You would like to have a nice, long list of excuses ready. Perhaps you can blame the refs or the league or the weather or something a little more creative.
You would like to think if the teams met on the same field in one week the results would go the other direction.
You would like all of that to be true.
But honestly, three hours of football at the Death Star on Sunday night seemed to reveal some completely different findings -- the Cowboys and Eagles are teams going in completely different directions right now, and the difference between the two does not appear to be terribly close.
The Cowboys were stomped on Sunday night. There is really no nice way to put it.
After somehow finding themselves in the lead at the intermission, the Eagles decided that the game was over by putting the ball in the end zone on three consecutive drives to start the second half, with drives totaling 75, 90 and 85 yards. They never got the ball in a better position than their own 25-yard line and ran 24 plays right down the Cowboys' throats to the tune of 250 yards (10.4 yards per snap during that stretch). The Cowboys responded to that fireworks show with a punt, another punt and, finally, a sack and fumble that was returned for the Eagles' fourth touchdown of the second half.
And like that, it was over.
The Cowboys were humbled offensively in Atlanta the week before. This is likely an appropriate time to point out that the absences of Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith have been felt at a more severe level than this author had hoped. The belief that the "next man up" could at least keep the Cowboys' offense from looking like an expansion team's first try at playing football appears to have vanished into thin air.
They can't move the ball at all.
Against Atlanta, they had a season low in yardage (233 yards) and in yards per snap (3.94). They had a week to work on it and were returning home to take on a division rival. How would they do? Well, against Philadelphia, they again set a season low in yardage (225 yards) and in yards per snap (3.57). Instead of giving up eight sacks and committing two turnovers, they decided to get a little more creatively symmetrical and go with four sacks and four turnovers.
It would be disingenuous to avoid talking about the quarterback position in this game, because as the night went along, it was painfully clear that the team with the quarterback who performed at a higher level was going to win the game. Carson Wentz did not play the best game of his career or even this season or this month. The fact is that Wentz is everything the Eagles could have dreamed of him being halfway through his second season and more. He is exactly what the Cowboys thought he was when they examined him so carefully at the Senior Bowl in January 2016, when they were so heavily linked to him.
They loved him, we heard. They would take him if he fell to No. 4, we heard. But they didn't love him enough to trade up to get him. They still had Tony Romo, and the price to move from No. 4 to No. 2 would be too steep, anyway. They would take the running back, and soon enough you will see why.
Well, the Eagles felt they should trade up for Wentz. They felt so strongly they traded up twice to go get him. First, they pulled the trigger to move from No. 13 to No. 8 in the first round with the Miami Dolphins on March 9, 2016, in a trade that also moved two Chip Kelly guys -- linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell -- to South Florida. Then, on April 20, they pulled the trigger to jump in front of Dallas, too. They sent pick No. 8 and four others (including their 2017 first-rounder -- the pick that ended up being Deshaun Watson) to Cleveland to go get Wentz at No. 2.
They had to know that they were giving up so much to get him that perhaps there would be nobody left to play with him. Luckily, they were able to sell off some other assets from the Kelly era (including the amazing Sam Bradford heist) to salvage picks and decided to get very aggressive in the market. They also had to know that jumping the Cowboys to get Wentz was a great way to make sure he was playing for you, rather than against you, when the rivals butt heads for the next decade or so.
The Cowboys stood pat. They had their guy, too. They would get their quarterback of the future later. Romo would be fine for years, anyway. You know the story from there. They wanted Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook and ended up with Dak Prescott, who then had Romo break in front of him and went on to roll right through his first 24 games at a very high level before Elliott's six-game suspension began. Since that started two weeks ago, the Cowboy have scored one touchdown on the 23 offensive drives they have recorded.
One. Two games, one touchdown. That isn't going to compete well against the NFC team that was in last year's Super Bowl and the NFC team that, perhaps, is headed to this year's Super Bowl.
Prescott and the offense couldn't take advantage of their chances. Both quarterbacks had a rough first half, but when Wentz got going, Prescott and his receivers had no answers. The argument I made a few weeks ago that Prescott would be fine and would feed off this challenge looks like it was beaten out of him in Atlanta. He had a few moments in these two games, but overall, his uncanny ability to find a moment on each drive to prolong the march has disappeared. He turned the ball over more than ever before and he made decisions that get you beat.
