Vinny Curry’s sack was big. So was Sidney Jones’ pass breakup in the end zone on fourth-and-8. But neither were able to crack my top five reasons for why the Eagles beat Dallas Sunday.
Let’s start with Dallas Goedert and work our way down from there.
With Zach Ertz playing most of the game with a painful rib injury, the Eagles needed somebody to step up in the passing game. That somebody turned out to be the other half of the team’s tight-end tandem, Goedert.
Playing a season-high 90 percent of the snaps, Goedert had the most productive game of his young career, catching nine passes for 91 yards and a touchdown. The nine receptions and 91 yards both were career-highs. So were his six first downs.
Goedert put the Eagles up by 10-0 late in the first quarter with a 6-yard touchdown catch from Carson Wentz. He had a 22-yard reception in the fourth quarter on a back-shoulder pass from Wentz on a third-and-6 play that allowed the Eagles to milk time off the clock. And he picked up another huge clock-draining first down on the Eagles’ final possession on a 9-yard reception on a second-and-8.
This was Goedert’s coming-of-age game, and with Ertz severely incapacitated by his rib injury, the Eagles needed it. They may need more of the same this week if Ertz is unable to play against the Giants.
The defense’s top priority Sunday was neutralizing Ezekiel Elliott. Everything else played off of that. If they couldn’t slow down the Cowboys running back, they weren’t going to win. Jim Schwartz knew that. So did his players.
Schwartz overloaded the box much of the game and gambled that his corners could play well enough on the outside to not cost them the game. The gamble paid off, partially thanks to the fact that Dak Prescott’s shoulder injury caused him to miss several open receivers. Cowboys receivers also had a half-dozen costly drops.
But back to Elliott. He’s been a thorn in the Eagles’ side the last four years, averaging 114.8 rushing yards and 163 yards from scrimmage per game against them. But on Sunday, the Eagles held him to 47 rushing yards on 13 carries.
Eight of Elliott’s 13 rushing attempts gained 3 or fewer yards. He didn’t have a carry longer than 10 yards. The Eagles also did a nice job of defending him in the passing game. He had a team-high seven catches, but for only 37 yards. Just one of Elliott’s seven receptions produced a first down. A defense that has been plagued by bad tackling recently was on the mark Sunday. As safety Malcolm Jenkins preached all week to his defensive teammates, they needed “population” to the ball. And they got it.
He didn’t have his top three wide receivers. His go-to tight end suffered a rib injury on the Eagles’ first drive that essentially had him spending much of the game as a decoy.
Yet Carson Wentz completed a season-high 77.5 percent of his passes and equaled his season-high for yards per attempt in a game (8.0) and went a third straight game without throwing an interception. Two of his nine incompletions came on plays in which he got his arm hit while throwing. Another pass was tipped. So, basically, he had just six unimpeded incompletions the entire game.
He completed 9-of-11 passes for 107 yards in the first quarter as the Eagles scored on their first two possessions and jumped out to a 10-0 lead.
He was a perfect 17-for-17 on throws from 0 to 10 yards, including his 6-yard touchdown pass to Goedert.
He played with the kind of fearlessness that we haven’t seen from him since prior to his 2017 anterior cruciate ligament injury, running the ball six times, including a pair of 7-yard keepers.
He made plays out of the pocket, both on designed rollouts and scrambles; extended a third-and-10 play on the Eagles’ first possession and hit J.J. Arcega-Whiteside for 12 yards and a first down; rolled to his right two plays later and hit Greg Ward for 11 yards on a second-and-10; and, in the fourth quarter, he rolled to his left and completed a 9-yard pass to Goedert on second-and-8 when the Eagles were trying to run out the clock.
The Cowboys came into the game with the league’s No. 1-ranked third-down offense. They had converted 48.6 percent of their third downs. In their 27-point win over the Eagles in Week 7, they converted 8-of-14 third-down opportunities.
Sunday was a very different story: The Cowboys were just 3-for-14 on third down against Jim Schwartz’s defense. They converted just two of their last 11.
The thing is, it wasn’t like the Eagles put Dallas in a lot of third-and-long situations. Five of them were third-and-10 or more, but seven were third-and-4 or less, including four third-and-1 plays. The Cowboys converted just two of those seven third-and-4s or less, and only two of the four third-and-1s.
One of the biggest plays of the game for the Eagles was one of those third-and-1 plays on the Cowboys’ first possession of the second half. They had driven down to the Philadelphia 25 and already were in field-goal position. Elliott left the game and was replaced by rookie Tony Pollard who tried to pick up the first down, but had the ball knocked out of his arms by defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. The fumble was recovered by safety Malcolm Jenkins. Cox made the play shortly after leaving the game with an arm injury but quickly returning.
On another third-and-1 play early in the fourth quarter, Prescott’s pass for wide receiver Amari Cooper was knocked away by cornerback Avonte Maddox.
Rookie running back Miles Sanders had another big game. A week after collecting a career-high 172 yards from scrimmage in the Eagles’ come-from-behind win over Washington, he had 156 Sunday, including 79 rushing yards on 20 carries and 77 receiving yards on five catches.
His 1-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, with the help of some outstanding blocking by center Jason Kelce and guards Isaac Seumalo and Brandon Brooks, gave the Eagles a 17-6 lead.