Late Sunday night, Football Outsiders' head man Aaron Schatz mentioned something interesting on Twitter:
This observation followed the Eagles/Cowboys game, in which a Dallas team that had been committing an average of just under seven penalties per game was somehow flagged only once (ironically enough, for a delay of game that wasn't deserved).
Penalties – called or not – did not determine the final outcome of this game. Kyle Orton's off-target chuck to Brandon Boykin did that. But in reviewing this game with the benefit of the all-22 camera angles, they were undoubtedly part of the story.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Eagles were facing a key third-and-four situation. Convert and the game was basically over. Come up short and the Cowboys would have two minutes to pick up 30 yards against a defense that had struggled for much of the night.
The NBC announcing crew focused on the front end of the play. LeSean McCoy tripped heading into his route, taking away Nick Foles' first option. But they ignored or didn't notice what happened in the back:
McCoy does fall down, but Chip Kelly does not design pass plays with only one option. Down the field, Riley Cooper and Zach Ertz are running a very tight-fitting crossing route. Cooper is being held from the minute he makes his break almost across both hash marks. If he hadn't been, he'd have run free into a wide open space and Foles – who is clearly looking for him in those middle frames – would have had an easy pitch and catch.
Somehow, this penalty isn't called, despite happening in the middle of the field with the telltale stretched-out jersey.
In general, the Dallas defensive plan called for a lot of movement. We've talked before this year about the "scrape exchange" against the zone read -- in which the defensive end and linebacker switch places to confuse the quarterback's read. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin just had even more bodies moving to confuse the Eagles' blocking schemes:
This isn't the first time the Eagles have seen this action this year and you can see the incredibly quick interior tandem of Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis both make their assigned blocks. In that second screen, you can see the alley right guard Todd Herremans is shooting through to track the linebacker #57. Until he's grabbed by the defensive lineman:
You can see why I chose this play. Bit of a theme for Dallas in this game. But watch what McCoy is about to do to that unblocked linebacker:
Two receivers were being held on this play:
Here's where you say, "Ok, maybe, but how can we really tell from that shot that someone's being held?"
My, what big biceps you have, Brent.
I drew the routes on the previous example because it's the same "snag" concept the Eagles used on the Brent Celek touchdown:
The Dallas defense managed to avoid holding the key receiver on this play, mostly by not covering him.
Foles also made some puzzling decisions on a number of packaged plays. On this one, he didn't throw the ball to DeSean, even though that's where the numbers advantage was and the Eagles had Lane Johnson outside:
He ignored DeSean Jackson twice on this play, although he did hit Cooper on the short crossing route:
Lastly, he made the right call here in avoiding DeSean – who has a defender blanketing him – but this was one of those running back screens the Cowboys' defense was all over all night. Check out the third option on this play:
As we noted last week, in this base version of this play, Jason Peters is streaking down the field at the snap. Here he stays put as a pass blocker. It's a bit of a tell that something's up, but they have to do it if they want to make a forward pass an option.
If other teams play as aggressively against the screen game as the Cowboys did, you have to think the ball is going over the top at least once.