Eagles run defense exposed by a familiar foe in loss to Cowboys

Ezekiel elliott
TAMPA, FL – SEPTEMBER 09: Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott (21) runs the ball during the regular season game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 09, 2021 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Eagles suffered a blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football in Week 3. The 41-21 embarrassment came in large part because of their inability to stop Ezekiel Elliott.

From the obnoxious crop top he wore the night he was drafted to his cocky (and bizarre) cereal celebration, Elliott is the type of Cowboys star that Eagles fans love to hate. However, the former fourth-overall pick has been a thorn in the Eagles side throughout his six-year career.

Eagles Struggle Containing Elliott

Elliott ran 17 times for 95 yards and 2 touchdowns on Monday. He added three catches for 21 yards out of the backfield. Since the beginning of his NFL career in 2016, the Eagles are 2-6 in against Dallas in games with Elliott in the lineup. In the six losses, he has finished with an average of 159 all-purpose yards and over 100 yards each time. 

The Eagles held Elliott under 100 yards in both victories over the Cowboys. The first came in Week 16 in 2019, when they held Dallas to just 9 points in one of their most impressive defensive efforts over the past three seasons. They will need to focus in on the Dallas rushing attack when the two rivals meet again in Week 18.

Entering the game on Monday, Elliott’s role within the Cowboys offense was coming into question. His rushing statistics have dropped steadily since his outstanding 2016 season in which he gained over 1600 yards on the ground. In 2020, he averaged just 65.3 rushing yards per game, by far the lowest of his career. Tony Pollard, who added 60 rushing yards on 11 carries against the Eagles, had shown more of a burst out of the backfield than Elliott in the first two games of 2021. 

The Eagles front seven became the remedy for Elliott’s slow start. The Cowboys established the run early, and the Eagles defense never came up with an answer. The interior of the Dallas offensive line had their way with a team who allocates more resources into the defensive line than any other NFL team. 

Eagles Run Defense

The Eagles are no longer the team that led the NFL in rushing defense in 2017 during the peak of stars like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. They currently sit 26th in the NFL after allowing 160 yards on the ground on Monday. Even through two overall strong defensive efforts against the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers in Weeks 1 and 2, they still allowed over 100 yards on the ground in both games against teams that don’t feature star running backs.

Their defensive front, thought to be among the best in the NFL entering the season, suddenly doesn’t appear as deep as many people envisioned. Graham is lost for the season. Veteran free agent acquisition, Ryan Kerrigan, hasn’t made any noticeable contributions, and Derek Barnett has shown an alarming lack of discipline. The Eagles will have to count on an aging Cox and Javon Hargrave to disrupt opponents in the interior moving forward. 

First-year defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon will need to go back to the drawing board to address the glaring weaknesses the defense showed in Dallas if the Eagles hope to survive the looming hurricane of their schedule over the course of the next four weeks and remain in contention in the NFC East. The task seems even more difficult considering how they allowed a one-game resurgence for their nemesis Elliott just as the rest of the NFL was beginning to question his long-term durability in the Cowboys backfield.

Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire