Eagles coach Nick Sirianni’s game plan backfires against Dallas Cowboys

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ARLINGTON, Texas – Nick Sirianni was preparing for a shootout.

The Eagles coach said the game plan ahead of Monday night’s 41-21 loss to the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium was to rely heavily on shots and underlying passes in an effort to keep pace with the explosive attack on Dallas.

“We wanted to make sure we were able to keep up with them,” Sirianni said after the prime-time loss. “We knew it was an explosive offense. We wanted to be able to push the ball across the field and touch some of the lower areas that we saw while obviously mixing up running play and screen play. You’re a little behind, you have to get away from that game plan a bit. We knew we had to score with this team because we knew they were able to score and score quickly.

This plan backfired. Garbage time stats skew the totals at the end a bit, but the Eagles offense looked sluggish, especially when it was falling behind in the first half. The squad turned the ball twice, went 4-12 on the third down, and made just 18 games in the first half while falling behind, 20-7.

Sirianni’s intentions were apparent at the start of the match. The Eagles ‘opening practice ended with Jalen Hurts’ first interception of the year, on a Jalen Reagor shot that sped along the touchline and into the end zone. Hurts’ pass was undershoot – a trend at the start of the season – and Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown picked it up at the 1-yard line.

READ MORE: Eagles-Cowboys Instant Analysis: Jalen Hurts had one of his worst performances in the 41-21 loss to Dallas

The defense responded with a forced fumble recovered for a touchdown, but the Eagles offense followed that with four straight practices ending with punters to end the half.

The Eagles spent the remainder of the game trying to make up the deficit, which led to them calling only one conventional running game. Miles Sanders had two carries for 27 yards in the first half, but was not called up again in the running game. Kenneth Gainwell’s 2-yard run in the fourth quarter was the only second-half rushing attempt outside of the hurts.

Sirianni said the noticeable lack of called-up points was due to the lack of offensive play in the first half.

“The first half, just the way it was, not a lot of games, these [rushing] the numbers are sometimes skewed, ”Sirianni said. “I know they are what they are, but when you don’t have that many games in the first half, whether you have penalties that stop practice, the defense was a bit on the pitch and then you are in the second half position where we lose two scores all the time and that’s where that stuff comes in. I know we were trying to get him to pass the ball on some screens and stuff like that. but he’s obviously a good playmaker and we wanted him to touch the ball more and the way the game went we weren’t able to do that.

The group gained ground at times in the second half, but replaced racing games with underlying screens, RPOs, and routes. It’s worth noting that the Cowboys stifled multiple screens and Dallas rookie linebacker Micah Parsons picked up a few points from the Hurts on zone-read plays by preventing Hurts from reaching the rim.

The Eagles defense enjoyed a strong first quarter, scoring a touchdown when Javon Hargrave forced a fumble that Fletcher Cox recovered in the end zone, then stopped the Cowboys at the goal line the next drive. As the first half progressed, the group seemed to be negatively affected by the number of snaps they had to play. Dallas played 45 games in the first half compared to 18 for the Eagles.

Sirianni said it was fair to guess if his decision to abandon the race in the first half had a negative effect on the defense.

“When your game plan doesn’t work and you lose 20 points, obviously you’re going to say, ‘Yeah, let’s do the opposite,'” Sirianni said. “It’s for the post-game and for you to see after the game, but when it doesn’t work and you lose like that, you think you’re going the other way. That’s just the nature of this business.

The Eagles also committed 13 penalties Monday night, which puts them atop the league in total offenses this season with a franchise record of 35. For the second time this season, the defense has been penalized for have 12 players on the field. Derek Barnett also committed a costly penalty for the second straight week, this time jumping offside to give the Cowboys a third and 3 instead of a third and 8.

Sirianni said the team’s early track record of indiscipline, especially with pre-snap penalties like encroachment, false starts is theirs.

“We have to fix this problem,” Sirianni said. “The ones you don’t like and the ones you have the most problems with are the pre-snap penalties. We have to deal with it, it’s just that we are disciplined and we have to get back to work and improve in this area. This is obviously unacceptable and we are all in the same boat. It starts with me and it is unacceptable on my part. We have too many penalties.


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