Cowboys 29, Eagles 23: Standout plays

Cowboys 29, Eagles 23: Standout plays

Reviewing the key moments in the Eagles' how-did-that-happen? loss to the Cowboys?

1. First quarter: Marcus Smith sack
Smith, the Eagles' first-round pick in 2014, entered the game with 1.5 career sacks -- and none this season. On the fourth play from scrimmage, Smith sacked Dak Prescott, and then on the next play stopped Ezekiel Elliott for a 2-yard gain.

2. First quarter: Caleb Sturgis 30-yard field goal
The acting job after the kick was worth mentioning. Sturgis drew a running into the kicker penalty on the Cowboys but should have been whistled for a flop.

3. First quarter: Dez Bryant 53-yard catch
Bryant simply beat Leodis McKelvin down the right sideline for a 53-yard reception. No other Eagles' defender was in site. After Elliott burst up the middle for 15 more, Prescott got the 'Boys on the board with an easy 7-yard touchdown.

4. Second quarter: Three runs by Sproles
This guy is really 33? On the Eagles' first touchdown drive, Sproles cut on a dime (sorry Shady) to make a guy miss before getting stopped for two yards. So then on 3rd-and-1, he zipped down the field for nine. Then two plays later, he jitterbugged his way for 19 to convert a 2nd-and-15.

Those runs — and a holding penalty on Dallas — set up Ryan Mathews' easy run for the Eagles' first touchdown.

5. Second quarter: Sturgis 55-yard field goal
He made this one twice, but the first one didn't count because Jason Garrett called timeout. They have to change that rule. 

Great job by Sturgis, and it wouldn't have been possible without the bullet to Dorial Green-Beckham with four seconds left. Green-Beckham did a great job to get both feet in and get out of bounds with just one second left, giving Sturgis a shot.

6. Third quarter: Jordan Matthews 5-yard TD catch
Easy pitch and catch, and notable because Doug Pederson mixed things up on the Dallas D, which wasn't ready for a sudden change in tempo. The Eagles put their foot on the gas, eschewed the huddle and drove 69 yards in 12 plays to take 10-point lead. 

“Did Chip Kelly come back in the building? What happened here?" NBC analyst Chris Collinsworth exclaimed after Matthews' TD catch.

The Eagles once again had their share of drops, but both Matthews and Agholor had nice third-down catches this series to keep the drive alive. 

7. Third quarter: 30-yard run by ... punter Chris Jones 
Kudos to the Cowboys on this one. The Eagles had all the momentum after going up 10 and forcing a 3-and-0ut ... but Jones on a fake punt took some back. It resulted in a Dan Bailey field goal, which came after Terrance Williams prevented Dak Prescott's second interception in the end zone by taking down McKelvin. 

8. Third quarter: Josh Huff 53-yard kickoff return
The Eagles' special teams weren't going to be outdone. Huff took the ensuing kickoff 53 yards to set up a 34-yard field goal.

Only Bailey prevented Huff from his second kickoff return for a touchdown in as many weeks and the Eagles' third straight week with a kickoff return for a TD.

9. Fourth quarter: Wendell Smallwood fumble
You're up 10. With the ball. There's 13:05 left to go. Sproles has been great all night. And you give the rookie his first touch of the game now? 

Easy to say after a fumble, hindsight being 20-20 and all that, but still.

Thanks to the Eagles' D, Smallwood's fumble cost the Birds only three points, as Bailey squeezed in a 49-yarder.

But when the Eagles look back at how this one got away, this is step No. 1.

10. Fourth quarter: Sean Lee throws Sproles for 6-yard loss
And here's No. 2.

It was 3rd-and-8 at the Dallas 30. Wentz tossed it to Sproles, but Lee flew right by a hobbled Jason Kelce, swallowed up Sproles, and moved the Eagles out of field goal range. 

Dubious play-call when staying in field-goal range had to be the priority. Instead of attempting a 54-yarder, the Eagles played it safe, punted and pinned the Cowboys back at their own 10.

11. Fourth quarter: Bryant 22-yard TD catch
Problem is, the Cowboys drove 90 yards in 11 plays, and the drive ended when Bryant beat Nolan Carroll with a superstar catch to tie it. Not much else to say.

12. Fourth quarter: Wentz sacked ... but doesn't fumble
On 3rd-and-19 from the Eagles' 11, Wentz escaped pressure, wound up to throw ... and was walloped from behind by corner Orlando Scandrick. Everyone was looking for the ball to fly out ... but somehow Wentz held on, and the Eagles punted.

13. Overtime: Jason Witten 5-yard TD
How did Witten get so wide open? Rodney McCleod and Malcolm Jenkins collided at the goal line, allowing Witten to easily catch his first score of the season. Game over.

