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Five reasons the Eagles lost to the Cowboys

The Eagles' inability to neutralize Ezekiel Elliott is the main reason they lost. But there were others, including their slow-starting offense and some really bad tackling.

Doug Pederson underused his new offensive weapon Golden Tate, who saw just 19 snaps.
Doug Pederson underused his new offensive weapon Golden Tate, who saw just 19 snaps.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

A day after the Eagles lost to the Cowboys, Paul Domowitch looks back.

Five reasons why Sunday night happened:

(Not) stopping Zeke

Stop the run and have some fun. That's defensive line coach Chris Wilson's message to his unit every week.

Shut down the run on first and second down and then you can tee off on the quarterback on third-and-long.

That was going to be particularly important against Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is the straw that stirs his team's offensive drink.

Trouble is, the Eagles haven't been very good at shutting down the run this season. They entered the game ranked second in rushing yards allowed per game (83.8). But that was mainly because teams weren't running the ball on them.

When teams have run against them, they've done pretty well. The Eagles were ranked 21st in opponent rush average (4.5), and 21st in opponent rush average on first down (also 4.5 yards per carry). That's a far cry from last year, when they held teams to 3.8 yards per carry and 3.4 on first down.

Despite being fourth in the league in rushing, Elliott had averaged just 3.3 yards per carry in the previous four games. Against the Eagles, he rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown, averaging 7.9 yards per carry.

He had five double-digit-yard carries against the Eagles, including 32- and 35-yard runs. He had seven of the Cowboys' nine rushing first downs, which was the most against the Eagles since 2016, and a touchdown.

Elliott's success on the ground impacted every other aspect of the Cowboys' offense, including the pass-rush pressure on Dak Prescott, their ability to stay out of third-and-long situations and the overall success of the Cowboys' passing game.

>> GRADE THE EAGLES: Run defense gets an 'F'

Tackling troubles

This problem has plagued the Eagles off and on all season, and it flared up in a mighty way Sunday night. They missed a ton of tackles against both the run and the pass.

Elliott, who rushed for 151 yards on 19 carries, averaged a season-high 6.16 yards after contact. His leap over safety Tre Sullivan on a 32-yard run in the second quarter will have a long shelf life on ESPN's SportsCenter.

Sullivan, a former practice-squadder who played 22 snaps because of all of the injuries in the secondary, also had a missed tackle on an 18-yard run by Elliott on one of the Cowboys' two fourth-quarter touchdown drives.

Cornerback Rasul Douglas, another backup who has been pressed into service — he played all but two snaps — failed to fill a gap and missed Elliott on a 35-yard run early in the third quarter, then had another missed tackle on a 17-yard completion to tight end Dalton Schultz that kick-started the Cowboys' game-winning touchdown drive.

"We didn't tackle great,'' coach Doug Pederson said. "That's one of the areas we've got to get better at. Tackling in space, tackling in the box and just making sure that we get guys on the ground. There were just two many yards after contact.''

Another slow start

The Eagles' defense was built to play from ahead. Grab the lead early, make teams play catch-up, and let their front four focus on pressuring the quarterback.

It worked very well last year when the Eagles had a fast-starting offense and the league's highest first-quarter point differential (plus-58). This year, not so much.

For the seventh time in nine games, the Eagles failed to score on their first possession. For the ninth time in nine games, they failed to score on their second possession.

They have been outscored in the first quarter this season, 32-21. They are averaging just 8 points per game in the first half, which is six points fewer than last season. They've scored more than 10 points in the first half just once (24 vs. the Giants).

Against the Cowboys, the Eagles' only first-half points came on a 56-yard Jake Elliott field goal with 1:33 left in the second quarter.

They had just seven first downs and 132 net yards in the first half and ran only 25 plays, which was their second fewest of the season. They didn't convert a third-down opportunity until there were 5 ½ minutes left in the third quarter.

"If we could put it together and go up and get a big lead on teams early, it would make things a lot easier,'' linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "If the offense, defense and special teams could put it together at the same time, it would be great. But for some reason, it's just not happening.''

No, it's not.

>> MIKE SIELSKI: Golden Tate does little to help the Eagles avoid a crushing loss to the Cowboys

Struggling on third down

Third down was a problem for the Eagles on both sides of the ball. As was mentioned above, they didn't convert a third-down opportunity until well into the third quarter, going 0-for-their-first-five before Carson Wentz connected with Jordan Matthews on an 18-yard completion on a third-and-11 late in the third quarter.

But it was their third-down defense that really did them in. They came into the game ranked third in the league, holding teams to a 33.0 third-down conversion percent.

Enter the Cowboys, who came into the game ranked 28th in third-down offense, but managed to convert eight of their 16 third-down opportunities against the Eagles.

Two were real killers. They gave up a 25-yard screen to wide receiver Michael Gallup on a third-and-15 late in the first half that kept alive the Cowboys' first touchdown drive and allowed them to take a 13-3 halftime lead.

In the fourth quarter, with the game tied 20-20, they gave up a 23-yard completion to wide receiver Allen Hurns on a third-and-8 on the Cowboys game-winning scoring drive.

Hurns ran a deep slant and safety Malcolm Jenkins took a poor angle, and one of their other safeties — Corey Graham — missed a tackle, allowing Hurns to get all the way down to the Philadelphia 9.

The 33-year-old Graham, who had missed the previous three games with a hamstring injury, didn't play very well in the fourth quarter.

Earlier, on a third-and-2 at the Philadelphia 7, he was late getting outside to cover Elliott, who caught an all-too-easy 7-yard touchdown pass from Prescott to give the Cowboys a 20-13 lead.

Doug’s decision-making

I haven't questioned many things Doug Pederson has done, because I usually agree with him. But he had me scratching my head Sunday night.

For starters, there was his underuse of Golden Tate, his new offensive weapon. Tate was acquired at the trade deadline. He's a smart guy and had two weeks to get familiar with the offense.

Yet he played just 18 snaps against the Cowboys, catching two passes for 19 yards, six of which came on a hook-and-lateral play.

Then there was Pederson's curious decision to go with 11 personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR) most of the first half, which meant keeping rookie tight end Dallas Goedert on the bench.

The Eagles had used 12 personnel (1RB, 2TE) more than 50 percent of the time this season. It has been their most effective personnel grouping.

If he had played Tate more, the decision to play less 12 and more 11 might've made a little sense to me. But he didn't. Jordan Matthews usually was the third wideout with Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor in 11.

The results – just three points and seven first downs in the first half – speak for themselves.

Pederson finally went to more 12 personnel in the second half and the offense started to have some success. Both of Wentz's touchdown passes to Zach Ertz came with 12 personnel.

>> JEFF McLANE: Doug Pederson is blowing this season for the Super Bowl champs