Eagles’ reality check against Cowboys reveals a team in crisis

PHILADELPHIA – Look in the mirror.

That was the gist of Doug Pederson’s message to the Eagles following yet another grand embarrassment on Sunday night, when they provided another gut-wrenching example of just how much things have changed since their remarkable Super Bowl run of last season.

What an ugly reflection.

The Eagles, not to be confused with last year’s version, can’t rely on their defense to close out games. They can’t seem to start games off right. The running game is sporadic. The trick plays don’t click like they used to. The sizzle has fizzled.

Shoot, desperate to reignite their hopes to repeat as champions, they couldn’t even beat Dallas.

Talk about a reality check.

“Are we doing enough? Are we giving enough? Each week, it’s s a strain,” Pederson said after the 27-20 loss left the defending champs at 4-5.

Pederson’s latest explanation was pretty much old news to those who have followed this team closely. Look in the mirror? Pederson has used that line before this season, and the campaign is only just past the halfway point.

What the mirror reveals now is just what it showed repeatedly during a run in which the Eagles not only haven’t won back-to-back games but also have become so feeble on their own turf.

Sure, the fans booed at Lincoln Financial Field again on Sunday night as they witnessed another showing of the disturbing pattern for a team that has lost three in a row at home: Stumble early. Rally. Fall short.

After clawing back from a 13-3 halftime deficit, the Eagles tied the game at 13, then again at 20. Yet each time they fought back, the Cowboys, powered by the 151 rushing yards from Ezekiel Elliott, responded to put the Eagles back in their hole.

“It hurts,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “There’s no other way to put it. We had every opportunity to really put a stamp on a big game.”

Different team, different times. The Eagles just don’t have that mojo.

Sure, the Eagles still have a shot. Of their seven remaining games, they will play NFC East-leading Washington (6-3) twice. Mathematically, they are still alive. Anecdotally, they look like toast.

“We have to believe, despite the evidence,” Ertz said.

Ertz caught 14 passes for 145 yards and two TDs but came up a yard short on a fourth-down catch in crunch time. He also found himself 9 yards shy of the goal line on the last play before time expired.

Dig deeper into the evidence, though, and it's clear an offense that took the NFL by storm last season has fallen back to the pack. Carson Wentz is still an emerging star, evidenced by a few more laser throws on Sunday night, but the problems go far beyond his ugly pick on the Eagles’ first drive that set up a Cowboys field goal.

After ranking third in the NFL last season with 28.6 points per game, the Eagles entered Sunday night ranked 21st (22.25 points per game) in scoring. When they get inside the 20, they are merely average. They came into Week 10 ranked 18th for their red zone TD rate (54.8%). Last year, they led the league with 65.5% clip.

These numbers can be at least partially traced to the running back issues. Last year, Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood were sweet change-up backs to supplement Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount. Now they team with rookie Josh Adams for a committee, as Ajayi was lost for the season with a torn ACL and Blount left as a free agent.

It’s not working. The Eagles rushing attack, ranked third last season, dropped to 18th through nine weeks. And there hasn't been a single 100-yard game. On Sunday night, Philadelphia had exactly 100 fewer rushing yards than Dallas. When the team called for an early-game gamble on a fourth-and-1, Adams was stuffed. When it needed 2 yards late in the fourth quarter, Wentz threw a screen to Clement that lost 5 yards.

"Philly Philly"? That was so last season. It’s more like Dizzy Philly.

Sure, with typical roster turnover, week-to-week NFL injury attrition and other variables, it’s unrealistic to expect a straightforward follow-up of last year's magical season. But that’s the standard that was set. And if the Eagles are to defend that crown – or at this point, even rally to make the playoffs – some comparisons are indeed relevant.

Remember that clutch defense? Although the front four still shows signs of dominance, it also was gashed by Elliott. The goal-line stand that preserved the win in the NFC divisional playoff against Atlanta has given way to second-half collapses.

A little more than a month ago, the Eagles' defense was carved up by Kirk Cousins and the Vikings. In Week 7, the defense couldn’t hold up (and the running game couldn’t chew up the clock) as Carolina rallied from a 21-point deficit. On Sunday night, the Eagles let Elliott and the Cowboys produce two 75-yard touchdown drives in the fourth quarter.

Now that defense, further depleted by injuries in the secondary– cornerback Ronald Darby tore his ACL on Sunday night – must try to get it together next weekend in the Superdome against the Saints, who boast arguably the NFL's hottest offense.

The mirror contains quite a message about now: Good luck with it, Eagles.

Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.

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