The Philadelphia Eagles had a chance to gift their fans an NFC East title as well as the 1-seed in the NFC on Christmas Eve, but they faltered in a 40-34 shootout loss to the Dallas Cowboys, sans MVP candidate Jalen Hurts. As always, win, lose, or tie, we hand out 10 awards.
Down 7 at their own 29 yard line with 8:02 left in the game, Dak Prescott heaved up a prayer deep down the field to T.Y. Hilton. Surely the Eagles would have that kind of throw covered in that situation, but… oooops, nope.
That looks a lot to me like backup nickel Josiah Scott simply wasn’t where he needed to be in coverage, and a 33-year-old receiver who was on his couch two weeks ago in Hilton was able to get behind him on a simple go route. The Cowboys would tie the game later on the drive, and this game will almost assuredly be henceforth known as “The 3rd and 30 Game.” That’s how I’ll probably remember it years from now, anyway. But whatever. Forget Josiah Scott. Forget that one play.
In reality, that will merely be the most memorable play on a day that the Cowboys torched the Eagles’ secondary all day long whenever they played zone defense. The following graphic is pure insanity:
Dak Prescott earned a season-high 91 NGS passing score in Week 16.
Prescott completed all 24 of his passes against zone coverage for 300 yards & 3 TD, becoming the only player to earn a perfect 99 NGS passing score vs zone in a game since 2018.#PHIvsDAL | #DallasCowboys pic.twitter.com/zdNto4GSXU
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 25, 2022
Read that closely. According to NextGen stats, Dak Prescott was 24 for 24 for 300 yards and 3 TDs against zone coverage, which, I mean, just… 🤯. Which means that if you look at his final overall stats and do the math, he was 3 for 11 for 47 yards, 0 TDs, and a pick-six against man coverage. And somehow, after watching his zone defense get torn the hell apart all day long literally without fail, Jonathan Gannon was like, “Yeah, let’s just keep playing zone.”
2) The ‘Did Their Job’ Award 🤷♂️: The defensive line
The Cowboys got themselves into the aforementioned 3rd and 30 in the first place because the Eagles sacked him on first and second down. The first sack came via Haason Reddick, who was able to force a fumble. Linval Joseph jumped on it, and seemed to have the recovery, but somehow Cowboys C Tyler Biadasz came out of the pile with the ball. On the next play, Josh Sweat sacked Prescott again, all but ensuring a punt. But again… nope.
The Eagles sacked Prescott six times, and the defensive line played extraordinarily well against the run, holding Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott to a combined 25 carries for 74 yards. They consistently put the Cowboys into obvious passing down situations, but a combination of the back seven personnel giving up too much space to Cowboys receivers, and Gannon’s unfathomable unwillingness to adjust ruined an otherwise good game by the D-line.
This could have been a day that Eagles fans celebrated the third Eagles defender (Sweat) reaching the double-digit sack club and the overall play of the defensive line, but their efforts will largely be forgotten.
3) The ‘Tough Loss’ Award : Gardner Minshew
Minshew played well in relief of Hurts. He was 24 of 40 for 355 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs. There was a very clear and obvious dropoff in ability from Hurts to Minshew, as everyone should have anticipated, but Minshew mostly made good decisions, throwing with anticipation, and often deftly being able to subtly sidestep the Cowboys’ pass rush to extend plays and find receivers down the field. He also exhibited poise when the Cowboys sent pressure at him:
If Hurts is not ready to play next Sunday against the Saints, the Eagles should feel confident starting Minshew again.
4) The ‘But What About Those INTs’ Award 😖: Quez Watkins
Watkins was targeted five times. On those five pass attempts, Minshew was 1 for 5 for 19 yards and 2 INTs. One of those INTs was clearly on Watkins, who ran a terrible route, if we’re being frank. A look:
It’s hard to even tell if that was an in route or a slant, because Watkins doesn’t stick his foot in the ground and make a cut. It’s just sort of a lazily rounded route, and it is run without any speed, particularly for a speed receiver. That is a good pass by Minshew. Watkins has to get to that spot, and if he does, there is no way the defender can get to the football without running through Watkins. Because this route is run with no urgency, Cowboys CB DaRon Bland was able to beat Watkins to the spot, and then once he got there, he simply outmuscled the ball away.
A week ago in Chicago, Watkins ran a similarly bad route, as shown here by former NFL QB J.T. O’Sullivan:
Watkins has intriguing traits, but Nick Sirianni and the Eagles’ staff are going to have to seriously consider whether they can trust him to be where he needs to be so that Hurts and Minshew can deliver passes with confidence. Perhaps Zach Pascal should see an increased role as the No. 3 receiver.
5) The ‘Take the Football, Please’ Award 🧈: Miles Sanders and Boston Scott
Can’t have this:
If you turn the ball over four times, you’re usually not going to win.
6) The ‘Even Worse Than the Loss’ Award 🤕: The new batch of injuries
Lane Johnson got hurt in this game. Hurts aside, Johnson is the player the Eagles can least afford to lose for the playoff run. He injured his abdomen earlier this season, and it may be possible that he suffered either the same injury, or a similar one on Christmas Eve. You can see him try to get up off of the ground, and then go back down to the ground before grabbing for his abdomen area here:
After the game, The Inquirer’s Josh Tolentino reported that Johnson had a wrap around his midsection.
Lane Johnson just walked out of the locker room. He’s moving around on his own power. He’s wearing a wrap around his waist/groin area.
— Josh Tolentino (@JCTSports) December 25, 2022
Johnson wasn’t the only concerning injury. Avonte Maddox was having an impactful game when he left with a toe injury, and Jordan Davis left with a head injury. The Eagles will hope that none of those injuries are overly serious, but they’ll be praying especially hard for Johnson.
7) The ‘1000 Club’ Award 🏆: DeVonta Smith
Smith had a big boy game, making all kinds of difficult catches, including this gem:
Smith may be the skinniest guy on the field, but he might also be one of the most fearless. He made several catches in which he knew he was going to take a shot, and just didn’t care.
On the day, Smith had eight catches for 113 yards and 2 TDs. He now has 79 catches on the season for 1014 yards and seven TDs, joining A.J. Brown in the 1000-yard club. The Eagles had previously never had two receivers go over 1,000 yards in one season.
8) The ‘Emerging Star’ Award 💫: Josh Sweat
Above we mentioned that Sweat now has double-digit sacks, raising his total to 11 on the season. He has 7.5 sacks in the last five games. But his most impressive play of the day wasn’t a sack. It was this outstanding pick-six of Prescott in the first quarter.
The Eagles currently have a great trio of Sweat, Reddick, and Brandon Graham on the edge, with Sweat and Reddick looking like long-term edge-rushing beasts.
9) The ‘Still the Envy of the League’ Award 😼: The Eagles
The Eagles will still very likely earn the 1-seed. All they have to do is beat a bad Saints team Week 17, or a Giants team Week 18 that they already wrecked. There isn’t a team in the NFL that wouldn’t trade positions with where the Eagles currently stand.
This also wasn’t a bad loss, in my opinion. The Eagles were playing their third straight road game, and on short rest. That was also the best game that I have seen the Cowboys play this year, and the Eagles had a chance to win at the end with their backup quarterback despite turning it over four times.
10) The ‘No Panic… Yet’ Award 😱: The city of Philadelphia
What this loss ultimately means is that the Eagles have to wait another week to rest their starters. There are probably some Eagles front office personnel who won’t mind that so much, since the Eagles’ next opponent is the Saints. As you’re aware, the Eagles own the Saints’ first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, so the more games the Saints lose, the better. If the Eagles have to play their starters for one more week, what better team to do that against than the Saints?
This edition of Eagles-Cowboys was not the MUST WIN game it once seemed like it would be. There won’t be a panic in the city on Christmas. But there will be on New Years Day if the Eagles don’t handle their business against the Saints.