McMullen’s Quick Hits: No Dez, No Romo, No Problem
PHILADELPHIA - It was never "must win" in a literal sense and even after playing a game that could only be devised in the imagination of Wes Craven, it turns out that the Philadelphia Eagles didn't even lose a must-win game in a figurative sense.
But the team's woeful offensive performance during a 20-10 loss to the Cowboys signaled a shift in expectations, from legitimate Super Bowl contender to mediocre team hoping to win a bad division.
And as strange as it may sound, though, Philadelphia, which is 0-2 for the first time since 2007, is probably in better shape than 2-0 Dallas because the Cowboys lost starting quarterback Tony Romo to a fractured clavicle in the game, a week after All-Pro receiver Dez Bryant went down for a significant period with a broken foot.
(Listen to John McMullen discuss Sunday's loss to the Cowboys)
Romo suffered a similar injury in Week 7 of the '10 season and missed the rest of the campaign. Backup Brandon Weeden finished things on Sunday by completing all seven of his passes for 73 yards.
Dallas piled up 363 yards of offense compared to just 226 for the Eagles, who managed a dismal 7 rushing yards on 17 attempts as the interior of the offensive line was manhandled for the second consecutive game.
Unlike Monday night in Atlanta, however, Sam Bradford never found a groove and was poor throughout this one, completing 23-of-37 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.
"I think everybody on offense has to get it together," Eagles coach Chip Kelly understated post-game.
Kyle Wilber returned a blocked punt 26 yards for touchdown for Dallas, while Weeden threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams as the Cowboys overcame a franchise-record 18 penalties to record their 10th consecutive road win.
Kelly's philosophy of using an offset back out of the shotgun has become far too predictable and the East-West, zone running philosophy is putting high-priced running back DeMarco Murray in bad situations. Six days after registering 9 yards on eight carries in his Philadelphia debut, the NFL's reigning rushing kick was even worse against his old teams, mustering two yards in 13 totes.
"We all have to look in the mirror," Murray claimed.
SAMMY SAFE ROUTE
The Eagles simply can not stretch the field and as poorly as Bradford played, at least some of the problem has be placed at the feet of the receivers, who consistently struggled to get separation against a pedestrian Dallas defensive backfield not considered among the best in football even when it has its best player, Orlando Scandrick.
Jordan Matthews led the way as usual with six receptions for 80 yards and a garbage-time TD but dropped two more balls when it could have made a difference. Meanwhile, rookie Nelson Agholor may look like a Jeremy Maclin clone physically but the comparisons should cease there. At this stage of his development the Southern California product would be a fourth or fifth receiver on most NFL teams and he's the second best one here because Josh Huff and Riley Cooper are afterthoughts in the passing game.
As this stage the Eagles are an historically bad rushing team with their twice ACL stricken, immobile QB serving as the team's leading rusher (2 carries for 9 yards), while about $65 million is tied up in the players who have no room to run. The scapegoats have been the new starting guards and the poor play of Allen Barbre and the passable efforts of Andrew Gardner are certainly a big issue but a lot of it also falls on Kelly's scheme.
For a guy who hates East-West runners, Kelly sure loves the East-West offset stuff as a philosophy yet both Murray and Ryan Mathews' strength is lining up seven yards deep in an I-formation. And after checking with Mike Pereira at FOX in New York, it turns out that is it not illegal to put Bradford under center and Murray in the I, where the All-Pro could likely generate a positive run or two.
"Right now, it doesn't matter who the running back is, we are not doing anything up front to give him an opportunity," center Jason Kelce said. "We have to get this fixed up front. We have to do better."
WHAT'S UP WITH CHIP?
In the NFL, it's not only who you play, it's when you play them and by that standard the Eagles got a nice little break here as the Cowboys arrived without Bryant as well as the injured Scandrick, and the suspended Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain. Then they lost Romo in the contest.
To the best of my knowledge there was no truth to the rumors that Kelly was accepting phone calls from USC and Texas on the sidelines during the but the honeymoon is certainly over with some in Philadelphia speculating that Chip's only real genius is his ability to convince others that he is a genius.
For the second straight week the Eagles were awful out of the blocks with 21 total yards in the first half before finishing with 226. It's a troubling pattern that must stop.
Size jokes can be awkward for any man so Kelly went the witty route last week when asked about the play card he uses on game days.
"What's that?" the Eagles coach parried, "I'm confused."
"Your play sheet?" the same reporter answered.
"I just folded it differently," Kelly responded as he regained his sea legs. "I just literally refolded it. We didn't want it to look like a Denny's menu. So we went from Denny's to a smaller restaurant."
The truth, however, is that Chip has a scaled down play book and his success has always been tied to tempo, not the Xs and Os. So when the Eagles are not successful and moving the chains, Kelly repetition becomes far less effective and opposing defenses start jumping on the short routes and blowing up the offensive line understanding a zone run from that tired offset look is coming.
SMITH REMAINS OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND
The Eagles decided to activate running Kenjon Barner, and not linebacker Marcus Smith, the 2014 first round draft pick who has not dressed for 10th time out of a possible 18 games as a pro. With Seyi Ajirotutu down with a concussion, Philadelphia felt it needed Barner's special teams acumen but it speaks volumes about where Smith is because the team lacks depth at outside linebacker.
There were no surprises with the other inactives, quarterback Stephen Morris, offensive linemen Julian Vandervelde and Dennis Kelly and defensive end Brandon Bair and cornerback Denzel Rice.
DEFENSE HOLDS UP
Bill Davis takes incredible heat in this town but Kelly does him no favors with the way he runs things.
The whole time-of-possession-is-meaningless argument only rings true for the guy who believes it and certainly not Davis' charges, who are often dragging their tongues around because they are on the field so much.
The Eagles defense was on the field for 40-plus minutes on Sunday while the Dallas stop unit was like a baseball player, getting a half-day off by playing designated hitter, getting out there for 19 1/2 minutes.
Despite that and injuries to inside linebackers Kiko Alonso (knee) and Mychal Kendricks (hamstring, Davis' much-maligned unit did enough to win, mustering three sacks, six tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries.
"I thought the guys battled the whole game," Davis said, "tried to keep it close and they had six points on the board for a long time until the end. We'll just keep grinding and keep working."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen