PHILADELPHIA – With his game-sealing pick, Brandon Carr waved goodbye to the departing Eagles’ crowd and the shared division lead all at once.
The Dallas Cowboys’ defense, including a horde of “no-name” linemen who were forced into action with DeMarcus Ware out, held the league’s top rusher in check and forced three interceptions against the Eagles as they soared past Philadelphia for sole possession of first place in the division with a 17-3 win.
Just two weeks removed from the 51-points yielded to the Broncos, the Cowboys have allowed just 19 combined points their last two weeks to the Redskins and Eagles. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin believes seeing less can be a good thing and contributed to those performances.
“When you become a good defense, you play fast and you know what you’re doing,” Kiffin said. “Like I say, see a little or see a lot. When you see a lot, you see nothing, and we were seeing a lot earlier in the year. When you just see a little bit and you read your keys, you’ve got a chance.”
The defense gave the Cowboys more than just a chance. They solidified the win by holding the league’s third-ranked offense out of the end zone entirely.
“It’s very encouraging to see our defense play as well as it played today and fundamentally that was the plan from the word, ‘Go,’” said owner/general manager Jerry Jones. “We played well. There wasn’t a lot of confusion out there.”
The victory moved the Cowboys to 3-0 in the NFC East for the first time since 2007 and marked their first road win of the season. They did it all without their all-time sack leader, who missed the first game of his career with a thigh injury.
With Ware battered up, the Dallas Cowboys needed all the help they could get on a defensive line comprised of players no one would recognize before the season began, outside of Jason Hatcher. The Cowboys signed defensive end Jarius Wynn this week and made him active. They brought up defensive end Jason Vega from the practice squad and made him active, as well.
The line already featured a defensive tackle in Drake Nevis who was signed just weeks prior, and a defensive end in Caesar Rayford who came to the team after the preseason.
At least on Sunday, none of that mattered, thanks in large part to tremendous coverage on the back end that allowed consistent pressure from the front four.
“It’s what football’s about,” said defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. “At the end of the day, it’s still a blue collar game. The men who want to go out and work, fight, compete get opportunities.”
The Cowboys bothered Nick Foles all day, led by a player who joined the team in training camp. George Selvie finished with 1.5 sacks to notch the first multi-sack game of his career. He shared a sack with Wynn on the last play of the third quarter, which knocked Foles out of the game.
Hatcher also added a sack in his dominant start to the year, giving him six now for the season. He said he didn’t even think the defense played as well as it should, yet the Cowboys still held the Eagles to three points. Hatcher credited Marinelli for having the ability to plug and play new people the last couple weeks without any ill effects.
“He cares about you, unlike some coaches that just care about their job, he cares about you as an individual,” Hatcher said. “He’s an awesome guy to play for.”
It helped that Foles was wildly inaccurate, completing just 11-of-29 passes for the Eagles before going down. It only got worse for Philadelphia’s offense later, as Matt Barkley came in and threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter, with Sean Lee, Barry Church and Carr all securing one apiece.
Carr’s pick sealed the deal, and the corner was stellar throughout, giving DeSean Jackson fits on the outside. He helped to hold the speed threat to just three catches and 21 receiving yards on eight targets, and he finished with an interception, two passes defended and a tackle for loss.
“Me and Orlando (Scandrick) had the task of following him around the field,” Carr said. “It’s just one of those matchups where you’ve got to stay on him for 60 minutes. A guy with that speed, it’s easy for him to slip past you. You don’t want to be in a foot race with him.”
Perhaps even more impressive was what the defense did to the Eagles’ other primary playmaker, LeSean McCoy, who led all NFL running backs by 99 rushing yards entering the game. McCoy averaged just 3.1 yards per carry, running 18 times for 55 yards, and averaged 4.3 yards per catch Sunday.
It wasn’t always pretty football for either team. The vaunted Eagles offense was forced to punt nine times after going 4-for-18 on third down. The Cowboys also punted nine times but took advantage when they moved down the field, scoring both times they got inside the 20. The Eagles went 0-for-2 in red zone efficiency.
Despite scoring just 17 points, the Cowboys’ offense still included three players with at least six catches and 50 yards apiece. Dez Bryant led all players with eight catches for 110 yards and had a game-high 16 targets.
There were major contributions from Terrance Williams, whose fourth-quarter touchdown reception gave the Cowboys a 14-point lead and marked the rookie receiver’s third straight game with a touchdown, and Cole Beasley, who was a mismatch once again in the slot with six catches for 53 yards.
Rookie running back Joseph Randle got his first start of his career, rushing for 65 yards on 19 carries and catching three passes for 28 yards. Phillip Tanner went in at the goal line to bowl in for the Cowboys’ only rushing touchdown and first score of the game.
That touchdown by Tanner in the third quarter alone would have been enough to win the game on a day where the Dallas defense dominated to put the Cowboys atop the division. Still, Hatcher isn’t yet satisfied.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Hatcher said. “We didn’t play as well as we should tonight, but we held them to three. It’s kind of scary when you look at it. We’ve just got to be more consistent.”