In this space two weeks ago, we talked about how the Cowboys did something against Kansas City that was uncharacteristic, to say the least. At their own 13, facing a third-and-15 late in the second quarter, they decided to try to go find the play and Prescott gunned a 21-yard pass in traffic to Dez Bryant. Two plays later, they were in the end zone. This risk-averse team had just shown the interest in being aggressive and rolling the dice and trusting its quarterback to make a great throw at a great moment.
So, here we go to last night. Same spot on the field. Same down and distance, pretty much (third and 17 from their own 18-yard line). If I was thinking it from my seat, and the Cowboys were thinking it as they discussed the next call, you had to know that Jim Schwartz and the Eagles were thinking about it, too. The Cowboys called the exact same look and the exact same basic route concept from Bryant, who was aligned opposite the trips right and working against a defense that basically knew the ball was headed to him. If we will champion the throw against Kansas City, it would be with the idea that this is the type of play that can get you beat, but wow, you got away with it. I don't know if you can go right back to that premise in your very next home game. Same situation, you try the same thing, and the Eagles can' t believe you are going to try that again. Prescott did -- this time the ball was not as well-placed -- and if Ronald Darby didn't pick it off, Malcolm Jenkins would have.
Brutal decision. The Eagles lined up seven guys in their secondary who were waiting for you to try that Kansas City throw against them. And you actually threw it there, anyway?
In a 7-6 ballgame early in the second quarter, that is rookie quarterback stuff that will get you beat. Luckily, he doesn't do that type of stuff very often, but that was as disconcerting a decision he has made that I can recall. There is no reason to force the ball, or the issue. You are in a one-point game at home with the entire night left to go. You can't lose sight of the risk vs. reward. He did. Badly. I understand wanting to be the hero, but if you start playing "hero ball" when it isn't there, that is how teams end up with losses that were unforced. Desperation gets you beat in this league.
Now, back to Wentz, who was likely concussed early in the game when he was knocked from Maliek Collins to the knee/thigh of DeMarcus Lawrence in that same second quarter. He went on a stretch where he looked very poor up until halftime. But coming out of the half, he was fantastic.
Wentz threw just nine passes in the second half, mind you. For 88 yards. But during that second half, he missed only two throws -- both on first down. Meanwhile, he faced six third-down situations and converted five of them with some remarkable throws. One went for a touchdown to Torrey Smith that also had a defensive holding call. One went to Brent Celek on a third-and-1 that gained 28 yards. Two conversions went to Alshon Jeffery, and one was a keeper, where Wentz did it himself. The one time they didn't move the chains, he came and fired another touchdown to Jeffrey on a fourth-and-5. So, on third or fourth downs in the second half, Wentz was 6 for 6 for 82 yards, two touchdowns and a nice, perfect passer rating of 158.3.
You aren't going to beat him when he does that.
One team had the better quarterback and strategic setup for the game. The Eagles were inside the Cowboys' playbook and knew what the Cowboys were doing before they did. Dallas is comfortable with that most weeks because they know they are good enough offensively to run right at you and you not be able stop it.
But the Eagles can. Especially without Elliott and Tyron Smith. Meanwhile, the beat goes on for the defense, which was gashed for a season-worst 215 yards on the ground by an Eagles offense that had no runner with more than 13 carries or 91 yards. It was an ensemble effort that ground the Cowboys' defense without Sean Lee into a fine powder. The Eagles' 6.52 yards per carry was the worst of the season but similar to the 6.4 the Packers got and the 5.4 the Rams got -- also games the Cowboys played without Lee.
And yet, personnel issues are all over this league. The Eagles have dealt with plenty themselves, so they don't wish to hear about your fine left tackle (Jason Peters) or linebacker (Jordan Hicks) or even the running back (Darren Sproles) who is missing. Save it for someone who is totally healthy in this league. Which is pretty much nobody.
In the history of the Death Star, the Cowboys have been beaten three times by 20 or more points: last night by 28; by 24 in 2015 against the Patriots; and by 23 on Thanksgiving 2014 against the Eagles. In fact, six of the worst eight home defeats since 2000 have come against the Eagles (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2014 and 2017).
This one seemed avoidable. Alas, it surely wasn't. The Eagles are on their way to something bigger. The Cowboys are on their way to nowhere if they don't get a hold of their season, fast. This is why you pay your head coach $6 million per year. He has to have solutions. Offensively, for sure. Defensively, you would hope.
Unfortunately, it seems clear that Jason Garrett doesn't really have any solutions to speak of when this team is even slightly shorthanded. And that, as this season now appears to hang by a thread, is a massive problem.