PHILADELPHIA — The quarterback changed but the results didn’t as the Cowboys fell to 2-6 in the Mike McCarthy era.
For much of the night, Dallas seemed in reach of its first win without quarterback Dak Prescott, out for the season after ankle surgery, or Andy Dalton, who remains in concussion protocol.
Any glimmers of hope stemmed not from the performance of rookie seventh-rounder Ben DiNucci but instead from a Cowboys defense that finally found success disrupting the quarterback and taking away the ball.
Does this more heavily reflect defensive improvement by the Cowboys, or a largely miserable night for Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz?
Hundreds of cardboard fans and 7,500 live ones were gifted that scintillating question to debate.
The Eagles put the game away with their own defensive spark, as safety Rodney McLeod returned a fumble 53 yards in a bizarre sequence with 5:18 remaining.
MORE: 32 things we learned from Week 8 of the 2020 NFL season
Wide receiver Travis Fulgham #13 of the Philadelphia Eagles makes a touchdown reception against Trevon Diggs #27 of the Dallas Cowboys in the third quarter of the game at Lincoln Financial Field on November 01, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Mitchell Leff, Getty Images)
Here are three things we learned in the Eagles' 23-9 win:
1. Tabasco trick?
Days after defensive coordinator Mike Nolan burned his eyes with Tabasco sauce, his unit finally showed a kick. This Cowboys defense wasn’t perfect but certainly put up its fieriest performance of 2020 after allowing an average of 34.7 points per game through the first seven weeks. A unit with a league-worst three takeaways across its first seven contests registered four on Sunday night alone. Blitzes came from creative places, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch registering one strip-sack of Wentz and safety Donovan Wilson another. Rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs registered his first career interception and his second, both thefts of Wentz coming on end-zone heaves.
The Cowboys offense failed to score a touchdown off any of four defensive takeaways…or at all, through the night.
2. DiNucci didn’t work
To start the game, McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore looked like mad scientists. Double reverses mixed with direct snaps to everyone and their mother (OK, just receivers, running backs and a quarterback) as the Cowboys moved 47 yards on nine plays to set up the first score of the game, a 49-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein.
That was clearly the peak for the Cowboys offense, a unit that failed to sustain any of its next six possessions for longer than six plays or better than 15 net yards. Running back Ezekiel Elliott netted just 63 yards on 19 carries, the Cowboys converted on just 4 of 16 third-down attempts and DiNucci’s first NFL start amounted to a 180-yard night on which he completed 21 of 40 attempts for no touchdowns. He lost two fumbles and was sacked four times for a loss of 48 yards. For the second season in a row, Dallas managed just 9 points at Lincoln Financial Field. In three games without Prescott, Dallas is averaging 7.3 points per game.
3. Cowboys fall behind in NFC East
Sure, in a bad division, the Cowboys aren’t technically out of the hunt, but even their two wins were narrow, and they’ve lost to division opponents by double digits in consecutive weeks. Matters don’t get easier when 7-0 Pittsburgh comes to JerryWorld next week, whether the Steelers' vaunted defense will face Dalton or DiNucci. At 3-4-1, the Eagles are firmly atop the division. They look most fit to represent the league’s worst group come January.
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