ARLINGTON, Texas — It would be easy to pin Sunday night’s ugly 37-10 Philadelphia Eagles loss at Dallas strictly on Jim Schwartz’s inept defense.
After all, the Eagles gave up scores on five of the Cowboys’ first six possessions, got run over by Ezekiel Elliott, couldn’t cover Amari Cooper, missed a ton of tackles, and failed yet again to muster much of a pass rush as Dak Prescott completed all but six of his 27 passes.
But the offense — particularly the struggling passing game — was every bit as culpable.
It was Carson Wentz & Co. who had the two killer first-quarter fumbles that gift-wrapped the Cowboys’ 14-0 lead just six minutes into the game.
It was Wentz & Co. who turned the ball over four times in all and managed to score just one touchdown.
It was Wentz & Co. who converted just 3 of 9 third-down opportunities and had a season-low 16 first downs.
Tight end Zach Ertz, whose 116 receptions last season were the most ever by an NFL tight end, can’t seem to get open lately. He didn’t have a catch in the first three quarters against the Cowboys and was targeted once.
Right tackle Lane Johnson, one of the few people on earth who has had Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence’s number, misplaced it Sunday as Lawrence won this battle of All-Pros.
Except for a 28-yard touchdown throw to tight end Dallas Goedert in the first quarter, Wentz - the fourth-year quarterback from North Dakota State - had another unremarkable performance, completing just 16 of 26 passes. For the third time in four games, he failed to throw for 200 yards.
“I’ve got to be better,’’ Wentz said after the game. “What was it, three turnovers (that I had)? That can’t happen. I’ve got to be better. I’ve got to protect the ball. And I’ve got to be better leading this team, that’s for sure.’’
He’s absolutely right. He needs to be better. This was going to be the year that Wentz, armed with a new $128 million contract and a Tom Brady-like training regimen and nutrition approach, put it all together and made people forget about Nick Foles for more than a couple of minutes.
But Sunday’s game was kind of like his season. Or at least his season since he lost DeSean Jackson. Some really good plays — such as the throw to Goedert — sprinkled on top of a bowlful of mistakes and near-misses.
He had three of the offense’s four turnovers Sunday, including two lost fumbles. Lawrence got around Johnson on a second-and-4 on the Eagles’ second possession and knocked the ball out of the quarterback’s hands, giving the Cowboys a first down at the Philadelphia 14-yard line. They scored two plays later.
In the second quarter, Wentz failed to spot a nicely timed corner blitz by Jourdan Lewis on a third-and-7 play after the Cowboys had taken a 21-7 lead. Lewis came in untouched and sacked him for an 8-yard loss, and the drive died.
In the third quarter, on one of the Eagles’ two red-zone opportunities, Wentz overthrew Alshon Jeffery in the end zone. It was a tough throw, but it’s one that top quarterbacks make. He didn’t even give Jeffery a chance.
“They have a good pass rush,’’ Wentz said. “We got down early and made it tough on ourselves. There’s things I can do better. I’ve got to have better pocket presence and help those guys out as well. But at the end of the day, we’ve just got to all be better.’’
In the Eagles’ season-opening win over a Washington team that has lost six of its first seven games and given up 30-plus points in four of those defeats, Wentz looked like the MVP candidate everybody had projected him to be this summer. He completed 28 of 39 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns, including two scoring bombs to Jackson.
But in the first quarter of the very next game, the 32-year-old Jackson broke down, suffering a core muscle injury that has kept him on the shelf ever since. Without Jackson, Wentz has an 87.4 passer rating that includes a 59.2 completion percentage and 6.6 yards per attempt.
If losing one near-the-end-of-his-career wideout can have that kind of negative impact on a team’s passing game, well, then that passing game was a house of cards.
“I feel like we have a formula to win football games,’’ Ertz said. “We just have to figure out a way to execute that formula. And find a way to start fast. Play with a lot of energy early in the game, so we’re not getting in a 14-0 hold. That’s not how we’re built to win, in my opinion.’’
Against the Cowboys, they often shot themselves in the foot. Two plays before Wentz overshot Jeffery in the end zone, the Eagles had a third-and-7 at the Dallas 9. Wentz hit Ertz over the middle for a 6-yard gain that would have put the Eagles close enough to a first down for a Wentz quarterback sneak.
But the completion was erased by a costly illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty on Johnson. Instead of a fourth-and-1 at the 3, the Eagles had a third-and-17 at the 19.
“There was no run game, no pass game; we couldn’t get into any rhythm,’’ Johnson said. “No rhythm. No consistency. When you watch Dallas on offense, you could just see a rhythm. I feel like that’s something we were missing.’’
OK then. So maybe the Eagles should fire offensive coordinator Mike Groh and hire a dance teacher.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson had hoped to get Jackson back last week, but that never happened. He didn’t practice at all during the week, and there’s a good chance now that he won’t return until after the Week 10 bye.
The hard reality is the Eagles defense isn’t going to get much better this season. It’s given up 75 points in the last two games. It’s given up 27 or more in five of the Eagles’ seven games. That’s who they are. Deal with it.
There will be games when they’ll keep teams to fewer than 21 points, but not many. If the Eagles are going to avoid sinking into oblivion, the offense needs to be the kind of scoring machine it was late last season when it averaged 27 points in its last six games after that 48-7 debacle in New Orleans.
“Today was embarrassing,’’ Ertz said. “One of the most embarrassing games I’ve ever been a part of in Philly. It was a pitiful performance. Three and four is not where I thought we’d be right now.
“We have some things we have to clean up. We have some things we have to fix. We have to find a way to win a football game. That’s the bottom line.’’
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