The erratic play of Eagles quarterback Nick Foles arguably did more than the Cowboys defense in limiting Philadelphia to just three points Sunday night, but the missed throws and dropped passes would have meant little without the stout play of the Dallas front seven against the run.
Philadelphia entered the game with the league’s best running attack, and the Cowboys held NFL rushing leader LeSean McCoy to just 55 yards on 18 carries – barely three yards per attempt – in Sunday’s 17-3 divisional road win.
Defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who in his career has been as effective against the run as he has the pass, missed his first game in nine years as a pro with a right quad strain. Second-year player Kyle Wilber and newcomer Caesar Rayford didn’t record any sacks, but certainly did their part against a dangerous Philadelphia running attack.
“LeSean McCoy is a fantastic football player – we’ve seen that for a number of years now,” head coach Jason Garrett said after the game. “I thought we were really, really strong up front, we did a good job of setting the edges, and then really running to the football. I thought we were physical; the pursuit was outstanding; I thought the tackling was outstanding. When you watch tape of number 25 play, he makes a lot of people miss. I think setting the edges, everybody getting to the football, and when we got there making him go down, tackling him and tackling him hard, I thought that was the difference in the ballgame.”
A closer look at the numbers shows the Eagles couldn’t get anything going on the ground in the early downs, forcing them to pass to move the chains. In short, the Cowboys gameplan appears to have been to challenge Foles to beat them through the air, and the second-year backup couldn’t get it done.
Dallas held McCoy to just 15 yards on 11 first-down carries, and 23 yards on six second-down carries. McCoy converted on just one third-down run all day, a big reason why Philadelphia was forced to punt nine times.
The Eagles had just three first downs on the ground – one by Foles and two by McCoy. Entering the day they were averaging 9.3 rushing first downs and McCoy was running for 105 yards per game. The absence of Michael Vick and his constant threat to run allowed the Dallas defenders to play man coverage most of the day, and the secondary won the bulk of those battles. Quarterback Tony Romo talked about the defensive effort after the game:
“They work their butts off there over on the defense. The defensive line, they’re running to the ball everyday as fast as I’ve ever seen. It’s just neat for them to be able to come out here and have a game like today where they just would have almost won that game regardless, by themselves. I don’t know that that’s happened in my career a lot where you’re able to just lean on them. If you’re going to do stuff in January, you’re going to need to lean on them at different times. It happens every year. It’s nice to know that our defense can do that.”
Entering the game, Dallas had the 23rd ranked rushing defense in the league, in terms of yards-per-attempt, giving up 4.4. A week ago against Washington they gave up 6.5 yards per rush and more than 200 yards on the ground.
The Cowboys have another daunting road challenge next week, as they travel to Detroit to face the pass-happy Lions. Detroit lost 27-24 at home on Sunday to Cincinnati, and running back Reggie Bush ran for just 50 yards on 20 carries.