Biggest Takeaways from Philadelphia Eagles' Week 9 Win
The Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys delivered a classic befitting of their great rivalry on Sunday night, with the Birds pulling out a pivotal 33-27 overtime victory on the road. And if there was any lack of enthusiasm for the game from Philly's end, it should be erased now that they're right back in the thick of the hunt for the NFC East title.
The win bumps the Eagles back to .500, moving their record to 4-4 for the 2015 regular season. That puts them just one game back of first place in the division behind the New York Giants, over whom they already own a head-to-head win.
In other words, while defeating a Cowboys squad mired in the tailspin of a six-game losing streak and needing overtime to do it may not seem all that impressive, it certainly was pivotal. Plus, quality of opponent aside—and they're all tough games in the NFC East—there were a ton of positive takeaways from the game, particularly on offense.
Most importantly, the Eagles are in the playoff race, gunning for a division championship and the postseason berth that comes with it. If this team continues to play the way it did on Sunday, who knows? It may just make some noise come December and January.
DeMarco Murray Is Redeemed
Murray carried 18 times for 83 yards—a solid 4.6 average—and a touchdown, and he added another six catches for 78 yards through the air. His 161 total yards from scrimmage are his most as an Eagle by far.
Not only that, but Murray's touches proved instrumental late in the game, particularly in overtime. The two-time Pro Bowl back gained 46 total yards in overtime, helping to set up the winning score.
The last time the Eagles met the Cowboys, Murray was limited to two yards on 13 carries and was visibly frustrated by his lack of success. This time around, he posted his best game as an Eagle in a W.
Sam Bradford Manages, Wins Game
Just when you thought Sam Bradford had been left for dead, he responds with perhaps his best game in an Eagles uniform as well. He didn't set new season highs in any category, but he did manage the game and ultimately led his team to victory.
Bradford connected on 25 of 36 pass attempts—a 69.4 percent completion rate—for 295 yards. More importantly, he was sacked only once and didn't turn the ball over, while his lone touchdown pass was the 41-yard game-winner to wide receiver Jordan Matthews.
The composed performance resulted in an 8.2-yard average per attempt an efficient 103.4 passer rating. We've seen Bradford and this Eagles offense be more explosive, but rarely as smooth. Credit the quarterback for being accurate and poised in the win.
Lane Johnson Holds His Own
Credit the entire Eagles offensive line for paving the way on Sunday night. Bradford was able to stand in the pocket, scan the field and deliver precision passes. Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles had room to run for 172 yards on 35 carries.
This was with Matt Tobin at right guard and Dennis Kelly at right tackle, no less. But the real standout of the unit was Lane Johnson, subbing in for future Hall of Famer Jason Peters at left tackle.
Peters missed the game due to a back injury, forcing the 2013 fourth-overall draft pick to flip sides. Johnson didn't miss a beat, even going against feared Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy for much of the contest. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson was on the hook for one sack and one quarterback hurry. Otherwise, it was awfully quiet out there.
It was an especially great sign because the left tackle job will one day be Johnson's permanently. The patchwork offensive line as a whole did a great job, but Johnson provided a lot of hope for the future of the unit.
Brandon Graham Heating Up
One reason Dallas QB Matt Cassel was able to post such strong numbers against the Eagles defense was the lack of consistent pressure from the front seven. It was disappointing to see defensive coordinator Bill Davis not attempt to rattle the quarterback with more blitzes.
Davis was clearly counting on his four-man rush to get there, and at least one player rewarded the coach's faith. Outside linebacker Brandon Graham notched a pair of sack-fumbles of Cassel during the contest, which had either one been recovered by the Eagles could've swung the momentum in their favor.
Graham's performance was a good sign he is beginning to heat up. The first-year starter now has four sacks over the past four games to go along with 23 tackles and three forced fumbles. His big game against Dallas came at the hands of Tyron Smith, by the way, one of the most impenetrable left tackles in the NFL.
Graham is the Eagles' primary pass-rusher off the edge, and the defense needs more from him as long as it's going to rely on four-man rushes. Sunday night was a great confidence-builder.
Eagles D Misses DeMeco Ryans
The Eagles defense did just enough to pick up the victory in Dallas, but it wasn't pretty. Journeyman signal-caller Cassel completed 25 of 38 passes for 299 yards with three touchdowns, his lone blemish the pick-six to Jordan Hicks. Darren McFadden carried the rock 27 times for 117 yards.
For the second straight game, the Eagles surrendered a season-high 27 points to an opponent, and there seems to be one common denominator. Interior linebacker DeMeco Ryans is sorely missed in the middle of this defense.
Not just Ryans' playmaking ability, although that would help against the run, as the Eagles allowed back-to-back 100-yard rushers for the first time in three seasons under head coach Chip Kelly. Ryans also gets the defense lined up correctly and reads the offense pre-snap, making adjustments, barking out signals and putting his teammates in better position to make stops.
Ryans' leadership is what the Eagles defense has been lacking the past two games. Without it, this unit is merely OK.
Caleb Sturgis Comes Through in the Clutch
Speaking of confidence-builders, is there any reason to remain down on Caleb Sturgis? After all, without his 53-yard field goal with 1:46 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Eagles likely lose to the Cowboys in regulation rather than go on to win in overtime.
Taking over for Pro Bowl kicker Cody Parkey, Sturgis struggled mightily in his debut, missing an extra point and a chip-shot field goal in a three-point loss to Washington in Week 4. In the words of the immortal Andy Reid, we can all count, those points would've helped.
However, since then, Sturgis has been rock solid. The third-year kicker originally drafted by the Miami Dolphins has made 11 of 12 extra points, including all seven attempts in the Eagles' last three games, and has gone 11-of-12 on field-goal tries.
It's still going to be difficult to shake the feeling Sturgis could miss at any moment, but that's kickers for you. For now, you have to feel good about the Eagles' midseason find.