Monday, January 4, 2010

Cowboys and Eagles 24, Eagles 0

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys

It wasn't what they had in mind. After a six game winning streak and the Vikings on the downturn, the Eagles flew to Dallas with visions of setting themselves up for a great post season run. A win today against the Cowboys would earn the NFC East crown, a first round bye and a divisional playoff game at home.

It didn't work out that way. Instead, the team failed miserably in every aspect of the game, turning in an utterly embarrassing effort that landed them the 6th and final playoff seed as a consolation prize. The Cowboys played well, but the Eagles assisted them in everyway to give them a 24-0 cake walk.

Where do we start? It is not an exaggeration to say that the Eagles did virtually nothing well on this day. Instead, even the casual observer could delineate a long list of transgressions that started with an ill conceived game plan, played out with horrible execution and ended with what often seemed to be lackluster effort.

The defense got things back sliding by allowing the Cowboys to stroll down the field for an easy score to open the game. Poor tackling, bad coverage, no pressure and missed assignments enabled Marion Barber, Tony Romo, Jason Witten and company on the way to 7-0 lead on the first drive and then pretty much kept that assistance intact throughout the half.

As if the lack of execution was not enough, it was all aided by a senseless, out of character defensive game plan. Sean McDermott and Andy Reid apparently decided the unit's best approach would be reverse psychology as they went away from their trademark blitzing and stunting. Instead, they mostly played a straight up four man rush with soft coverage throughout the first half on their way to a 17-0 deficit.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Eagles problem was not so much about their usual pass heavy game plan, but rather dropped passes, misfired footballs, fumbles, poor blocking and penalties. The young pair of playmaking receivers, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, seemingly lost the fearless personas that have helped them to early success. They ran wrong routes, let passes slip through their hands and appeared to be looking for someone else to bail them out.

McNabb missed a golden opportunity in the first quarter when he overthrew an open Jackson on a deep post pattern and threw behind a couple receivers, but was mostly victimized by dropped passes and spotty protection. Brent Celek seemed to be his only reliable target, but he too dropped a would be first down pass late in the game.

While the Eagles were battling themselves and facilitating things, Dallas had no problem capitalizing on it all. The line gave Romo time to alternate throwing strikes to Witten, Miles Austin, Patrick Crayton and others on his way to racking up 311 yards passing. On the ground, Barber and Felix Jones took turns running through gaping holes to each gain 91 yards on the day.

In the post game press conference, a red faced Reid was particularly uncomfortable as his team had just failed in every phase of the game for the past few hours and apparently also the days leading up to it. In the biggest game of the season, the team lacked focus, intensity and almost appeared to be playing scared, reminiscent of the Eagles first Super Bowl appearance. Poor play was compounded by poor decisions such as wasting a valuable first half timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty with the ball inside the Cowboys 40. Or, electing to attempt a 53-yard field goal in the third quarter while trailing 17-0 rather than go for it on 4th and 2. You get the idea- it was an ugly loss, through and through.

The Eagles only saving grace is that they get a "do over" next Saturday night in Dallas. Let's hope this time that Reid and his coaching staff "put the players in a position to succeed," and those players perform like the guys who had won the previous six games. As McNabb pointed out after today's game, everybody needs to bring their "A" game for the playoffs as there will be no more "do overs" from here on out.

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