The premier matchup on the 2014 NFC East schedule to date arrived on Thanksgiving, with 8-3 Philadelphia and 8-3 Dallas meeting for the first time this season.
Any hope for an all-time classic dissipated in a hurry. The Eagles raced out to a 14-0 lead en route to a shockingly easy 33-10 victory in Dallas. The division now goes through Philadelphia — these two teams play again on Dec. 14, in the City of Brotherly Love.
Three thoughts on the Eagles’ statement victory:
1. Philadelphia wins up front.
The Cowboys‘ offensive line has been one of the season’s most dominant position groups, from Tyron Smith continuing his progression as a star left tackle to Zack Martin generating Rookie of the Year buzz.
On Thursday, that line was blown out of the building.
Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox was the catalyst, often matched up with guard Ronald Leary. Cox finished with a sack and two tackles for loss, but more than that generally just made life miserable for Tony Romo. The Cowboys had no answer for him. When they adjusted their protection in hopes of accounting for Cox, the issues persisted — Brandon Graham, Casey Matthews and Vinny Curry each registered a sack; Romo fired several passes up for grabs with defenders in his face, including a throw-in-the-towel interception late.
You might be asking: Well, if Dallas had all those issues, why didn’t it stick to the run? Well, that didn’t work either.
“People don’t give us the credit we deserve,” Cox said earlier in the week, per The News Journal. “But we put it on tape and we showed the world that we can stop the run. Anyone who has ever watched football knows our defensive line is known for stopping the run. Some people have never played football in their life and think they know what they’re talking about.”
The Eagles held DeMarco Murray to 73 yards on 20 carries, his lowest rushing total of the season. Not one of those Murray carries covered more than nine yards. The final nail in the Cowboys’ holiday coffin came with the ball in Murray’s hands — Mychal Kendricks buried him for a six-yard loss on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter.
2. LeSean McCoy does it again.
“I think LeSean is doing a really good job,” Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said two weeks ago, after a 12-carry, 19-yard showing from McCoy revived questions about the star running back’s production.
McCoy backed Kelly’s words with 130 yards rushing vs. Tennessee in Week 12, then doubled down by torching the Cowboys to the tune of 159 yards Thursday.
The first play from scrimmage in this game was a handoff to McCoy headed wide left. Dallas strung out the play, sealing any potential gaps so McCoy could not turn upfield and Barry Church tackled him for a 1-yard loss.
For the rest of the afternoon, McCoy repeatedly made his way to the second level. That would be troublesome against any running back, but McCoy’s explosiveness in the open field makes it even more critical to keep him boxed in. Three plays after that Church tackle for loss, McCoy turned the corner along the other sideline and sprinted into the Dallas secondary for 36 yards.
“We’ve been criticized all year, especially myself,” McCoy told FOX. “It doesn’t matter what anybody says, it’s about the [players] in the locker room. They believe, I believe and that’s all that matters.”
Philadelphia entered Thursday ranked No. 3 in scoring offense and No. 4 in yards. If McCoy can maintain the pace he has been at over the past few days … look out.
3. No Dez, no help, no chance: From the earliest moments of the game, Dez Bryant was extremely animated on the sidelines. FOX’s cameras caught him on several occasions trying to spur on his teammates — an exercise that appeared to swing from excitement to frustration.
Hard to blame Bryant if he did lose his cool at all. Philadelphia’s cornerbacks broke up the first two passes thrown his way, first by Cary Williams and then by Bradley Fletcher (who probably got away with holding).
While Bryant answered late in the first quarter on a 38-yard reception, he was held to three catches for 35 yards otherwise.
The day was even worse for Dallas’ complementary pieces. Cole Beasley caught four passes but fumbled deep in his team’s territory, leading to a Philadelphia field goal; Jason Witten finished with one catch; and Terrance Williams was virtually nonexistent, despite 38 yards receiving. In fact, Williams may have had the day’s worst play, absolutely giving up — in rather bizarre fashion — on an interception.
A lot of the issues with Dallas’ passing game circle back to the effort by Philadelphia’s front. Still, the Cowboys knew, even though they trust their overachieving defense, that they would have to match Philadelphia’s big-play potential.
They did not even come close.