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Defense provided opportunities for a win
Brandon Boykin was responsible for covering Jason Witten, Miles Austin and Cole Beasley at different times Sunday. (AP)
Remember how quarterbacks were picking apart the heart of the Eagles’ defense for the first four weeks, taking direct aim across the middle?
In the past few weeks, the Eagles seem to have resolved that problem. Coverage across the middle was one reason they held the No. 2 scoring offense to just 17 points in their 17-3 loss to Dallas on Sunday.
Inside linebackers Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans and slot corner Brandon Boykin were three standouts in a good defensive effort. Here’s a breakdown of the Eagles’ defense (and here's the offense):
The veteran linebacker finished with a sack, a pick, some hurries and a team-leading eight tackles as he alternated between blitzing in the “A” gaps and dropping into coverage. Ryans came up with two momentum-swinging plays, a sack of Romo in the first quarter as Dallas was driving into Eagles territory and an interception in the third with the Cowboys again marching toward the red zone.
Ryans was OK against the run but better in coverage and as a blitzer. He did set an early tone by dropping running back Phillip Tanner for no gain on 3rd-and-1 on Dallas’ opening drive. Later in the first, he stunted behind a blitzing Mychal Kendricks and took down Romo for a 13-yard loss that knocked the Cowboys out of field goal range.
In the third, with Dallas facing 3rd-and-3 at the Eagles’ 35-yard line, he snagged a pass intended for Tanner across the middle that was thrown slightly behind the running back and returned the pick 36 yards into Dallas territory.
Ryans has been rock solid for the past few weeks.
Nobody had a more diverse set of assignments than Boykin, the second-year slot corner who was asked to cover Witten, Miles Austin and Cole Beasley at different points in the game. Austin, the slot receiver, was held without a reception. Beasley had six catches but averaged less than nine yards per catch and got the best of Boykin only a few times.
At the end of the first, with Dallas facing 3rd-and-12, Boykin made a nice wrap-up on Beasley to hold the slot receiver to an 11-yard gain that forced Dallas to punt. Boykin’s tight coverage across the middle frequently made Romo look to the outside and took away his safety valves against pressure.
Coverage hadn’t been his strong point, but Kendricks did an excellent job when matched up against tight end Jason Witten, who caught just four passes.
Witten had 26 of his 48 yards on one catch in the first quarter that was the result of some confusion between Kendricks and Ryans, but the Cowboys ending up punting on that drive. Witten is usually Romo’s security blanket when the pocket collapses, but Romo never established any rhythm with his all-pro tight end.
Dallas tried testing Kendricks on a wheel route with Tanner on the Cowboys’ second drive. Wheeler put a move on Kendricks, who stuck with him the whole way and forced Romo to throw an incomplete pass to Dez Bryant. Kendricks was dominant against the run, but the Cowboys’ run game wasn’t a major threat.
Now for the rest:
The veteran corner was a first-half stud but a second-half dud. Bryant was targeted seven times in the first half but managed just two catches, one which went for 15 yards and was the result of a great throw across the middle by Romo and an even better catch. Williams struggled in the second half against Bryant, who had six catches for 76 yards after the break.
Mr. Pass Breakup came through with another big one in the second quarter, batting away a Romo third-down pass to Terrance Williams inside the Eagles’ 20 and forcing the Cowboys to settle for a field goal. But he later was called for pass interference on a 3rd-and-4 deep in Eagles territory that set up a Tanner one-yard touchdown run. In the fourth, he gave up too much cushion to Williams and got beat inside for a nine-yard touchdown.
Was effective as a blitzer on a few occasions. He came in unblocked and got in Romo’s face on a second-down incompletion in the second. But he lost Witten in single coverage on a big 2nd-and-8 conversion in the fourth on Dallas’ touchdown drive.
Played the run well and picked up his first career pick on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. Wolff also made five tackles and pressured Romo on a few blitzes.
Not a great game for Barwin. He allowed one of the few Bryant first-half catches that picked up extra yards after the catch when he missed a tackle. He supplied adequate pressure at times.
Cole’s run defense was rock solid, but he’s now gone seven straight games without a sack. He still plays with a high motor, but he sees a lot of chips.
He didn’t get a sack, but the second-year defensive tackle/end was a constant force and tough to block. Cox helped collapsed the pocket more than a few times. His inside penetration in the third on a 3rd-and-2 forced Romo into a hurried pass across the middle to Austin that led to Dallas punting.
Once again, a beast in run defense, leading all linemen with five tackles and generally causing fits for the center and guard. Not much in the pass rush department.
Played 26 snaps, his most this season, and picked up sack No. 2 on a second-quarter third down, pushing back Cowboys left guard Ronald Leary seven yards and pouncing on Romo. Curry was disruptive up front for much of the game.
Quiet game for Graham, who played just 18 snaps, his fewest in four weeks. He did have one hurry. He lunged and came up empty on Dwayne Harris’ 39-yard kickoff return.
His 21 snaps were the most in three weeks. He’s getting into games earlier and showing more push in the pass rush. Run defense still coming along.
Played 24 snaps, made one tackle.
Put a hit on Romo at the end of a first-down incompletion from in the first quarter and made one tackle in his 11 snaps.
Came in for four snaps to replace Boykin, who left the field briefly with an injury. Made one tackle.