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

The Eagles need cornerbacks. Plural. 

It's not a secret that the team's biggest weakness heading into next week's draft is at the cornerback position. So it would stand to reason that their best bet might be to simply take the best one off the board when they're on the clock at 14.

But NFL Network's Mike Mayock, on his annual pre-draft conference call marathon extravaganza Friday, said he thinks they should take a different approach. 

Looking at the top corners in the draft, Mayock is convinced Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore will be off the board well before the Eagles are on the clock at 14. His next rated corner is Gareon Conley. After that, Mayock has Marlon Humphrey but pointed out his major flaw of struggling to find the football in the air. 

So if Conley makes it to 14, the Eagles should pick him, right? 

Not so fast. 

"So I look at it this way, if Conley's on the board at 14, you have to compare him to the best playmaker on offense on your board," Mayock said. "Because I'm not convinced the Eagles should go defense, to be honest with you. 

"If Conley's not there, I think you want to go get your corner in the second or third round and I think they need two corners. But my perspective is, you drafted Carson Wentz. You better support him. You signed two wideouts in free agency (Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith) who are both effectively one-year contracts. Your slot receiver, (Jordan) Matthews is in the final year of his deal. (Brent) Celek, the tight end, is 32 years old. 

"So you might sit there and go, 'This year looks OK,' but get a running back. Get a (Christian) McCaffrey or a Dalvin Cook. Get a tight end, O.J. Howard. Get weapons. Get one of those wideouts you like. So I would be comparing Conley to the highest playmaker you have on the board offensively. And I might be leaning towards offense if it was me." 

Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham. Cam Newton and Greg Olsen. 

When Zach Ertz looks at the recent history of great quarterback-tight end duos in the NFL, he can't help but notice one thing stands out. 

"Those guys have been together for a long time," Ertz said Thursday afternoon. 

Brady and Gronk have been together for seven seasons. Cam and Olsen have been together for six. And Brees and Graham were together for five. 

"And I think just having that, where you're on the same page regardless of the coverage," Ertz continued. "If they give you this coverage, you know exactly what you're going to do. If they give you that coverage, he knows exactly what I'm going to do. When to expect the ball vs. certain coverages, it might be a little earlier, it might be a little later. So it's just that constant camaraderie where we're able to know what the other person is thinking without thinking about it."

Ertz hopes that's the kind of relationship he can forge with Carson Wentz, who will enter his second NFL season in 2017. 

Ertz and Wentz spend a lot of time together in the facility and away from it. A group of Eagles went to Ertz's wedding earlier this offseason, and of course, Wentz was present. If it seems like Ertz is going to great lengths to build a rapport with his quarterback, he is. 

After going through Mike Vick and Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford, the Eagles' starting tight end finally has a quarterback that isn't going anywhere for a while.  

"It's going to be huge," Ertz said about playing with Wentz for a second straight year. "I think when Carson was drafted, from the receivers and tight ends, that was the one thing we were really excited about. That we knew for the next five, 10, 20 years, hopefully, in Philadelphia, we knew who our quarterback was going to be."

Since he was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft out of Stanford, Ertz has been an extremely productive player. But that has set up huge expectations as fans wait for a "breakout year." Zach Ertz might never be Rob Gronkowski, but the numbers are hard to argue. 

In the first four years of his career, Ertz has 247 catches for 2,840 yards and 13 touchdowns. Since 2013, here's the list of tight ends who have more catches and yards than Ertz: Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, Delanie Walker, Antonio Gates. 

Ertz and Jeremy Maclin are the only two players in Eagles history to put up those numbers in their first four seasons. 

The argument often heard about Ertz's numbers is that they come in garbage time. Ertz has historically been an absolute beast in December. In the last few years, that hasn't meant much to a struggling Eagles franchise, but if they're in the playoff hunt in upcoming years, they'll probably want that trend to continue. 

The one statistic that doesn't seem to match the others: touchdowns. While Ertz has been among top tight ends in the league in receptions and yards, his 13 touchdowns rank 17th among tight ends since 2013. (It's not a stat, but for what it's worth, Ertz would likely be among the league leaders in touchdowns called back for penalties in the last few years.)

"I want to be the guy in the red zone, believe me," Ertz said. "For the first four years in my career, I think the most touchdowns I had in a year was four. So this year, we didn't have a lot of red zone touchdowns and that falls on us as players to get it down when we get down there, make plays when the ball's in the air. That's something I do pride myself on, making those tough and contested catches, whether it be in the red zone or third down. I want to be more of a go-to guy in the red zone, but I've got to earn that this spring and summer, earn that trust of the quarterback as well as Doug (Pederson). It's going to be a process, but when you look at the great tight ends in the league, the first thing that stands out is touchdowns."