ARLINGTON, Texas — A week after rushing for their lowest output in five years in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles registered another distinctly unwelcome result in a 33-13 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Philadelphia’s offense did not score a touchdown.
The Eagles’ offense had not been barred from the end zone since a Dec. 31, 2017 game in which they rested their starters en route to a Super Bowl victory. The last meaningful game in which the Eagles’ offense failed to score was Oct. 16, 2016, against a Washington defense that was still nearly four years away from changing its controversial and offensive nickname. Since the Eagles ascended to dominance last year, they had not lost consecutive games with quarterback Jalen Hurts healthy.
Rebounding from back-to-back losses with Gardner Minshew last year spelled an easy fix: Re-insert Hurts. Dropping games to the 49ers and Cowboys, who are most likely to stand in the way of the Eagles’ defense of an NFC title, leaves a murkier path forward.
“Just two really poor performances,” center Jason Kelce said. “You can’t make mistakes against good teams, and we’ve done far too much of that.”
The sky need not be falling in Philadelphia as much as fans probably feel like it is. Even with the slump, the 10-3 Eagles have compiled impressive wins this season vs. the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Cowboys at home and at the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Eagles still control the NFC East with four upcoming games against sub-.500 teams, including three against sub-.350 franchises.
But their temporary fall in the playoff standings should remind the Eagles what’s at stake if they can’t right the ship. Because after entering the weekend with the league’s best record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the Eagles dropped to the No. 5 seed with an identical 10-3 record to the Cowboys and 49ers. San Francisco holds the head-to-head tiebreaker, while Dallas temporarily owns the tiebreaker with a better division record (4-1 to the Eagles’ 3-1).
The Eagles know they must keep their offensive struggles from spiraling to capitalize on the control they still have.
“I wouldn’t say we are discouraged,” wide receiver A.J. Brown said Sunday night from AT&T Stadium. “I will speak for myself: I am not discouraged. Disappointed? Yeah. Discouraged? No. How we turn it around: Get back to the drawing board, just try to correct things and move forward.
“I think that is the only thing you can do.”
New week, new offensive concern for Hurts’ group
Two weeks ago against the Bills, Hurts completed 4 of 11 first-half pass attempts for 33 yards and an interception. Cracks seemed to form in the Eagles offensive veneer, but by game’s end, Hurts had accounted for 265 total yards, three passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. Hurts’ heroics in the second half and overtime drew more awe than concern.
Against the 49ers, Hurts again moved the ball well but failed to deliver on two first-quarter red-zone visits. Paired with the Eagles’ mere 46 rushing yards all day, Philadelphia couldn’t pace the Deebo Samuel show that the 49ers had imported.
Against the Cowboys this week, the Eagles had bested their total rushing total from last week in the first half and Hurts was again completing some passes. But the red-zone woes continued. New concerns popped up.
Three different Eagles players lost fumbles and thus possessions to repeatedly stunt the Eagles’ momentum. On the Eagles’ first possession, they offered an entire menu of sloppy football: Each starting offensive tackle false started, receiver A.J. Brown committed an offensive pass interference, and Hurts coughed up the ball to cap an 11-yard scramble with a fumble. A 69-yard drive lasting 4 minutes, 18 seconds amounted to nothing but Cowboys field position.
After Hurts and Brown failed to connect on third downs each of the next two drives — a well-placed deep dime went through Brown’s hand the first time, a just-sacked Hurts failed to get a clean ball off the second time as DeMarcus Lawrence closed in — the Cowboys were carrying a 24-6 lead into halftime.
Brown losing a ball to Cowboys cornerback Stephon Gilmore on the first possession of the second half only began the next two quarters of futile attempts.
“Of course we want to hold onto the ball,” Brown said. “But that’s the last of our worries. That’s just me being honest.”
While winning the turnover battle often correlates with winning the game, Brown’s point stands: Philadelphia’s offense isn’t facing just one threat.
Final regular-season stretch gives Eagles an opportunity they can’t blow
The Eagles might be better off if one clear issue had plagued their offense in recent weeks. Whac-A-Mole mistakes are trickier to fix.
Philadelphia’s success reinstating the run game this week was neutralized by the team’s second-most giveaways of the season (they turned the ball over four times in a loss to the New York Jets). Incomplete passes and unmoved chains on third down varied in source, too. Was Brown missing the pass thrown between his arms? Was Hurts throwing the fourth-down pass to DeVonta Smith not only after too much time but also far short of the line to gain?
Brown’s analysis speaks to one of the bigger issues that could creep up on the Eagles: pressing. If a player is too desperate to add yards after the catch, how much more lenient will his ball carriage be? If the offensive line is too concerned about staving off the likes of Nick Bosa and Micah Parsons, not to mention in loud venues, will each member wait until the snap to flinch?
The always-philosophical Hurts offered his latest wisdom after an 18-of-27 (66.6%) night in which he passed for 197 yards and rushed for 30 more.
“You don’t win without losing,” Hurts said. “You don’t win without some type of adversity. That’s just the name of it. We’d love to come out here and be perfect. But perfection is only an illusion. It’s about challenging yourself, learning from your mistakes and getting better.”
Can the Eagles reset on offense? They next visit the Seattle Seahawks on “Monday Night Football,” for a game that statistically will favor them but environmentally could challenge their snap count again amid a notoriously loud stadium. The Seahawks rank 28th in passing yards allowed, 27th in points allowed and 27th in defensive DVOA.
The Eagles’ remaining opponents, the New York Giants (twice) and Arizona Cardinals, rank 25th and 31st respectively in defensive DVOA.
If the Eagles struggle through that stretch, Brown’s hint at bigger problems will look ominous. If they can regroup, they’ll carry rhythm into the offseason albeit at a lower caliber than what they’ll need to thwart in January.
“Adversity can do a couple of things to you,” Sirianni said. “It can break you or it can make you way better. And I know that everybody that’s in that locker room has been through s*** in their lives and has made it to this point. They’ve made it to this point because of the s*** they’ve been through.
“That adversity has made a lot of us in that locker room where we are today, and we’ve got to remember that. We’ve got to internalize that. And we’ve got to make sure that the adversity that we’re facing right now we’re able to get through and make sure we get better from it.”