Early down woes: The Cowboys converted on only five of 16 third-down tries in part because of their issues on first downs. Of their 36 first-down plays, the Cowboys ran the ball 13 times and did not have a rush of more than six yards. They had only seven “chunk” plays that went for more than 10 yards. As a result, they faced too many third-and-long situations that made it more difficult for the offensive line to protect when the defense knows the pass is coming. Without DeMarco Murray (knee) and facing a poor pass defense, the Cowboys wanted to attack through the air but Tony Romo had nine first-down incompletions. Second-and-10 is a difficult down and it leads to too many third-and-long situautions.
Sage advice: The Cowboys, who were without DeMarcus Ware, mixed in several new faces on the defensive line, added undrafted safety Jeff Heath to the equation in the secondary and were still able to keep the Eagles' offense in check.
Jerry Jones knows why.
“I’ve just got to say the obvious: coaching,” Jones said. “We’re really getting coached up. Monte [Kiffin] and all of them, Rod [Marinelli], they’re showing these guys and showing our players where to be, how to fundamentally play.”
Last year the Cowboys had to mix in key players on defense as the season wore on, but were unable to finish games.
Getting to the ground: The Cowboys knew LeSean McCoy would be a challenge because of his ability to make people miss. Where the Cowboys excelled was in making McCoy work for his yards. He still made people miss, but they were at the line of scrimmage and the back side and secondary were able to close on him to get him on the ground. Kiffin said the defense was gap sound, which is a must against a back like McCoy.
The Cowboys were also strong tacklers. J.J. Wilcox missed one to give up a first down, but there weren’t many misses the rest of the day. Tackling is something of a lost art because of practices nowadays, but Sean Lee disagreed.
“Actually, when you thud up, that actually can be better than some of the tackling drills because you’re forced to move your feet and move your hips instead of lunging,” Lee said. “So we work on putting ourselves in good body position every day in practice. To where when we get to the game, it will transfer over.”
Pressuring the empty package: Romo completed seven of 11 passes for 78 yards when the Cowboys broke out their empty package against the Eagles, but he was under a lot of pressure from their defense. When the Cowboys went to their empty look, the Eagles attacked Romo and made him get rid of the ball earlier than he would have wanted. As the Cowboys look to use the empty package more, they will have to come up with a way to handle the blitz.