Any Given Sunday
The weekend's biggest upset goes under the Football Outsiders lens.

Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

by Ned Macey

If a 33-10 score can be not as close as it appears, that was the case in Dallas on Sunday. The Philadelphia Eagles absolutely laid an egg, not gaining a first down until the last play of the first quarter, at which point the Cowboys had run up 17 points. Through four weeks, the Cowboys had managed a 2-2 record by beating a San Diego team without Antonio Gates and by overcoming a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter against woeful San Francisco. It was hard to imagine such a team beating the high-flying Philadelphia Eagles, who had put up more than 100 points over their past three games. The Cowboys not only won, but they dominated the Eagles, controlling both sides of the line of scrimmage. One bad game is no reason to write off the Eagles, but they head into their bye week with an injured quarterback, a bad habit of slow starts, and a usually reliable special teams unit in disarray.

For the Cowboys, the whole season seems to rely on whether or not they can keep Drew Bledsoe upright. As Philadelphia learned, all the Pro Bowl members of the secondary in the world do not mean much if Bledsoe has time to throw. Not only did the Cowboys prevent any sacks, but Bledsoe was almost never pressured. In his three years in Buffalo, the Bills were always one of the worst teams at preventing sacks according to our adjusted sack rate metric (which measures sacks per pass play adjusted for down, distance, and opponent). The man likes to hold the football so he can make big plays. Coming into the game, the Cowboys' offensive line ranked a mediocre 20th in adjusted sack rate. Holding the Eagles defense that ranked seventh before the game to zero sacks is an impressive feat, albeit one that defies logic.

A crucial component to the Cowboys' early season success is that, when he has time to throw, Bledsoe has multiple quality options. A year ago, an injury to Terry Glenn left the Cowboys with Quincy Morgan as the second receiver in Dallas. Needless to say, that did not work out too well. He had a DVOA of -21.7%, which ranked 77th out of the 84 receivers who were targeted on 50 or more passes. The lack of a second receiver on the outside left Vinny Testaverde throwing over and over to Keyshawn Johnson and tight end Jason Witten. Both players performed well; Johnson was the 20th most productive receiver, while Witten was the third most productive tight end according to DPAR. (DVOA, which measures value per play, and DPAR, which measures total value, and the rest of the Football Outsiders' innovative stats are explained here.)

Despite good numbers, neither Johnson nor Witten is able to stretch the field, something that Glenn and second year player Patrick Crayton do quite well. Glenn is averaging an exceptional 22.5 yards per catch, and 19 of his 23 catches have netted first downs or touchdowns. By our advanced measurements, he has been the third most productive receiver in football so far this year. In Dallas' first drive, Bledsoe went to Glenn on all three of his completions, which netted 49 yards and a touchdown. Two possessions later, when the Cowboys started on the Eagles 38-yard line, Bledsoe hit Glenn again for a touchdown. When the Eagles adjusted to the deep threat posed by Glenn, Bledsoe was able to successfully work underneath, hitting Witten or Johnson for three straight completions that got the Cowboys to the Eagles 11-yard line on their next possession (at which point not the Eagles defense but penalties stalled the drive).

Defensively, the Cowboys effectively blitzed McNabb, who clearly is hampered by his sports hernia injury. Of the Cowboys' four sacks, two came from defensive backs. With McNabb unable to scramble – not counting kneel downs, he has only five rushes on the year – teams are less likely to get into trouble by sending aggressive blitz packages. Any idea that McNabb needs to run to be effective is ludicrous, but if injuries make him about as mobile as Peyton Manning in the pocket, it does free up defensive coordinators to take more chances. Going into Sunday's game, the Eagles had done an excellent job of protecting their injured quarterback, so this may be an aberration, but the willingness of the Cowboys to send defensive backs is something sure to be copied by future opponents.

With McNabb hurting, and the Eagles attempting a total of 20 rushes in the last two games, the general consensus is that the Eagles need to run more. Given the makeup of the Eagles, such conventional wisdom is too simplistic. Against the Cowboys, additional running plays would have been sound because according to DVOA, they have the eighth best pass defense but only the 24th best run defense. No matter what your offensive philosophy, you have to be mindful of your opponents' strengths and weaknesses. Their other division rivals, however, are actually stronger against the run than the pass, so the Eagles will not be playing to their opponents' strengths on a weekly basis. The Eagles have succeeded as a pass-first offense for the last five years, and one game against a team particularly suited to defend the pass is not a reason for them to change their offensive strategy.

