For the third straight year, the Dallas Cowboys were pitted against an NFC East division rival in a win or go home game in week 17, and for the third straight year they came up short and will be watching the playoffs instead of playing in them. The Sunday night game between the Eagles and Cowboys will be another one for the archives, a classic NFC East showdown that came down to the final drive of the game. In this week’s All-22 film review, I’ll break down some of the key plays of the game that lead to the 24-22 victory for the Philadelphia Eagles.
An NFL field is 53 1/3 yards wide from sideline to sideline, and Chip Kelly uses every inch of that width when putting his offense together. Sunday night was no exception, as the Eagles’ offense set a common theme early on which was to spread out the Cowboys’ defense, and use a lot of motion (notably with DeSean Jackson) and crossing routes in the middle of the field. This made it difficult for the Cowboys’ defenders as they had to fight through a lot of bodies to stay in tight coverage, creating opportunities in the passing game.
An example of this came on the Eagles first drive as Nick Foles completed a 34 yard pass to running back Chris Polk out of the backfield. On this play, Desean Jackson is going to come across the field in motion before the snap, clearing out the right side of the field. Wide receiver Jason Avant runs a slant route right at Dallas linebacker Devonte Holloman who is covering Polk on this play. This forces Holloman to have to run around his own defender to try to get to Polk, is covering Polk on this play, but he has to run around his own defender, giving Nick Foles all the space he needs in order to hit Polk in stride on this wheel route. This drive eventually lead to an field goal for the Eagles to take a 3-0 lead.
On the Eagles’ next drive, runningback LeSean McCoy gashed the Cowboys’ defense for a 20 yard gain (another common theme of the night). On this play, the Eagles’ offensive line does a great job of sealing off their blocks to create a clean hole for McCoy to run through. But there was another factor that lead to the success of this run. Jason Avant is going to run across the field behind the line to seal off the weakside of the line from any potential blitzers. As you’ll see in the clip below, Dallas cornerback Orlando Scandrick follows Avant across the field, completely taking himself out of the play. Safety Jeff Heath makes a great open field tackle on LeSean McCoy, keeping this play to a 20 yard gain instead of a potential 55 yard touchdown.
A few plays later, the Eagles capped off this drive with a 3 yard touchdown pass to LeSean McCoy. Once again, the Eagles send DeSean Jackson in motion, causing confusion and hesitation in the Dallas defense. On this play, Nick Foles is going to fake a handoff to Jackson to the left, meanwhile LeSean McCoy goes out for a pass to the right. The play action fake causes defensive end/linebacker Kyle Wilber (circled in yellow) to take his initial steps towards the center of the field, leaving McCoy wide open for the easy touchdown.
A few drives later, the Cowboys got their first points of the game, as Kyle Orton connected with tight end Gavin Escobar on a 17 yard touchdown pass. The Eagles send 6 rushers on this play, leaving Escobar completely uncovered. Escobar then shows off his athleticism as the 6’6 tight end dives over safety Nate Allen to get into the endzone.
Not to be outdone, the Eagles answer back on a blown coverage touchdown of their own as Nick Foles connects with tight end Brent Celek for a 14 yard touchdown. Similar to the play above, no one covers Celek, leaving him wide open for an easy touchdown catch.
Jason Witten has been a thorn in the Eagles’ side for years, and on the ensuing drive the Cowboys were able to get him involved as he caught 3 passes for 47 yards to set the Cowboys up to kick a field goal as the 2nd quarter expired. One of those catches was the 11 yard catch shown below. Watch Witten go to work on Eagles’ linebacker Mychal Kendricks on this play. Kendricks initially has great coverage on as Witten runs across the field, but then Witten abruptly stops and changes direction, creating separation from Kendricks to make a play.
In the third quarter, the Cowboys started to bring pressure on quarterback Nick Foles, sacking him twice on his first 5 passing attempts, including their opening play of the half shown below. On this play, linebacker Devonte Holloman blitzes and comes in untouched to get the sack on Nick Foles. LeSean McCoy would have been the only one to have a chance to block Holloman, but he was forced to block DeMarcus Ware who had gotten past Jason Peters on an inside move.
On the ensuing drive for the Cowboys, once again it was Jason Witten going 1 on 1 against Mychal Kendricks, and once again it was Witten winning the battle. This time, he’s able to get inside position on a slant route as he takes this pass 19 yards on a drive which eventually lead to another field goal for the Cowboys.
On the next drive for the Eagles, once again the Cowboys were able to sack Nick Foles, this time forcing and recovering a fumble. This play starts off with George Selvie beating right tackle Lane Johnson with an inside move. Nick Foles is able to sidestep Selvie, reset his feet, and just as he’s about to uncork a pass downfield, Jason Hatcher hits him, forcing a fumble.
With the Eagles leading 17-16 early in the 4th quarter, and with the Cowboys defensive line getting good pressure on Nick Foles, they decided to put their offense on the back of their running game, as they ran it 9 times out of their 11 play touchdown drive to take a 24-16 lead. The drive was capped off with a 6 yard touchdown run by Bryce Brown. The first thing to note about this play is that the Eagles are in an unbalanced line, with Lane Johnson lined up at left tackle, Jason Peters at tight end on the left side of the line, and tight end Brent Celek playing right tackle. The second thing to note on this play is the excellent job of blocking by tight end James Casey, who you will see come into the picture midway through the play. It looks like linebacker Devonte Holloman might have a chance at preventing Brown from turning the corner, but look at how Casey blocks Kyle Wilber into Holloman, knocking him out of the play. When 1 guy is able to take 2 defenders out of a run play, you can bet that it’s going to have success.
Now trailing by 8 points, once again the Cowboys go back to Jason Witten as he hauls in a 34 yard catch from Kyle Orton on a post route. Kendricks actually has pretty good coverage on this play, but a perfect pass almost always beats perfect coverage, and Orton is able to put this ball in a spot where only Witten can get to it.
A few plays later, the Eagles had a chance to ice the game as Dallas was faced with a 4th and 9 (which should have been a 4th and 4 but a playclock error caused the refs to hit Dallas with a 5 yard delay of game penalty which shouldn’t have happened). The Eagles send the house on this one, leaving the Cowboys’ receivers all in single coverage, which included leaving Patrick Chung 1 on 1 with Dez Bryant, advantage Cowboys. Orton hits Bryant on a slant route, who makes the catch and breaks the attempted tackle by Chung and scampers in for a 32 yard touchdown.
A failed 2-point conversion and a defensive stop by the Cowboys on the Eagles ensuing drive left Dallas with the ball at their own 32 yard line, trailing by 2 points, with 1:49 left in the game. And then next came a moment that Dallas fans are all too familiar with recently, a heart breaking game-ending interception. On this play, the Eagles finally decide to take Jason Witten out of the equation as they double team him with Patrick Chung and Mychal Kendricks. Orton decides to go to Miles Austin on a slant route, but the ball is thrown a little behind, and cornerback Brandon Boykin does an excellent job of jumping this route to pick off the pass and seal the win, and the NFC East division title. for the Eagles.
That’s it for this week’s All-22 Film Review. Make sure to join me next week as I break down one of the wildcard playoff games from this weekend.