For good reason, the Cowboys’ defense, already a middle-of-the road unit with Sean Lee, pulled out its worst-case scenario handbook playing without its best defender against one of the league’s top offenses.
The Cowboys confronted those worst possible outcomes as Philadelphia rained down 30 second-half points Sunday night in a 37-9 loss in the open-air AT&T Stadium.
In the last 30 minutes, the Cowboys’ defense was under siege, giving up 268 yards, including their longest play from scrimmage this season and 180 rushing yards.
They also couldn’t get off the field.
After holding the Eagles to 0 for 6 on third downs in the first half, the Cowboys stopped Philadelphia only twice in the second half, yet yielding a successful fourth-down attempt on one of those stops.
Though held to seven points and 35 yards rushing in the first half, Philadelphia scored on its first three possessions in handing the Cowboys their worst loss since landing in Arlington in 2009.
Eagles running backs Jay Ajayi had 91 yards on the ground, LaGarrette Blount had 57 and Corey Clement had 50 and a touchdown.
“The biggest thing we emphasized coming into this game was stopping the run, making them as one-dimensional as possible,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.
“So much of what they do in the passing game comes off of that. I just don’t think we stopped the run as well. Once they get that going, so much of their offense comes alive.”
It’s no secret that the Cowboys, who entered 15th in the league in total defense, are a different defense without Lee.
After facing the Eagles, the Cowboys are now 0-6 since 2014 in games without Lee, and opponents have scored on 22 of 36 possessions this year without their defensive captain, who missed his third game of the season.
The Cowboys will be without Lee at least one more game and possibly two.
Justin Durant, who started in Lee’s place, had three tackles. Middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who left, had five tackles.
In addition, the Cowboys also started two rookies — Jordan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie — and Anthony Brown, a second-year guy, in the secondary.
On their first possession, the Eagles drove 75 yards with not even the slightest head wind.
Philadelphia gained positive yards on each of its eight plays, ending with Kenjon Barner’s 4-yard run.
Wentz went 5 for 5 on the drive for 49 yards.
Though there were opportunities lost (a would-be interception that Brown dropped), the Cowboys held the Eagles to seven first-half points.
The Cowboys’ front kept pressure on Wentz, who was 14-of-27 for 168 yards and two touchdowns, to Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith.
But in the second half, even when the Cowboys were able to get pressure on him, Wentz delivered.
“He’s a big strong guy,” Garrett said. “We had some guys around him, but he made some big-time runs and big-time throws when he was under duress.”
When the Eagles took the opening kick of the second half, they went to work, putting together an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive, finished off by Corey Clement’s 11-yard scoring run.
Wentz hit Brent Celek for 28 yards on third-and-1 and Jeffery for 18 yards on third-and-9.
On the next drive, Ajayi found a soft spot, going 71 yards to set up Smith’s scoring reception, marking the longest play yielded by the Cowboys all season.
“I think they continued to do what they had done earlier in the game,” Garrett said. “That’s a good football team. You have to be on the screws on all phases of the game. I thought the first 30 minutes we did some good things to give us a chance to be in the ballgame.”