Dallas Shut Down the Eagles Offense Earlier This Season: Can It Happen Again?

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 28, 2013

Getty Images/Elsa

With Sean Lee and Tony Romo likely out, Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff long gone and DeMarcus Ware and Morris Claiborne far from 100 percent, few expect the Dallas Cowboys to beat the red-hot, healthy Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night in the NFC East title game. 

But let's not forget that the Eagles' worst offensive performance this season—and the worst of Nick Foles' career to this point—came when these teams last met back in Philadelphia on Oct. 20.

Philly mustered just three points on that windy day, and zero with Foles running the offense during the first three quarters. It was the only game all season in which the Eagles had fewer than 300 yards in total offense. 

Pretty amazing when you consider that the Cowboys have surrendered more yards this season than everyone else in football. 


So, what happened?

First off, Foles was terrible, completing just 11 of 29 passes for 80 yards. He was sacked three times and pressured early and often. Of his 18 incomplete passes, only two were dropped, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), four appeared to be well-defended and the other 12 were either over- or underthrown. He was 0-for-7 on passes that traveled at least 20 yards. 

Worst performances of Nick Foles' career
Week 7, 2013Cowboys37.946.2
Week 11, 2012Redskins45.740.5
Week 15, 2012Bengals48.562.7
Pro Football Reference

It didn't help that the league's leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, was also held completely in check by Dallas' front seven. McCoy and the Philly offensive line looked to be out of rhythm for much of the afternoon, and the 25-year-old finished with just 55 yards on 18 carries. 

LeSean McCoy: Worst yards-per-touch performances, 2013
Week 7Cowboys3.38
Week 8Giants3.42
Week 5Giants3.54
Pro Football Reference

The offensive line itself gave up 20 pressures that week, according to PFF, which was the third-highest total in the league. Lane Johnson and Todd Herremans were particularly terrible at pass blocking on the right side, surrendering 70 percent of that pressure. And Evan Mathis and Brent Celek didn't perform well as run blockers. 


And why did it happen?

Again, Foles was simply off. But why?

He left the game after suffering a concussion at the end of the third quarter, but you have to wonder if he was already dealing with some sort of problem throughout the game. How else do you explain passes like these?

Misses Zach Ertz on a short pass despite no pressure, while also failing to see a wide-open McCoy:

NFL Game Pass

Fails to see a wide-open DeSean Jackson, instead throwing into tight coverage:

NFL Game Pass

No pressure, overthrows Brent Celek:

NFL Game Pass

Mystery throw:

NFL Game Pass

Misses a wide-open Jeff Maehl:

NFL Game Pass

Underthrows a wide-open Jason Avant in the end zone:

NFL Game Pass

Foles appeared flustered and uncomfortable all day. Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reported that he was suffering from a groin injury prior to the game, so it's possible that factored in. But it's also possible Foles was injured—or at least affected—by the abuse he took on the first series of the game.

More specifically, he may have been rattled by this awkward takedown on a play in which he was penalized for intentional grounding:

NFL Game Pass

McCoy could have been better, but the Cowboys also defended him well. Here's Lee dominating a game of cat-and-mouse: 

NFL Game Pass

And this pursuit and tackle on a McCoy three-yard loss is exactly what you'd expect from an All-Pro-caliber linebacker:

NFL Game Pass

That happened all afternoon. And the coverage was also surprisingly good at times. Orlando Scandrick had a very strong game and Brandon Carr played well too. 

Scandrick is glued to Jackson here five full seconds after the snap (circled in red), while his cohorts take care of their assignments in man coverage:

NFL Game Pass

Same deal here on another Foles scramble, this time with Brandon Carr smothering Jackson: 

NFL Game Pass

And another example from the third quarter:

NFL Game Pass

It really was a multifaceted problem for the Philly offense.


Oh, and might it happen again? 

“I don't think any of us played well the first time we played Dallas,” Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said this week, per the Associated Press:

I looked back on it now and I don't recognize some of what happened. We dropped balls; we weren't on the same page with who we blocked. Certainly Nick had some inaccuracies. We did a poor job coaching and playing.

I think we're a different team now.

Indeed, that was 69 days ago and the Eagles have taken some major offensive strides since then. Foles has posted a 126.6 passer rating since that day, throwing just two interceptions and 19 touchdown passes in seven starts. 

That has to indicate the Dallas game was an anomaly for him, as well as McCoy, who has averaged 99 yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry ever since. 

Same for that offensive line, which, since giving up 20 pressures that week, has allowed just 7.8 per game. Peters and Johnson have both improved and the interior offensive line opens up bigger holes than any other unit in football. 

And it seems the Dallas defense, which was only partially responsible for what happened that Sunday, has gotten worse since then. Sure, it didn't have Ware last time, but George Selvie and Jason Hatcher were on top of their game. Selvie had two sacks that day, but has only two since.

Hatcher had a sack and four pressures that day, but has just five pressures in the last month. Ware, who has been hampered by a quad injury and possibly the effects of the aging process, has just two sacks since Week 4.

Oh, and they won't have Lee this time to watch McCoy. He's been ruled out, according to ESPN, falling victim once again to that balky neck. The team is now without four members of its original front seven, as Spencer and Justin Durant are also out and Ratliff is gone. 

No wonder it's given up 31.6 points and 440.3 yards per game since then. 

So don't look for lightning to strike twice with this matchup. What happened when these teams met in October might not have been a total anomaly, but each unit has gone in separate directions ever since.