The Eagles may not need to run more overall, but they should try and run more in the first quarter. A year ago, the Eagles ran 70 times on 197 first quarter plays, just under 36% of their offensive plays. That total still represents a pass-heavy offense, but one that includes just enough running to be extremely effective. Last season, the Eagles were the best first quarter offense in football, with a DVOA of 58.4%.

This year the Eagles are struggling mightily in the first quarter, with a DVOA of -16.4%, only 24th in the league. To date, they have run on only 20% of first quarter plays. In 2004, they were by far at their best in the first quarter; in 2005, it is the only quarter where the Eagles have a below average offense. In later quarters, the Eagles rushing attempts start to normalize (by their standards anyway). In quarters two through four, they are actually more potent than a year ago, but because of the extreme fall-off from the first quarter, their overall offensive efficiency is roughly the same as last season.

One reason the Eagles cannot run more is that they do not have the personnel to feature a conventional rushing attack. The Eagles unwisely thought that the perpetually injured Correll Buckhalter would be healthy. Buckhalter got hurt in the preseason, again, leaving the Eagles without a conventional back. Brian Westbrook is an extremely valuable player, but he is just not a player you can pound into the line 25 times a game.

A year ago, the Eagles had the ancient Dorsey Levens on their roster, and he was extremely effective in his defined role. Remember, DVOA is a measurement of the relative success of plays, and while Levens was probably about the 50th best NFL running back, he was more productive in those plays where he carried the ball than all but two other backs in football. Andy Reid apparently did not notice this himself, giving Levens one measly carry in the Super Bowl. This year, with Buckhalter hurt again and Levens a year older, the Eagles brought in Dolphins cast-off Lamar Gordon. Taking out the San Francisco game where Gordon got garbage time touches, he has a total of seven rushing attempts in the four other games. In his very limited opportunities, however, he has done well from a DVOA perspective. Given that Duce Staley was also extraordinarily effective in 2003 in the Levens/Gordon role, it would behoove Reid to consider using Gordon more often. This isn't about "establishing the run." This is about running a variety of plays so that the defense has to think a little bit.

Exacerbating the Eagles' first quarter offensive struggles is a defense that has struggled in the first quarter for several seasons. A year ago, the Eagles ranked 20th in defensive DVOA during the first quarter. This year, they rank 29th. Put offense and defense together, and the Eagles have been outscored 48-14 in the first quarter. While they should run more in the first quarter, and their early-game defensive struggles have been going on for over a year, even an analyst who relies heavily on statistical information has to concede that the Eagles are not “getting up� for games, an explanation I usually find wanting. The Eagles are too good a team to struggle so badly in any quarter to this degree, and the fact that it is the first quarter seems to indicate they are not ready to play from the opening kickoff.

An even bigger problem is Philadelphia's special teams. In our book Pro Football Prospectus 2005, we included a research piece on the strength of the Eagles' special teams. Special teams are notoriously fluky from year to year given the smaller number of plays measured and the possibility for major events (kick returns for touchdowns, fumbles) to skew the data. But since the Eagles started their run in 2000, they have never ranked lower than sixth in our special teams rankings. Last year, the Eagles had a negative special teams rating in only two of their 16 regular-season games. This year, they have posted a negative value in all five games.

The injury to David Akers, the best all-around kicker in the NFL, has hampered their special teams numbers, but their failures have occurred across the board. By our measurements, due to poor field goal kicking and poor coverage and return units, special teams have cost the team 22.6 points worth of field position and field goals, compared to the NFL average.

On Sunday, these weaknesses were apparent in the decisive first quarter. The Cowboys returned the opening kickoff to their own 49-yard line. After a three-and-out, the Eagles punted from their own 11-yard line but only netted 32 yards. After another three-and-out, the Eagles' punt from their own 1-yard line netted only 38 yards. Following a decent kickoff return by the Eagles, they went three and out again. This time, the punt netted a paltry 16 yards. Finally, after another Cowboys score, they returned the kickoff only 12 yards to their own 24-yard line.

Based on the first four games of the season, a Cowboys blowout was impossible to predict. For the Cowboys, however, it was a glimpse of what is possible. A Drew Bledsoe with time is still a very dangerous quarterback. Keeping Bledsoe on his feet, however, is not an easy long-term task, and going into this game, the Cowboys were only average at it. The weak run defense faces Tiki Barber and Shaun Alexander the next two weeks. However, both the Giants and Seahawks present serious opportunities for the Cowboys passing attack. If they can outscore their opponents the next two weeks, the articles about Bledsoe's resurgence will be plentiful. Whether or not he can maintain it for a whole season will be the test that determines whether the Cowboys are playoff bound.

