When you’re an offensive lineman, not hearing your name called during a game is a good thing. Well Free had a bad game on Sunday, as he was called for false starts three times. Let’s call it an aberration rather than a relapse, as Free’s play has been quite solid to this point.