PHILADELPHIA – The first three rounds occurred not on only the West Coast, but actually in college football.
The only thing relevant about Monte Kiffin vs. Chip Kelly is what happens at this level. The USC-Oregon stuff was an interesting side note, but doesn’t mean anything – and never did – when it comes to these two squaring off in the NFL.
Clearly, because Round 4 went to Kiffin. In fact, this was a knockout.
Say whatever you want about the up-tempo, fast-paced offense that Kelly brought from Oregon to the Eagles, but the Cowboys not only slowed it down, but shut things down Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. And they did this without their best defensive player in DeMarcus Ware, who missed the first game of his career with a quad strain.
No Ware, no problem. The Cowboys had guys like Jason Vega, Kyle Wilber, Caesar Rayford, Drake Nevis and Jarius Wynn on the defensive line, and they still managed to shut down the NFL’s leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, and the Eagles’ attack.
This game of chess between Kiffin and Kelly was pretty much one-sided from the start. Sure, the Eagles were in the game mainly because their defense kept the Cowboys offense at bay for most of the afternoon. It was a punt-fest for a while, but make no mistake, Kiffin had his bunch of “no-names” swarming to the ball left and right and shutting down whatever the Eagles threw at them.
And before anyone plays the Nick Foles card, just remember this one – nobody cares. Nope, not after Peyton Manning torched the Cowboys three weeks ago and scored 51 points. And before that, it was Philip Rivers doing the same. No one seemed to care back then when two of the NFL’s best, including arguably the best of all-time was picking the Cowboys defense apart. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that Kiffin said to put the Denver loss on him? Well, this one is also on him.
Kiffin’s defense was ridiculed plenty when they couldn’t stop Danny Woodhead or Knowshon Moreno. So what about McCoy?
Well, the Cowboys dominated him Sunday. McCoy is a great player and we saw him slice and dice through the Cowboys defense two years ago up here. But on this day, it was different. McCoy had 81 total yards on 24 touches (18 carries, 6 receptions). It’s still respectable numbers, considering what the Cowboys are used to. But for the NFL’s most dynamic back, especially with Foles playing for Michael Vick, the Eagles simply needed more.
And they didn’t get it.
This defense wasn’t just fast to the ball on Sunday, they were sound in their techniques. They stayed in their running lanes all day. I thought Brandon Carr was great in coverage, but he seemed just as dominant in run support. How many times did we see McCoy trying to stretch a running play outside, but Carr wouldn’t let him have the corner? He forced several running plays back inside where it seemed like Sean Lee was usually there to stuff the play.
It wasn’t just those two. Bruce Carter was all over the field, and did a great job in coverage. The defensive linemen up front were creating a push up the middle, and came off the edge with force. The Cowboys looked like a defense that has played together for years – or even months.
For some of them, it’s only been days or weeks. Wynn got here Monday. Nevis has been here three weeks. Vega got here when the season started but only on the practice squad. Sunday was his first game. We all know about George Selvie showing up in the middle of camp as a body to fill space. And let’s not forget Nick Hayden got here this summer and Kyle Wilber didn’t play much last year on defense.
These defensive misfits came together Sunday and shut down what was supposed to be next big thing in the NFL. Chip Kelly and his rock-and-roll offense never got going on this day.
Sure, Foles looked pretty bad at times. And yes, it’s now clear that Michael Vick will get his job back when he returns from injury. But this was the same Foles who lit up Tampa Bay last week and looked like he was ready to turn that proverbial corner. Instead, he was rushed and flustered all day by a Cowboys’ pass-rush that only had one starter who was projected to be there when training camp began.
Now, that one guy, Jason Hatcher, was all over the place. Last year he said the Cowboys needed more leaders. This year, he’s not only had a team meeting after practice, but he’s starting to perform like a leader, too. Hatcher already has a career high in sacks with six, and he played like a player possessed on Sunday. And, he had plenty of help. Even though none of them are household names.
But they came together Sunday under Kiffin’s guidance.
The veteran coach was supposed to be out of his league when it came to facing Kelly. While there is a rematch to be played in the season finale, it was pretty clear on Sunday that Kiffin won this battle. And the Cowboys picked up a huge road win because of it.