Once again, Eagles lose and defense collapses in the fourth quarter
The Eagles defense gave up 151 rushing yards to Ezekiel Elliott, allowed the Cowboys to convert a season-high 50 percent of their third downs, and couldn't make a stop in the fourth quarter of Sunday's devastating 27-20 loss.
After what happened at the Linc on Sunday night against the Cowboys, the prospect of the Eagles' getting on a plane and flying to New Orleans this weekend for a meeting with Drew Brees and the unstoppable juggernaut that is the Saints offense would seem about as welcome as having somebody throw a bucket of battery acid at you.
But Chris Long thinks a seemingly impossible challenge against a team averaging an NFC-high 36.7 points might be just what the doctor ordered for his banged-up defense right now.
"That's great,'' the Eagles defensive end said of facing the Saints after yet another fourth-quarter collapse by his unit contributed to a devastating 27-20 division loss to the Cowboys. "We need that opportunity.
"I think sometimes people look and say, well, we went 13-3 last year. We're just supposed to roll the ball out there. We don't look at it that way.
"We know we had to play well to beat the Cowboys. And we didn't play well enough. We can't just play OK and expect to beat teams like that.''
Jim Schwartz's defense was a long cab ride from OK on Sunday. The unit gave up 151 rushing yards to Ezekiel Elliott, who had been held to 3.3 yards per carry in the Cowboys' previous four games. The Eagles' inability to muzzle Elliott allowed the Cowboys, who entered the game with the league's fifth-worst third-down offense, to convert a season-high 50 percent of their third-down opportunities.
And for the third time this season, the Eagles' defense rolled over and played dead in the fourth quarter, giving up a pair of 75-yard touchdown drives that cost them the game.
In Week 4, they blew a 17-3 second-half lead to Tennessee. In Week 7, they watched a 17-0 fourth-quarter lead over Carolina melt like ice cream on a 100-degree day.
>> PHOTO GALLERY: Scenes from the sidelines at the Linc
On Sunday, they twice gave up scores in the fourth quarter after their slow-starting offense managed to wipe the sleep out of its eyes and tie the game.
"We didn't get stops,'' linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "We were allowing them to be in third-and-short. They were converting on third down, keeping the sticks moving.
"We take pride in stopping the run and getting them in third-and-long and letting our pass rush go. I think that was a big reason we were so successful in the first half. The pass rush was winning. Over and over again, they were winning.''
The Eagles sacked Dak Prescott four times in the first half, none in the second.
The Eagles entered the game ranked third in third-down defense (33.0 percent). But cracks had been starting to show. Jacksonville converted 6 of 14 third-down opportunities against them two weeks ago. The week before that, Carolina was 5-for-11.
Their ' secondary has been ravaged by injuries. Safety Rodney McLeod has been out since Week 3 with a knee injury. Cornerback Jalen Mills missed Sunday's game with a foot injury.
Slot cornerback Sidney Jones missed his third straight game with a hamstring injury. The Eagles' other starting corner, Ronald Darby, left the game in the third quarter Sunday with a leg injury and didn't return. For much of the second half, the Eagles' outside corners were Rasul Douglas and Chandon Sullivan, who had been on the practice squad as recently as three weeks ago.
So, yes, injuries were a factor Sunday. But you can't use next man up as a rallying cry when you win the Super Bowl one year and as an excuse for a 4-5 record the next.
"We don't have time to cry about it or make excuses,'' safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "We have a job to do. You put the next guy in and you play. Those guys weren't out there wide-eyed. They knew what they were doing.''
One of Eagles' biggest problems Sunday was bad tackling, highlighted by a 32-yard run by Elliott in the second quarter in which he leaped over safety Tre Sullivan. But Sullivan hardly was alone.
Elliott had a ton of yards after contact, though he also occasionally had some running lanes wide enough to land a 737. He had five double-digit runs, including a 35-yarder to go with the 32-yarder. The Cowboys finished with nine rushing first downs. That's the most rushing first downs the Eagles have given up since 2016.
"We didn't tackle well,'' Hicks conceded. "You look at a lot of those plays, we had people in position. We just didn't get the job done.
"It's more on us than anything what he did. We know [Elliott is] a physical runner. A strong back. A good running back. But we have to execute. And we didn't do that.''
The belief that the Eagles are a good run defense has been largely a myth this season built on the fact that teams weren't running on them. While they entered Sunday's game ranked second in rushing yards allowed per game (83.8), they were 21st in opponent rush average (4.5) and 21st in opponent rush average on first down (4.5) after finishing third last year (3.4).
Sunday, the Cowboys averaged 6.7 yards per carry on first down, a big reason that six of their 16 third-down opportunities were 4 yards or less.
"They converted a lot of them,'' defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said of the Cowboys' third-down success. "We just have to be better. We're usually a really good third-down team. Obviously today, we weren't. They made the play and we didn't.''
Especially in the fourth quarter when the Eagles dearly needed a stop.
Including the 14 points the Cowboys scored, the Eagles have given up 68 points in the fourth quarter and overtime this season. All but 20 of those 68 points have come in their losses to the Titans, Panthers and Cowboys.
Prescott completed 7 of 8 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Panthers' Cam Newton was 16-for-22 for 201 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter of their comeback win.
And the Titans' Marcus Mariota was 15-for-21 for 139 yards and two TDs in the fourth quarter against the Eagles. No fourth-quarter interceptions in any of those three games, and only one sack (against the Titans).
"The biggest problem later in the game was we couldn't get the negative plays on first and second down,'' Jenkins said. "I thought the Cowboys had a really good package on third down, some things that were really hard to handle.''
And ready or not, here come the Saints.