Grayson’s Grades: Eagles at Cowboys
The Philadelphia Eagles invaded Dallas with first place in the NFC East on the line. It was a showcase for the future of the league in rookie successes like Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz as well as Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott and Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
After trailing 10-3, the Eagles scored 17 straight points to take a 20-10 lead. Ultimately this game headed to overtime tied at 23. The Cowboys took the ball in OT and scored a touchdown to end the game. Wentz and the Eagles never touched the pigskin in overtime and lose a heartbreaker 29-23.
There are plenty of poor grades to hand out led by Head Coach Doug Pederson.
Caleb Sturgis – Sturgis has been nearly automatic from virtually any distance. He made a huge 55-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to give the Eagles a 13-10 lead. Sturgis made all three field goals he attempted from distances of 55, 34 and 30 yards.
Darren Sproles – Sproles was clearly the featured back in this game and handled it very well. He snuck through holes and pushed the ball downfield. Most running backs start fizzling out after several years in the league. This 12-year veteran looks to have found the fountain of youth out there. He showed great patience at time to wait for holes to open and then hit them quickly. Sproles carried the ball 15 times for 86 yards. He also caught five passes for 17 yards. On a side note, Sproles moved into eighth on the all-time all-purpose yardage list in NFL history.
Jordan Hicks – I thought Hicks had another decent game. He came up with a huge interception in the endzone to cause the Cowboys to come up with zero points in the red zone. Hicks also did a nice job coming up in run support. He did miss a tackle or two in the game, which needs to be corrected. Hicks finished with six tackles including one pass successfully defended and one quarterback hit.
Nigel Bradham – Bradham led the team in tackles and did a great job in helping to keep Ezekiel Elliott in check. Bradham also registered a tackle for a loss. He is returning to the solid form he had prior to his benching after his trouble with the law during the bye week nearly a month ago.
Marcus Smith – Smith is slowly starting to get more and more snaps in this defense. He was in there during the Cowboys first possession of the game and came up with a sack. He also had a good run stop on that possession. Smith finished with two tackles including a sack and a quarterback hit.
Brandon Graham – Graham had his ups and downs in this game. There were plenty of times he got close to the quarterback, but just could not quite get all the way there. There were also times he took a bad angle at the ball. It was definitely more positive than negative. Graham recorded six tackles including a tackle for a loss, a pass successfully defended and a quarterback hit. Graham is playing very well and having a great season. This game further continued to show the progress he is making.
Jordan Matthews – Matthews is clearly the Eagles top receiver. He was the most targeted receiver in this game having 14 passes go his direction. He hauled in 11 of them for 65 yards. Matthews did drop two passes in this game. He makes difficult catches, but fails to make some easy ones. Matthews did catch a touchdown pass. He appears to be Wentz’ favorite target at this point.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai – Big V had another good game. After laying an egg in his first start, Big V has put together two solid performances. He helped give Wentz time in the pocket to go through his reads. Big V also did a pretty good job run-blocking. I was a big supporter of not allowing him to remain in the starting lineup three weeks ago, but have to admit he is looking good lately.
Carson Wentz – I thought Wentz looked pretty good, but certainly had his questionable moments. He tried to force a pass late in the fourth quarter that was nearly picked off. Wentz also struggled throwing some screen passes, which is uncharacteristic of him. There were a couple of times I thought he could have broke the pocket and tried to run for some positive yards. Wentz did a good job of changing plays at the line of scrimmage. He looked extremely comfortable running the no-huddle offense. Wentz threw 42 passes in this game and not one of them were thrown downfield. He never took a shot deep and it is unclear if that was due to the plays called or his own decision not to test defensive backs downfield.
Josh Huff – Huff again provided a spark on special teams. He returned a kickoff 63 yards after the Cowboys cut the Eagles lead to 20-13. He is not on the field on offense as much as he has been in the past. Huff caught one pass for nine yards.
Malcolm Jenkins – Jenkins’ versatility really helped the Eagles keep Elliott in check for a lot of the game. He was playing close to the line of scrimmage and helped drop Elliott for short gains on occasion. Jenkins finished second on the team in tackles with eight of them including a tackle for a loss and a quarterback hit.
Dorial Green-Beckham – DGB was definitely more of an option in this game than he has been at any other time this season. He caught five passes for 55 yards, but did drop a pass or two. Given his size, I am surprised we don’t see him more often in the red zone. He seems like the perfect candidate for a fade in those situations.
Leodis McKelvin – McKelvin did a pretty good job in coverage. He successfully defended two passes that were intended for Dez Bryant. One of those passes he defended was nicely done on a fade route in the end zone. McKelvin did miss a tackle badly and also gave up a big gain to Bryant. Overall, he has been a solid player in the secondary when he can stay healthy. He finished with six tackles.
Ryan Mathews – Mathews scored a touchdown early in this game running it in from one yard out. He hardly ever got into the game after that. It makes you wonder what happened in practice this week. Did he fumble it in practice? His role on offense was greatly diminished. You can rule out injury. Pederson did not say anything about an injury to Mathews, so that lack of carries and playing time was strictly a coaches’ decision.
Nelson Agholor – Agholor is continuing to struggle. He dropped a slant in this game that hit him right in the hands. It is baffling that he drops easy catches, but finds a way to haul in very difficult passes in traffic. Agholor caught three passes for 25 yards. Those are not the kind of numbers you expect a former first-round pick to have in his second year in the league. Agholor is a trade deadline acquisition away from finding himself as the fourth receiver on this team.
Jim Schwartz – Schwartz needed to get more pressure on Dak Prescott than he did. It really wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter that Schwartz really went after the rookie quarterback and it worked. Schwartz likes to try and generate pressure with his front four, but I believe getting a little more aggressive would only help this defense even more. We will not know if he was trying to get Pederson to use a timeout in overtime to help his defense catch its breath. If he was not doing that, than he should have been. His defense looked gassed and if he asked for it, I have to believe Pederson would have used a timeout. He was without one of his best run stoppers in Bennie Logan, but that is not an excuse for how the game was called.
Doug Pederson – Pederson’s best decision in the game was deciding to go up-tempo and wear out the Cowboys defense. It was very effective for the time he used it. Now to the negatives. Pederson mismanaged his timeouts. He should have called one following a Connor Barwin sack setting up a third and 21 with about 30 seconds remaining in regulation. Sproles is so dangerous on punt returns and might have given the team a shot at a long field goal attempt to win it. I also felt Pederson should have burned a timeout to give his defense a breather during their 12 play 75-yard drive that lasted 7:12. Pederson also failed on offense to do anything other than dump off the ball. With Wentz’ strong arm, hardly any passes traveled more than 10 yards in the air. The passing game is very predictable in that it fails to try to go over the top of the defense. Wentz averaged 4.7 yards per pass attempt. I also question the idea of giving Wendell Smallwood his first carry of the game in the fourth quarter on your own side of the field. Pederson did that and Smallwood fumbled it leading to a Cowboys field goal. By his own admission, Pederson said after the game he needs to stick to being aggressive.
Wendell Smallwood – Smallwood got his first and only carry of the game in the fourth quarter. He promptly fumbled it and the Cowboys recovered leading to a field goal. I questioned whether Smallwood should have gotten that first carry that late in the game. See Pederson’s grade for more on that. However, when your number is called you have to perform and Smallwood failed to do that.