Four hours or so after having their NFL appetites whetted by the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers squaring off against the 5-1 Baltimore Ravens in Sunday’s undisputed best matchup shamefully relegated to the noon kick, the national primetime football-ravenous masses were treated (tortured?) with the embarrassing clown show of an NFC East showdown between your nearly lifeless Dallas Cowboys and the hated, but no less faltering, Philadelphia Eagles.
In front of approximately 7,500 members of the league’s undeniably worst fanbase at a Lincoln Financial Field that seemed to be strangely (yet fittingly) prone to floating garbage (like literal pieces of trash, not a reference to the play on the field, though that would obviously have been accurate as well), the Cowboys fell to the Iggles by an uninspiring score of 23-9.
Though the “L” drops them a spot in the NFC East to third and jumps their current draft position all the way up to fifth overall, watching the game honestly wasn’t that bad. Now that the more erudite Cowboys fans among us have accepted the fact that we are in the midst of the most 2020 season imaginable and are bolstered by the relief of no longer having to care, witnessing the sixth loss of the season, even to a loathed rival, was actually bearable, maybe even enjoyable. Despite the fact that the Dallas offense again couldn’t eclipse double digits, there were plenty of interest-worthy plot points throughout the game. Interesting fun fact: The Cowboys have managed fewer points (22) in the combined three games since Dak Prescott’s injury than Dak managed in the fourth quarter against Cleveland alone. Give him all the money.
The most obvious point of intrigue was the first NFL start of rookie quarterback Ben DiNucci. The flyer developmental player from James Madison entered the game riding a buzz built up by teammates’ praises over the week’s practices. A few appropriate quotes from DiNucci himself, coupled with the cringe-worthy overly groomed George Michael beard and dudebro headwear (more like Ben NiDouchey, amirite?!), and it seemed like the Cowboys had potentially found themselves their own Gardner Minshew. Sadly, as he took his turn captaining the Cowboys’ sinking ship, he would definitively lack the Uncle Rico magic of the Jaguars signal-caller. He wasn’t good, but he wasn’t bad either. In fact, he basically mirrored the stat line of four-year, $128M veteran Carson Wentz on the other side. This is more of an indictment on Wentz than an accolade for DiNucci. Dallas’ No. 7 actually threw for more yards. Though Nucci Mane didn’t have Wentz’s two touchdown passes, he also didn’t have the Eagle QB’s two interceptions. OC Kellen Moore tried to help The Nooch out by opening up the playbook and digging for every crazy gadget play he could find. Wildcat formations, double reverses, the Philly Special, an intentional safety resulting in a free kick (that almost worked) — all were on display. It was like Moore halfway through the game was just like, “Screw it, what else we got?” None of it amounted to more than Dallas’ measly three field goals, but at least it was fun to watch.
The defense, newly trimmed of offseason bargain bin acquisition fat (D end Everson Griffen traded, D tackle Dontari Poe and corner Daryl Worley cut) had probably their best effort of the season (if you ignore the continued scream-cussing inspiring play of a certain overpaid middle linebacker). The D managed to avoid a double-digit deficit in the first half for the first time since Week 1. In fact, the Cowboys actually led at the half, another feat not seen since the season opener against the Rams. Perhaps most shocking, the defense snagged four turnovers in the game, more than doubling their season total prior. They were still plowed over anytime Philly chose to run the ball, but there were far fewer busted coverages in the secondary, so I feel those wash. In short, they played with something I haven’t seen in a month and a half: fight.
The offensive line is still an untenable mess. How Terrence Steele is still on this roster, much less starting, I will never comprehend. That is Jason Garrett-level hubris. Jaylon Smith isn’t going anywhere, so we will still have to tolerate his over-pursuits, horrible angles, and excessive celebrations after making routine tackles when his team is losing. As long as the silver and blue continue to show they have some guts remaining, these things can be overlooked.
Still, though they will have no significance beyond evaluation, I think there is still enough to make the remaining games worth watching. The new coaching staff has half a season to justify their hires. Is this a team that simply needs a few defensive players, and we’re good to go next year? Or are we heading toward blowing it all up and starting over? Andy Dalton will be coming back. That should help solidify just how irreplaceable Dak Prescott is. The rest should be fun to watch. Especially when we get to start dreaming of who that top five pick is gonna be.