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Early mistakes buried the Cowboys from the jump

Early mistakes buried the Cowboys from the jump

Leading into the game against the Eagles (and every game with Cooper Rush), the goals were to take care of the ball and stay ahead of the chains. The Dallas offense didn’t do much of either of those things, and it created an uphill battle all night.

Three turnovers (four if you count the turnover on downs) is not a recipe for success on the road against a quality opponent (let alone with a backup QB). The key to success for the Cowboys over their four-game winning streak with Rush at the helm was due to other-worldly defense and an offense that didn’t turn the ball over and got to play with the lead. None of that happened Sunday.

Rush was admirable in his five-week run as Dallas’ QB. He, in fact, helped save the season. This is not to take away from him. But the magic appeared to run out and his limitations finally caught up with him. Putting Rush into obvious passing situations in which he was playing from behind was indeed a recipe for disaster. It wasn’t just Rush that struggled Sunday by any means, but the turnovers are what buried the Cowboys right away.

Cooper Rush: 18/38, 181 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT

The Eagles clearly picked up on Dallas’s tendencies with Rush under center: early down passing out of play action and run looks. This was precisely the look Dallas gave on Rush’s first interception. The Eagles responded with a two-high safety look, and Rush, instead of checking it down and living to fight another down, forced a terrible ball into coverage that was picked off.

Rush’s other two interceptions were also poor. On the second pick, it was third and long (not ideal in the first place) and Rush forced a ball to a blanketed Michael Gallup, and the awesome Darius Slay ran the route for Gallup and picked it off.

The third interception was partly on Rush and partly on Tyler Smith. CeeDee Lamb lost his man and was a pretty easy touchdown if the throw is on time and on target. Rush sees it, but is hit as he is thrown, and the ball was way short only to be picked off. A combination of a lack of arm strength and being hit as he let go of the ball created a duck of a throw.

In the early part of the second half Rush was able to settle down and Kellen Moore simplified the playbook with a lot of bootlegs. Rush didn’t make any big-time throws but was able to move the offense down the field a couple of times behind a strong rushing attack.

The magic ran out, but Rush should still be commended. He helped keep a seemingly lost season afloat for a five-week stretch.

Offensive Line

For starters, the Philadelphia defensive line is a hell of a task. Rush was under fire for large chunks of the evening, but there was a lot of great stuff from the ground game. Let’s start with pass protection.

Rush wasn’t sacked but he was pressured 16 times and they seemed to be impactful (see Rush’s third interception above).

This was probably Tyler Smith’s worst game so far as he was charged with four pressures. After giving up just five pressures in the first five weeks, Terence Steele was charged with four pressures on Sunday. Left guard continued to be a massive issue for Dallas as Connor McGovern struggled once again and was tabbed for four pressures. Zack Martin surrendered just one pressure (and was the highest-graded OL in pass pro by far with a grade of 71.7, per PFF). Tyler Biadasz had another clean slate at center.

The other four spots can have their issues, but there is one clear weak link and it is at left guard. I’m not sure what exactly can be done about it either. McGovern has struggled mightily all season long. He has given up nine pressures in his three starts, and his grades from PFF are ugly: 37.8 overall grade, 40.9 run blocking grade, and a 34.5 pass blocking grade.

Matt Farniok was even worse at LG when McGovern was injured. Jason Peters is 40 years old, is attempting to change positions from his natural spot at left tackle, is banged up, and frankly hasn’t been very good in limited snaps. There just doesn’t appear to be a LG solution in the house at the moment.

While it was a tougher night protecting the passer, the run game had much more success. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard were both really effective (more on that in a minute), and there was some serious movement on some run plays. Terence Steele received a very good 82.8 run blocking grade, and rightfully so. He has always been a great run blocker and has only gotten better in that department. Check out Steele (78) taking Fletcher Cox for a ride on a beautiful down block on Elliott’s touchdown:

Tyler Smith also received a very nice 77.9 run blocking grade. He was known as a mauler coming out of the draft and he is a lot of fun to watch in the run game. For all the struggles in protection, the offensive line was able to lead the way for 134 rushing yards and 5.2 yards per rush.

The Zeke and Pollard Report

This was the best game from Elliott I can remember in a long time. I also loved how the workload was split this week. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Ezekiel Elliott: 13 carries, 81 yards, 6.2 yards per carry, 1 TD, 1 reception for 5 yards
  • Tony Pollard: 11 carries, 44 yards, 4 yards per carry, 2 receptions for 8 yards

Elliott was on the field for 41 snaps compared to Pollard’s 27. I think an ideal workload is about 55/45 of 60/40 leaning towards Elliott, especially when Elliott is healthy and running like he is. I’ve said it most weeks on this report, but I’m a fan of how they’re using their two talented backs. I’ve often complained about their insistence on featuring Elliott too much, but when Elliott runs like he did on Sunday, it’s hard to complain too much.

Things should get even better for the Dallas rushing attack when Dak Prescott returns this week against the Lions.

Pass catchers

It was a bit of a frustrating night for the pass-catchers, but there were some bright spots.

Jake Ferguson appears to have something. The 4th-round pick out of Wisconsin was great in the preseason and has been solid in the absence of Dalton Schultz (a late scratch from the lineup after aggravating his knee issue). He was seen as an athletic blocking tight end with sure hands, but not much playmaking ability. Ferguson was Dallas’ highest-graded player on offense with a grade of 85.3. His athleticism is translating into some playmaking ability and he flashed it on his first career touchdown:

Ferguson finished with four catches for 40 yards and an outstanding receiving grade of 91.5. CeeDee Lamb led Dallas in receiving with an inefficient five receptions on 10 targets for 68 yards. Lamb was also flagged for a silly block in the back penalty that negated a big gain for Dallas in the first quarter.

Michael Gallup caught just two of his seven targets for 18 yards, and was blanketed most of the night. It’s clear that Gallup still isn’t fully back from his ACL injury and he needs some more time before he is back to normal. He seemed to be laboring on his routes and cuts.

Noah Brown caught one of three targets for 10 yards but almost had the best catch of the season at the end of the first half. He was barely out of bounds on an incredibly acrobatic catch that would have been a touchdown.

Dallas still seems to be lacking some explosiveness in its receiver room, but we’ll have to see how differently the passing attack looks with Prescott’s return this week.

Loss aside, going 4-1 in Prescott’s absence is a tremendous success. With two very winnable home games against Detroit and Chicago before the bye week and Prescott returning, this thing is in a great spot and is only getting healthier.

Staff Writer covering the Dallas Cowboys || Co-Host of The Silver and Blue Podcast || Co-Host of The Victory Avenue Podcast

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