For the Eagles, their inconsistent early season play could be disregarded except for the potentially huge problem of McNabb's injury. For now, McNabb has only sacrificed his running ability, an increasingly insignificant part of his game in any case. If, as reported, the pain will keep getting worse, McNabb may start to see decreased productivity. Conventional wisdom is that the Eagles need to run the ball more to protect McNabb, but short of a few additional carries for Lamar Gordon, there is little the Eagles can do besides jump out to early leads. Before the season, Philadelphia was thought to have one of the league's easiest schedules, but the resurgence of the NFC East makes things a lot more difficult. Despite their problems, the Eagles are too good not to win their division if they can keep McNabb relatively healthy and manage even an average level of play in the first quarter.

Each Tuesday in Any Given Sunday, Ned Macey looks at the biggest upset of the previous weekend. The NFL sells itself on the idea that any team can win any given game, but we use these upsets as a tool to explore what trends and subtle aspects of each team are revealed in a single game.


31 comments, Last at 16 Oct 2005, 6:23am

1 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

That was a very good article. I especially liked the quarter by quarter breakdown.
So far this year the eagles have only run on 28 percent of their plays. That is the lowest in the nfl so far. Even though McNabb is having a very good year and the Eagles have a qb rating of 97.4 they are throwing far too many incompletions. Including week 5 they have thrown 78 incompletions. 78 plays that went for zero yards. As a percentage of total plays it is 25%, 4th worst in the league behind Oakland, Miami, and Detroit. That seems like a very dificult way to win. I don't know, maybe Reid should just say to hell with it and adopt the run and shoot

2 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

Good article, Ned. I've thought for some time that the strategic weakness of the Philadelphia defense is their overreliance on blitzing. The better offenses actually love to see blitzes, because they expose the secondary to single coverage. And because the Eagles have not had to contend with a particular good offense in the NFC East since 2000 or so, they could feast on their divisional schedule and feel confident living off of blitzing. That's fine if one wants to dominate weak opponents, but not particularly productive against well-executing offenses, as they discovered in the playoffs against the Rams and Bucs.

Last week's game was clear supporting evidence of that belief. The Dallas offensive line and running backs were very effective picking up the blitz, allowing Bledsoe to light up the Eagles secondary. After getting getting burned repeatedly in the first quarter, the Eagles blitzed much less frequently, allowing Dallas to run more effectively. The Philadelphia defense appeared to be in a quandry: Blitz and get torched or lay back and get picked apart. They chose the latter after the first quarter, and allowed Dallas several long, time-consuming drives.

As a Cowboys fan, while I was as pleased with the outcome of the game as anyone, this game has to be seen as an anomaly. I expect Philadelphia to make plenty of adjustments the next time these two teams play, ultimately win the division this year, and go on to the Super Bowl, while Dallas will contend for a wild card berth.

But Sunday was a landmark that the winds have shifted in the NFC East, and that the division likely will be more competitive in the near future.

One final note: Since they became a playoff team in 2000, the Eagles have had three "meltdown games", where they were thoroughly dominated and lost by more than twenty points. The combined record of those three winning teams was 39-9, which reinforces my original point. I would also like to think it bodes well this year for Dallas, but with a sample size of only three, I don't think one can draw any sweeping conclusions.

3 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

I finally got to watch most of this game, having missed it driving back from Florida on Sunday.

A lot has been said about the game and Eagles coaching already, and I don't think I need to rehash it. One note on running - just like in the Super Bowl, the Eagles most successful series did not involve much running. The series where they ran generally were 3 and outs. This is why Andy Reid is not going to run more. The running doesn't make the offense go. People look and say the Cowboys ran 44 times in this game and won. Of course they did - they ran to run out the clock in the second half when they held a 3-4 TD lead. You can't win when significantly behind by running the ball.

Three things struck me watching the game though, two involving Westbrook.

On the second Eagles drive on 3 and 11, McNabb threw to Westbrook who was literally tackled in the open field well before the pass had a chance to reach him. Blatant pass interference but the Zebra's looked the other way, forcing a difficult punt which resulted in great Dallas field position and an immediate TD to Glenn. I have doubts this TD would have occurred if the penalty was called, as the series was right after a 4th and goal on the 1 stand that stuffed Dallas - the penalty would have given Philadelphia momentum to move down the field at least to get breathing room and bury Dallas deep on a punt.

