In the end, the it was a well played game won by the team that had the most big plays and the most playmakers. The Eagles are a team going somewhere at 9-4, and the Cowboys are a team, at 4-9, that can wonder where they are going. Such is life in the NFL.
The following are my thoughts and observations from another "Close, but no cigar" home loss for the Cowboys:
* One of the real curiosities from Sunday was the game plan from an offensive standpoint. Now, first, allow me to concede more than anyone given my obsession with trying to analyze this offense from every angle that there are not a ton of choices for a play-caller if you agree that the offensive line has almost no ability to clear paths for a traditional running game, you don't believe that your RBs (without Barber) can diagnose and execute proper blitz pickup against the most exotic blitzing crew in the sport, you don't have your biggest WR threat of the last few months anymore, and you don't have your starting Pro Bowl QB. Take all of those realities to heart and then remember that you enter this game with the motto of "not beating yourself" by gifting this big play defense with any game changing plays. Also, understand that eating the clock is another big objective to winning the game by keeping Michael Vick off the field. Basically, do the same thing you did last week with Peyton Manning, except you don't get to play the Colts defense this time which apparently anyone can run on. Now, with all of that in mind, you design a game plan that can get a win. All of that being conceded, I still need to see a few more shots down the field to get the defense to respect you a bit more. I think having Jon Kitna continuously check down over and over again can become a bit predictable and easy to defend. Is that all he can do? No, but that might be all he can do under the present circumstances - all that I listed above. Look, 100% of this offense's problems lead back to the fact that on 1st and 10, you cannot run a simple power run play for more than 2 yards. I have been consistent with this issue, and with the exception of a few random Sundays where the Cowboys get a thing or two going, they just cannot run the ball out from under center. All running success comes from gadgets (reverses) or Shotgun runs (where the defense is dropping 7 into coverage). But, I formation, against 7 or 8 in the box? This team is so bad at running the ball, I almost understand why they sometimes don't even want to bother. Last night, after the 1st drive of the game, the Cowboys attempted 9 runs from under center for the rest of the night to RBs Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. The results of these 9 plays? 9 yards. How long must we sing this song?
* It was pretty clear that DeMarcus Ware was a man on a mission last night. I thought he played maybe his best game of 2010 and showed a relentless drive that was most impressive. It was pretty clear that the Cowboys pass rushers had bad intentions when they got to Michael Vick - they wanted to make it hurt. But, give Vick credit. He showed plenty of nerve and hung in there enough to make some very nice plays.
* Man, those Eagles seem like an undisciplined bunch at certain times. DeSean Jackson is that perfect combination of unstoppable force (4 catches for an insane 210 yards) and uncontrollable-guy-on-the-team-that-nobody-can-predict-what-he-will-do-next. That touchdown was a thing of beauty, but then the highlight film that NBC had ready showing all of the dumb things he has done at the end of touchdowns demonstrates that he might not ever be a guy who could play for Bill Parcells. The obvious issue with his antics (and I am also thinking of the fact that he is looking for a fight on every play) is that some of his younger mates, like Jorrick Calvin, see his act and think that they can mess around and do that nonsense, too. Calvin, who as far as I can tell does not bring irreplaceable playmaking to the table, almost helped his team lose with his amazing personal foul after the final kickoff of the game because Alan Ball baited him. Composure is not in huge supply on an NFL field, but the good teams have more than their adversaries or at some point they pay a giant price. I assume Andy Reid could tell us that he is aware that he might need a tighter leash on his troops in tight games in the playoffs.
* Roy Williams stumbles out of his cuts and runs the sloppiest routes that I can remember around here. There is no reason the Corner Back should be able to predict and execute your route better than you do. Also, his soft cuts and rounded edges on routes are a big reason why QBs seem to have less trust for him than their other choices. But, I am sure Roy will counter by telling us that he has "been the most consistent WR on the team" again. Sounds good, Roy.
* They said last night that Tony Romo still admits that he cannot sleep on his side yet. Stop this silly charade of bringing him back on a team that hopes to go 6-10. Shut him down, Jerry, for crying out loud.
* Quite a night for Anthony Spencer who had some moments of brilliance, but also looked lost on his coverage responsibility on Todd Herremans in the end zone. Surely, you are not used to covering guys who wear #79, but on 3rd and Goal, nothing hurts more that getting beat on that play. I felt the helmet to helmet call was harsh, but then again, I think the entire rule is harsh. There has to be a difference in officiating between a shot where you are using the helmet as a weapon and a play where it is clearly incidental contact. This play by Spencer and then the glancing blow from Olshansky a millisecond later is just not the spirit of the rule, in my opinion. But, then, I suppose it might even out as you could make a pretty strong case that Spencer did get away with a late hit along the sideline on Vick. If that is Romo or just about any QB in the league, that is a late hit. Vick doesn't get that call, and I can understand the Eagles anger on that issue for sure.
* Someday, I hope Mike Jenkins is a better open field tackler than Mat McBriar. But, on LeSean McCoy's 55 yard run in the 3rd Quarter, Jenkins looked just like a punter who was frozen and unsure. Frustrating may not properly describe it.
* I thought Paul Pasqualoni did a real nice job of using his blitzes wisely. That Orlando Scandrick seems to have a good knack of coming off the shoulder of the End rusher and is so small that that he sometimes can be hidden from the QB until the last moment. You cannot blitz those Eagles much, but if you ambush them on occasion, it might work, and Pasqualoni did a real nice job there.
* I think Jon Kitna played more like the Kitna that the league has known for a long time. I think he is a very capable back-up, but if you give defenses a chance to design a plan to keep him down, his field really shrinks. He just doesn't have an arm that makes you pay for mistakes enough. Look, I know many of you want to upgrade from Romo, and if the Cowboys can find the right guy, I am fine with this idea, but that guy is not Kitna. I would invite Kitna back as a backup next season possibly, but let's not get carried away beyond that.
* Pound for pound, I think Bradie James spills his guts for this team as much as anyone. He is a true warrior and I do wonder if I credit him enough for these past years. Not sure how much tread is on his tires, but I feel it is worth saying that the Cowboys should be proud of that 4th Round pick.
* No announcer wants a punt to hit the video board as much as Al Michaels. I feel like he must have a prop bet in Vegas or something that he is trying to cash in on. Easy, Al. It isn't that big of a deal.
On to the next one. At 4-9, the final 3 are clearly playing for pride and for jobs in 2011.