Philadelphia Dismantles Rob Ryan's Defense

NBC managed to escape the futility of the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday Night Football last week, but the result was hardly different. It was a solid matchup between the Cowboys and Eagles on hand -- the 4th ranked team at the 11th ranked team at the time. But instead of a compelling matchup between heated division rivals, primetime football fans were dealt utter decimation once again. The Eagles jumped out to 14-0 lead in the first quarter and wouldn't look back, leading 24-0 by halftime and finishing with a 34-7 rout.

The Eagles established their superiority early and sustained it throughout, not only in terms of total score, but also by more advanced measures like success rate, yards per play, and expected points added. Observe:

The Cowboys offense managed nothing of note outside of a few decent DeMarco Murray rushes (oddly enough, he was only handed the ball eight times despite 74 yards, although his success rate was a putrid 25%) until a 70-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Laurent Robinson. The Eagles defense held the Cowboys to a negative expected points added for much of the game. Particularly, the Eagles neutralized Romo's favorite target, Jason Witten. The big tight end was targeted 13 times but only managed to reel in four of them for 28 yards, both his lowest marks of the season.

But most remarkable was the ease with which the Eagles handled the Cowboys defense. Given the enthusiasm of Rob Ryan, the Dallas defensive coordinator, whenever the Cowboys struggle defensively, it easily turns into a talking point. With Dallas yielding a season-high 34 points (a total they also gave up to Detroit) against Philadelphia, Ryan's brashness was once again a talking point after the game, as the man himself acknowledged:
"The whole [expletive] thing was on me," Ryan said. "If I gave them any extra motivation, hell, I certainly never backed it up. I gave our guys a lousy plan. We had no chance, and it's all on me."'
Perhaps Ryan's right, or perhaps he's simply using his media clout to shift blame onto himself. After all, with Sean Lee missing much of the game with an injured wrist, the Cowboys were left with little in terms of impact talent outside of DeMarcus Ware. Ware, naturally, was the only Cowboy with a +EPA of note, amassing 10 solo tackles and a forced fumble.

 Regardless of the reason, the Philadelphia decimation of Ryan's defense was something yet unseen this year. Although the Cowboys have faced a fair number of weak offensive opponents -- the Rams, Redskins and Jets all rank in the bottom 10 offenses -- they have also faced some stronger ones in Detroit, San Francisco, and particularly New England. And, as the following visual shows, no effort against Dallas this year remotely compares to what Philadelphia did Sunday night:

The Dallas defense still ranks 11th in our rankings this week, and one poor performance against a very good offensive team shouldn't discount what they have done the rest of the year. However, Sean Lee suffered a dislocated wrist in the loss and could miss time as a result, creating a hole which may lead to more exploitation of Rob Ryan's defense.

At 3-4, the Cowboys are only two games behind New York for the NFC East lead and are far from out of the race. Still, the defense will need to return to the form of the first six games for any hope of a comeback to exist.

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