On the 5th Eagles drive, McNabb just misses Westbrook by literally inches in tossing a certain 75 yard TD on an easy catch and run with nobody in front of Westbrook. I can't recall McNabb ever missing such a pass to Westbrook last year when he was healthy. Had it been caught, the game becomes 17-10.

Third thing, LJ Smith going out of the game on the 4th Eagles drive also hurt, as it took away all of the Eagles two tight end set plays, which is their favorite playset.

Last thought, except for the first couple of series, I think the Eagles Secondary seemed to tighten up after giving up the TD's to Glenn, and didn't play that bad a game after that. Much of the Dallas passing offense after the second Glenn TD involved the short throws that the Redskins and Patriots both found to be useful for moving downfield on the Eagles defense in 2004 - throws into the area between the Secondary and Linebackers. Combine this strategy with luck in jumping out quick in score from good field position thanks to bad Eagles special teams, and no Eagles pass rush and McNabb's typical poor performance in Dallas and you get a Dallas victory. The biggest factor here, as with the Eagles-Raiders game, was the excellent field position the Eagles Special Teams surrendered to the opposing offenses.

4 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

re: "On the second Eagles drive on 3 and 11, McNabb threw to Westbrook who was literally tackled in the open field well before the pass had a chance to reach him. Blatant pass interference but the Zebra’s looked the other way"

Yeah, and on the fourth Cowboys drive there was a bad call on Larry Allen that wiped out 3rd-and-short in favor of 2nd and forever - could have been another early TD instead of a FG.

re: " the 5th Eagles drive, McNabb just misses Westbrook by literally inches in tossing a certain 75 yard TD on an easy catch and run with nobody in front of Westbrook. I can’t recall McNabb ever missing such a pass to Westbrook last year when he was healthy."

Yeah, but McNabb had to rush the pass due to pressure up the middle. Granted, a healthy McNabb maybe could buy an extra second to make the play, but then again with a healthy McNabb the Cowboys probably play a different defense - so Pile wouldn't have been man on Westbrook w/ nobody else in the secondary.

5 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

Nice piece Ned.

What astonished me (above and beyond the Cowboys whipping Philly), was what both coaches did with their QBs at the end of the game.

Down 33-10 with 4 mins left Andy Reid out a clearly hurt McNabb back in the game, and I still can't work out why. The game was dead and there was no reason to expose your franchise QB to more punishment.

The same applies to Dalas to a lesser extent. With the game won, why not take Bledsoe out? If you're only handing the ball off as Dallas were for the most part, why not let your backup do it? It's not like Tony Romo couldn't use the playing time. If Bledsoe gets hurt, Dallas are over, so why take the risk?

6 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

"I’ve thought for some time that the strategic weakness of the Philadelphia defense is their overreliance on blitzing. The better offenses actually love to see blitzes, because they expose the secondary to single coverage."

Well said, Tim L. Remember what Peyton Manning did to the Eagles a couple of years ago? He absolutely picked them apart and had a 158.3 rating on the day. I think the biggest reason Manning's numbers are down this year is that teams are finally realizing that blitzing him is futile.

7 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

MDS, we're thinking along the same lines (again). It was my recollection of the Indy game that prompted me to look into the "meltdown game" phenomena. I haven't seen Manning this year, but the reason you're offering for his reduced effectiveness makes excellent sense to me. The approach taken by the Patriots defense in last year's AFC Divisional Playoffs may be the template now copied by everyone: Drop lots of people into coverage (sometimes as many as nine) and seldom, if ever, blitz.

The irony of Dallas' victory is that it could well lead to a strategic reassessment, so to speak, of how often the Eagles blitz, which in the long haul would likely improve their chances in the playoffs.

8 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

As an Eagles fan I am conflicted right now. If you look at Reid's record as coach, there are two weeks where he has a losing record. Week 1 and the Week before Bye Week. Guess where the Eagles two losses fell this year ? Reid has an .800 winning pct. after bye week, so that gives me hope.

On the other hand, the special teams are just dreadful. I don't think a healthy Akers stops all of these long kickoff run backs. Also, I think they really miss JR Reid. He did a great job on kickoffs for them last year, and Wynn and Hood just plain suck as return men. Something is broken, unless it gets fixed the Eagles will not go very far this year.

