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With the Giants defeating the Jets just moments after this game started, one would have expected the Eagles to be the team that would play uninspired football after their playoff hopes had diminished. Ironically enough, the Cowboys, who at the very least could have played for the sake of guaranteeing a better seed than the Falcons, were the team who did not show up. One can easily point towards Tony Romo’s injury early in the first quarter, sidelining him for the remainder of the game, but the real reasons for the loss leave plenty to be concerned about.
Going into the game, the match up that was likely to be the most critical was the Cowboys’ tackle tandem of Doug Free and Tyron Smith vs. the Eagles’ DEs Trent Cole and Jason Babin. Being able to keep these two pass rushers in check is what was going to allow the Cowboys to rely on the deep ball in order to expose the poor safety play that has plagued the Eagles all season long. Unfortunately, both Smith and Free had their hands full for seemingly every play.
While Stephen McGee did not play badly considering he was under duress for a majority of the game, the lack of pass protection is ultimately what led to his being unable to let the deep routes develop. It obviously did not help that the Cowboys were unable to establish any type of threat on the ground as the ancient Sammy Morris managed just 29 yards on 13 carries.
An Air Coryell offense like Jason Garrett’s is the type of offense that needs a decent running game and good pass protection to work. As much as this may be true for any type of offense, it is especially so with an offense like Jason Garrett’s, since the Coryell offensive system relies on stretching the defense with the running game in order to open up vertical passing lanes.
Without any type of running game the defense will never feel obligated to stack eight in the box at the expense of being vulnerable to deep passes (a staple to Garrett’s offense being effective). Lack of pass protection will without a doubt, make it very difficult for deep routes to develop, and as such both, elements of the Cowboys’ offense were rendered ineffective. Ultimately, this is the reason that the Cowboys struggled to move the ball on Saturday.
On the defensive side of the ball the Cowboys seemed to be favoring a lot of zone coverage, as Rob Ryan often likes to do. Unfortunately, there were several instances in which various defenders looked completely lost, which is a recipe for disaster for a zone defense. Often times a receiver would be passed off only for someone to blow the coverage, while other times it would appear as if nobody in the secondary even knew what they were supposed to do.
While the Cowboys did do a half decent job at getting pressure, they did not do quite good enough in order to contain an elusive, mobile QB like Michael Vick. As a result, Vick was able to expose all of the poor discipline by the Cowboys’ defense whenever they were in zone. This would prove to be so effective for the Eagles that anyone who watched the game would completely forget that the Cowboys managed to contain LeSean McCoy in the running game.
The lopsided nature of this game is of course bad for the Cowboys’ momentum going in to next week’s game against the Giants for the NFC East divisional title. However, the concerns that arise from this game transcend both momentum as well as Tony Romo having to play next week with an injured hand. There are also question marks surrounding Rob Ryan’s ability as a defensive coordinator due to the inconsistent play of the defense in recent weeks.
Even if Ryan is not the one who deserves the blame, the quality of the talent that the Cowboys have on defense contributes to these concerns. Lastly, it remains to be seen whether or not Doug Free and Tyron Smith will be able to keep Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck in next week’s game, especially after the poor job they did at protecting Stephen McGee on Saturday.
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