Ezekiel Elliott's Big Night Powers Cowboys to Upset Win vs. Carson Wentz, EaglesNovember 12, 2018
The Dallas Cowboys finally found the formula on the road.
Dallas won its first game away from home this season with a 27-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Sunday's NFC East showdown at Lincoln Financial Field. The Cowboys improved to 4-5 overall and 1-4 on the road, while the Eagles dropped to 4-5 and further behind 6-3 Washington in the division.
Ezekiel Elliott led the way for the victors with 151 rushing yards, 36 receiving yards and two total touchdowns, while Carson Wentz responded with 360 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception for the Eagles.
Underrated Cowboys Defense Only Hope at Late Playoff Push
Offensive woes have led to plenty of angst in Dallas this season.
Offensive line coach Paul Alexander was already fired in October, and Football Outsiders ranks the team an abysmal 31st in the league in pass protection. With hardly any time to get open, Cole Beasley (366) was the only wide receiver with more than 250 receiving yards entering Sunday's game.
Dak Prescott hasn't thrown more than two touchdowns a single time this year behind that line and has looked nothing like the promising rookie who led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record in 2016. While he flashed his talent for stretches with 270 passing yards, his worrisome inconsistency was also on full display when he airmailed a wide-open Amari Cooper and held on to the ball too long on scoring chances inside Philadelphia territory.
The offensive issues came to a tipping point when owner Jerry Jones was pressed into answering questions about head coach Jason Garrett's job status after scoring just 14 points against the Tennessee Titans.
Elliott played savior Sunday, but all the noise surrounding the offense has overshadowed an important point—an overlooked defense has kept this team afloat in the playoff race.
Bill Barnwell @billbarnwell
Cowboys could have scored twice on that drive, but Dak missed the throw to Cooper and Zeke stumbled after that incredible hurdle. Just like last week, they’ve failed to take advantage of early opportunities, and it’s going to be tough for their defense to be this good all game.
The unit wasted little time making an impact when linebacker Leighton Vander Esch's first-quarter interception set up the opening field goal. Jaylon Smith also ended a scoring chance when he stuffed a 4th-and-1 in the second quarter at Dallas' 20-yard line, and terrific pass breakups by Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods prevented strikes to Alshon Jeffery and forced the Eagles to settle for field goals.
It shined with the game on the line as well. Vander Esch forced a 4th-and-7 with a brilliant read of a screen on Philadelphia's penultimate drive, and Jeff Heath tackled Zach Ertz just short of the marker to stop the drive. The Cowboys then kept a desperate lateral attempt in front of them on the game's final play to clinch the win.
It was more of the same for a unit that entered play fourth in the NFL in yards allowed per game, third in points allowed per game and 11th in sacks.
The offensive concerns have generated plenty of headlines in Dallas, but the defense has quietly dominated for extended stretches this season. If the Cowboys are going to make a late playoff push, it will start while Prescott and the offensive line are on the sideline.
Eagles Offense Has Been Enormous Disappointment
Philadelphia's offense had two opportunities to tie the game on the final drive and came up short on each one.
While that is a credit to the Cowboys defense, this offense doesn't look like a Super Bowl contender after lifting the Lombardi Trophy last season.
It entered play 18th in the league in rushing yards per game and was without Jay Ajayi because of a torn ACL and Darren Sproles because of a hamstring injury. The result was just 71 rushing yards, which allowed the Cowboys defense to pay additional attention to the litany of weapons at Wentz's disposal when he dropped back to throw.
Ertz came through with 14 catches for 145 yards and two scores, but Nelson Agholor (83) was the only wide receiver to even reach the 50-yard mark. Between Ertz, Agholor, Alshon Jeffery and Golden Tate, that is too many playmakers for the Eagles offense to be consistently struggling.
Philadelphia entered play 21st in the league in points per game and couldn't finish the job at home against a Cowboys defense missing Sean Lee. The poor rushing attack is impacting the passing game, as opposing defenses can shift additional defenders into coverage, and Wentz still hasn't fully discovered his former form as he works his way back from a December torn ACL and LCL.
The Eagles entered the season with a championship under their belt, Wentz returning after he challenged for the MVP last season and plenty of talented options around him. That the offense has largely held the team back for stretches during what is shaping up to be a disappointing season is unexpected and a primary reason a title defense looks incredibly unlikely.
Brutal Schedule Will Leave Eagles Out of Playoffs
Eagles fans will be firing up highlights of last season's Super Bowl come January because the playoffs aren't in the cards this time around.
Philadelphia's remaining schedule is, in a word, brutal.
The defending champions play first-place teams in five of their remaining seven games with battles against the 8-1 New Orleans Saints, 9-1 Los Angeles Rams, 6-3 Houston Texans and 6-3 Washington (twice). A rematch with the Cowboys is the only reprieve outside of a matchup with the hapless New York Giants, and that's in Dallas.
By comparison, five of the Cowboys' remaining seven games are against teams with losing records, which could clear the way for a late push.
The NFC wild-card race is crowded with the 6-3 Carolina Panthers in the driver's seat and the 5-3-1 Minnesota Vikings, 4-4-1 Green Bay Packers, 4-5 Seattle Seahawks and 4-5 Atlanta Falcons jockeying for position.
Philadelphia's inconsistent play has put it in a precarious position, but it can point to the schedule if it wants to blame something else when it's watching the playoffs at home this season.
Both teams are on the road in Week 11, with the Eagles facing the New Orleans Saints and the Cowboys playing the Atlanta Falcons.