The other issue I believe is poor roster construction. First of all, the Eagles made no attempt to replace Reid despite the fact that Wynn and Hood didn't seem up to the job of kick returns last year.
Then there is the tight end situation. They lose Chad Lewis in last year's playoffs and all of a sudden our 2nd tight end is an undrafted free agent rookie ? When LJ Smith went down vs the Cowboys that was a big blow. There is no excuse for not having some sort of resonable threat as a backup TE. The same thing goes for RB. It shouldn't have been a surprise when Buckhalter got hurt, but there doesn't appear to have been any contingency planning there.

9 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

"...this may be an aberration, but the willingness of the Cowboys to send defensive backs is something sure to be copied by future opponents."

I'm wondering if the phrase "sure to be copied" has any accuracy or if it is a throwaway comment. I just don't see a lot of examples of this in real-game strategy. For all of the bad strategy we seem to see week-to-week, most teams seem to have a good handle on the maxim, "play to your own strengths, not your opponent's weaknesses." You even mention this in your next paragraph: "...and one game against a team particularly suited to defend the pass is not a reason for them to change their offensive strategy."

So, is McNabb really in danger of a sudden increase in the number of onrushing defensive backs, even from teams that are averse to this risky tactic? Are there any good examples of such play-borrowing from other games this year? Or any good classic examples?

10 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

It was a pleasure to read this article and the comments that followed. The discussion was calm, reasoned, well informed, and civil. This is the kind of thing many of us turn to football outsiders for. Much Dallas-Philadelphia discussion is based on insults, ranting, and, to be frank, stupidity. Some of that is entertaining, but a little goes a long way (and Brady is better than Manning!) I finished reading this and felt like I understood more about the game and the teams. Thanks.

11 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

Ok I'm French. But I'd just want to ask a question. Why didn't the eagles draft a heavy RB last year instead of a Westbrook clone ? Westbrook is just unique when Buckhalter was injured. Brandon Jacobs was available in the 4th round (the eagles had the first choice).

Can you explain me why they chose the copy of the player they already had instead of a different kind of player able to provide them what they obviously lack : a powerful ball carrier ?

12 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

Lafcadio: The Eagles drafted Ryan Moats for the same reason they picked Mike Patterson - to put the squeeze on an existing player who has/had contract issues (Brian Westbrook and the since-released Corey Simon respectively).

But two things stand out from this game: First off, the Eagles have now lost three consecutive games on artificial turf dating back to late last year (every trend has to start somewhere); and second - and more strikingly - the game highlighted the extreme difficulties the Eagles' offense is having against 3-4 defenses (remember both the Pittsburgh game last year and the Super Bowl?); and their total lack of a power running game has a lot to do with it.

13 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

BlueStarDude - I disagree. While that pass interference against Westbrook was blatantly obvious, the penalty against Allen should have been called. Tra Thomas may not have been able to get there (Buck and Aikman didn't think so), but Allen definitely blocked Thomas in the back.

As for the Westbrook one, I think McNabb was under a bit of pressure, but he had been making bad throws all day even when not under pressure. I charted this game as part of the volunteer game charting project, and the number of times I recorded that McNabb had overthrows, threw ahead of the WR route, or threw behing the WR route was astonishingly high (I thought - I should note this was the first Eagles or Cowboys game I did).

I don't know if the Cowboys would have left Pile one-on-one with Westbrook if McNabb was healthy - that was about the only time I saw Pile as the defender on the targeted receiver - but the Cowboys were doing a lot of blitzing, leaving CBs in man-to-man. They even rushed 8 players one time - which resulted in a McNabb sack. I don't know what coverage the Cowboys had on that play, but it's likely Pile was one-on-one with somebody that time, too.

14 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

James, Tra Thomas plays offense for the Eagles, not defense. And there were consecutive holding penalties on Larry Allen. The second penalty was blatant; the first was questionable.

I personally think arguing over officiating in a forum like this is pointless. Inevitably, people notice and recall questionable calls against their favorite team, but for some reason, they seldom apply the same level of scrutiny to calls that go in their favor. More importantly, however, complaining about officiating implies one team receives an advantage which calls into question the outcome of a game. Even if Anthony Henry did interfere with Westbrook on one play, to imply that would overcome the 23 point differential that evolved over the other 160 or so plays is so dubious and idly spectulative as to be silly.

15 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

Sorry, I meant Hollis Thomas, not Tra Thomas. Kind of like the Rodney Harrison / Marvin Harrison mistake made in Pro Football Prospectus.

I was only commenting on the specific plays posted by BlueStarDude. The Cowboys so thoroughly whipped the Eagles that ther was no question the Cowboys were better regardless of any calls.

16 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

The Dallas Cowboys are NOT a significantly better team, and they will come crashing down to earth this Sunday against the Giants. They know the blueprint to beating the Eagles, they used it to surprise them in the first matchup between Bill Parcells and Andy Reid, the one where they ran the surprise onsides kick back for a touchdown.
The key is constant blitz pressure, attacking the protection schemes of the Eagles and hitting, sacking, hurrying, confusing, and frustrating Donovan McNabb; because even with Brian Westbrook, T.O., and L.J. Smith, the Eagles offense is all about McNabb; his ability to read the defense and get the ball to the right receiver is paramount to its success. Having good defensive backs doesn't matter; the defense is gambling that it can get to McNabb and hit or harrass him before he sees the open receivers. The replay that showed where McNabb missed a wide open Westbrook was just ONE of a wide variety of plays where he simply missed the receiver or made a bad throw.
All teams that face the Eagles try the same tactic; it's a testament to the skill of McNabb, the O-line, and the skill position players that they are too good for most teams who try it. But teams who can put a ton of heat on the QB, like the Falcons, Patriots, Steelers, using a combination of heavy blitzing and pressure from the front four, can disrupt the Eagles offense ESPECIALLY on the road.
The Eagles offense depends so much on the effeciency of McNabb. If he's off, the offense becomes nothing because Reid refuses to have a running game to turn to, and before McNabb got hurt he refused to run with the ball. Now that he's hurt, it's 2003 all over again when they started off 0-2 and McNabb looked horrible. He was hurt, Reid was just as pass wacky as he is now, and it's a piece of cake to stop the Eagle offense with these parameters. It's why they lost the Super Bowl and two of the three championsip game losses.
Reid is an egomaniac who desperately wants to prove that a team can throw its way to a Super Bowl, and McNabb's desperate to prove he's a pocket QB, neglecting his dynamic ability to run and create a dual threat to a defense. Now you have Reid gift-wrapping his QB for the opposing defense, his injury affects his ability to throw as much as his ability to run. If Reid persists, it will be a much tougher season for the Eagles that it should be.

17 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

Tim L #14:

"Even if Anthony Henry did interfere with Westbrook on one play, to imply that would overcome the 23 point differential that evolved over the other 160 or so plays is so dubious and idly spectulative as to be silly."

You are assuming that had the call been made, the rest of the game would have been the same. I argue that it quite likely would not have been, since the subsequent two plays from this 3 and out by Zebra non-calls started the rout with the 38 yd Glenn TD strike. It was that TD that really started the Eagles spiralling out of control in this game, followed by the failure to score a TD in the red zone and the missed Westbrook score.

Same goes for McNabb completing that pass to Westbrook which was just off his fingertips (and thus a matter of hundredths of a second in missed timing). A 17-3 game turned into a 17-10 game via an offensive TD would in all likelihood not still end up 33-10.

Plays like this illustrate why it is important the Zebra's make the right calls, and why for players, they must always give 100%. Had McNabb had that split second more in the pocket with just minutely better blocking from his O-line, he makes the completion, and the outcome is different.

The outcome of NFL games really does come down to just a few key plays or calls like this that can completely change the complexion of the game.

[Cue Jevon Kearse's we lost the 1999 Super Bowl by one yard so make sure to give it your all speech.]

18 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

James, got it. I misintepreted your original post. Sorry about that.

Unfortunately, Andrew misintepreted mine even worse: "You are assuming that had the call been made, the rest of the game would have been the same."

I didn't assume or say that. I said that it was silly and speculative to suggest that one call could compensate for a 23 point blowout. The bottom line is referees occasionally make bad calls, and they make them against both teams. Even if one team does gain an advantage of a blown call, it's doubtful it decides who will win the game--especially one where the margin was 23 points and could have easily been worse.

19 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

Tim L #18:

I don't think you are getting what I am trying to say. I've watched many Eagles games. The Eagles under Reid/Johnson/McNabb have a tendency to quit and fall flat on games that get away from them early like the Dallas game (or the Pittsburgh game in 2004, New England in 2003, Indianapolis in 2002).

When the Westbrook non-called penalty occurred, the game had not yet slipped away from them - it was only 7-0, and the Eagles had just made a huge goal line stand. My point is that had the call been made, the Eagles drive would have continued with an automatic first down, rather than a punt and quick TD to Glenn that really began the rout. Momentum would have stayed with the Eagles rather than flipping back quickly to Dallas.

Its not that one blown call would somehow make-up for 3 subsequent quarters of bad play by the Eagles that followed. Its that those 3 quarters would never have happened without it starting with that blown call.

Dallas deserves credit for taking advantage of what came to them and winning the game. You aren't taking anything away from them and their play by saying "hey, a blown call can change the tempo and mood of a game". Stuff like that happens. Just like saying "hey, Westbrook and McNabb missing the sure TD pass a few series later changed the game", or "Reid not going for it on 4th and Goal changed the game".

A blown call doesn't make up for an ass-whipping, but it can cause it.

20 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

skane: If the Cowboys lose to the Giants it would represent a big, loud crash down to earth indeed, in that the Giants are 3-13 straight up and 4-11-1 against the spread coming off a bye week (only Seattle is worse in either regard), including 0-4 both ways in their last four post-bye games.

On that basis alone, Cowboys minus 4 (the opening line) is the best bet of the week.

21 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

Andrew, nice try to dodge the fact that you misrepresented my post on the subject.

I have understood what you are saying from the very beginning, and frankly it is irrelevant in a serious discussion of why teams win and lose. From the standpoint of statistical regressions, penalties have essentially no bearing on the success or failure of teams. This has been emperically demonstrated.

Blown calls go both ways, and Eagles fans only seem to notice those that go against them--for some reason, they are completely silent on the dubious first holding call against Larry Allen that wiped out a large gain when Dallas was deep in Philadelphia territory. So even raising this subject to me is a tactic admission of a person's bias. Again, complaining about officiating has essentially no place in a serious, enlightened discussion of why teams perform well or not.

Finally, if as a team the Eagles are so fragile and easily discouraged by a single questionable call when playing an opponent they have dominated for the last five years--this from a team which was last year's NFC Champion and which appeared in four straight Conference Championship games--then they weren't that good a team to begin with, and didn't deserve to win anyway. Given that most informed observers think the Eagles are the best team in the NFC, current record aside, I hope you can see how absurd this position is, if you lead it to its logical conclusion.

22 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

Tim L #21:

"From the standpoint of statistical regressions, penalties have essentially no bearing on the success or failure of teams. This has been emperically demonstrated."

Penalties may not have any bearing in aggregate, but individual blown calls (or penalties) most certainly effect the outcome of games. I.e., Pollard's TD that was called back against Tampa clearly caused the Lions to lose. Or the Brady-Raiders Tuck Rule game.

My arguement is that frequently things in a game start piling up against you and games suddenly spin out of control from one bad play or blown call. The Eagles-Cowboys game was one example. The Cowboys-Redskins game a few weeks ago was another. The Chargers have provided us two games recently (Giants and Patriots) where their opponents had a couple of things go against them and all of a sudden a tight game is a blow out.

Its not that the blown call would necessarily have prevented the loss. Its that it would have changed the game. Rather than a progression of (1) Dallas TD, (2) Eagles goal line stand, (3) Eagles 3 and out, (4) Immediate Dallas TD, (5) Eagles drive stopped in Redzone, (6) Dallas drive for FG, (7) Eagles drive stopped by Westbrook barely missing a pass, etc., the game would only have included the first two items, and the rest of the game would have been different.

The Larry Allen holding call you mention came at a point in the game where I feel it already had been decided against the Eagles by (1) the missed pass inteference on Westbrook, (2) Westbrook missing the TD pass, (3) Eagles give up two easy TD's to Dallas in First Quarter. Its not hard to argue that that call had no significant bearing on the game, especially since he made himself a blatant stupid penalty on the very next play, and Dallas still scored a FG on the possession.

The Larry Allen call at most was the difference between a 37-10 game and a 33-10 game. However, the Eagles team I watched looked like they still felt they were in the game until the two bad plays with Westbrook and the two easy TD's to Dallas. After that, they looked dazed and confused for the last 3 quarters (even as they tightened up a bit on defense in the second half).

23 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

Andrew your take on that game is almost comical. If you can't see what was apparent to everybody who watched that game then you don't belong on a serious football website. How about 28 first downs to 6. How about 456 total yards to 129. Please stop because it is almost embarassing to read. The Eagles got another gift turnover returned for a TD as in the Chiefs game and had the whole second half to get back in that game. They did nothing except allow a backup running back to stuff it right down their throat. Did the referee cause that also? What happened was a complete an unequivocal dismantling in all phases of the game. Stop it with the bad calls.

24 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

I'm always amazed at how badly McNabb plays when things don't go right. I can't understand why the media overates him, but he was 'Mike Vick' before Mike Vick came along. At least he can pass the ball, which Vick can't, but McNabb always stinks
under pressure and he makes a big deal about 'playing loose' and 'doing what he does' but when the game is on the line, he doesn't deliver. Without T.O., his stats are average, even though the Eagles are as talented overall as any team has been recently.
I know Philly fans will aggressively disagree, which is fine. Time, and superbowl rings, always tell the truth!

25 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

in the Eagles cowboys games had 145 plays counting punts and kickoffs. Dallas threw 35 passes. The eagles had 1 yes one pass defensed. Instead of harping on one or two calls by the officials why don't you run over to, check the gamebooks, and see how many games are won with a single pass defensed. There were many many plays that affected the outcome of the game. Perhaps if the Eagles had not sucked so hard on defense they would have done better.

26 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

in the tuck rule game there were 172 plays, and you are singleing out one?
Are you for real? What the hell were the Raiders doing on offence when they were blowing a 10 point 4th quarter lead? I have never agreed with a post more on this site than timl's

27 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

Vin #23:

Boy this site is going downhill fast with the Fox deal!

"Andrew your take on that game is almost comical. If you can’t see what was apparent to everybody who watched that game then you don’t belong on a serious football website. How about 28 first downs to 6. How about 456 total yards to 129. Please stop because it is almost embarassing to read."

I don't know why you are thinking I am arguing the Eagles somehow played well, although that is certainly what you are trying to demonstrate above.

My point, if you care to take it, was this. I watched this game several days after it happened, since I was travelling Sunday afternoon. I had heard some on the radio, and read a bit in the paper as well as review the play-by-play before watching. So it was like fil review, where you know the result, rather than wondering what might happen.

What I saw was an Eagles team that thought they were still in it until things started breaking against them (bad special teams, qucik TD's, blown calls, failure to score, etc.) Once all that piled up, they didn't appear to be able to get the psychological belief up that they could actually win the game. If you've ever played organized sports you'd know that in something like football, a score of 24-3 with 5 1/2 minute left in the first half and nothing working for you in the game makes it difficult for you to believe that anything you do will produce a result, so effort slacks off.

Yes, the reality of the game seen looking back from the end was that the Eagles were not competitive. However, looking at the game progress, I think you can see where the game actually got away from them, and I believe it hinges on the events I mentioned previously - the blown call, the quick Glenn TD, the failure to score on the one march downfield, Dallas scoring again, LJ Smith injured, etc., that let the game spiral out of control for the Eagles.

My point was that the first event in this chain was a blown call, and without the blown call, the game would probably have been quite different (though the Eagles may very well have still lost, although perhaps it might have been a closer game like in 2003).

I think the biggest lesson from the game is that if you consistently start on your own 20 yard line, and let your opponent consistently start on your 45 yard line, you are going to lose.

Apparently, saying things like that makes Cowboys fans feel bad about themselves and their team, because y'all have certainly taken umbrage to me observing anything beyond "Cowboys are so great, they beat the Eagles, rah, rah, rah!". If this site is going to become that sort of place, where we can't talk about games except to shout for our own team, that is really sad.

28 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

Am I the only one here who sees an uncanny resemblance between this game and the Eagles' loss to Pittsburgh last year? Take away Sheldon Brown's fumble return and the two games are almost identical.

29 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

Andrew, you have an uncanny ability to misrepresent other's positions. And to belabor your own tiresome points.

Anthony Brancato, the Pittsburgh game fits the pattern of all four Eagles "meltdown games" I mentioned earlier: All were in the early to middle part of the season, and they all have about the same final score:

2002 Indianapolis: 35-13
2003 New England: 31-10
2004 Pittsburgh: 27-3
2005 Dallas: 33-10

30 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

Tim L:

How can I misrepresent others positions, when all I've done is talk about my own thoughts I took away from the rout?

I made an observation about when the Ealges let the game slip out of control. Somehow, that offended you and several others, since you've done nothing since but pile on saying that I didn't see what I saw with my own two eyes.

BTW, you forgot two other annual meltdown games for the Eagles under Reid.

2000 Giants 24-7
1999 Bills 26-0
1999 Panthers 33-7
1999 Colts 44-17

2001 was the only year the Eagles did not melt down, and not coincidentally, the year they had their best defense in recent memory.

31 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Eagles

Remember 1976: Patriots 48, Raiders 17?

And 1994: Eagles 40, 49ers 8 - at San Francisco?

As I recall, both the '76 Raiders and '94 49ers went on to win the Super Bowl.