When I got home from the Linc last night, I had to go back and take a look at what went wrong for the Eagles in short yardage as they fell to the Cowboys, 20-16.
Paul Domowitch of the Daily News did a great job comparing this year's short-yardage production to last year's.
Here's a play-by-play look at how they attacked short yardage situations last night. Note that we're defining short yardage as any play of 2 yards or less:
On the Eagles' second possession of the game, they faced a 3rd-and-1 from their own 25. The Birds were trailing, 7-0, after the Cowboys scored on their previous possession. Leonard Weaver had just picked up 6 yards on second down after a 3-yard carry by LeSean McCoy on first down. The Eagles went with two wide receivers and two tight ends, with McCoy in the backfield. They ran play-action (which surprisingly actually fooled a couple Cowboys defenders), and Donovan McNabb looked for Alex Smith. The throw was high, although probably catchable, but Smith couldn't make the reception. Even had he made the catch, there's no telling if Smith would have had the first time. Cowboys linebacker Bradie James was in the vicinity.
The Birds were down, 7-3, in the second quarter and had a 3rd-and-2 from their own 24. Weaver had picked up 8 yards on back-to-back carries on first and second down. The Eagles decided to spread the field with four wide receivers and McCoy in the backfield. The Cowboys came with a blitz, but McNabb got rid of the ball to Jason Avant. The pass was incomplete, but the refs correctly called pass interference, which gave the Eagles a first down.
The Eagles had a 3rd-and-2 in the third quarter, clinging to a 13-10 lead. They had just inserted Michael Vick on second down. He handed it off to McCoy for 3 yards. But as we've seen throughout the McNabb/Andy Reid era, the Birds found themselves rushing to the line of scrimmage with the play clock winding down. This has been commonplace on plays where Vick is entering or leaving the game this season. The Birds were forced to waste a timeout. They then went with an empty backfield, showing Dallas there was zero chance that a running play was coming. McCoy was split out wide, and McNabb hit him, but the rookie's momentum brought him back towards the line of scrimmage. After re-watching the play, the refs made the right call. McCoy was not touched by James until he was on the ground, short of the first-down marker. I had to crack up when I heard Al Michaels suggest "you would need a laser" to overturn the call.
After failing to get the play overturned, the Eagles were faced with 4th-and-1 from their own 42-yard-line. McCoy was in the backfield with three wide receivers and a tight end. What I'm unsure of is whether the Eagles planned to just try and draw the Cowboys offsides, or if they were really planning on going for it. If they were just trying to get an offsides, the play was a complete disaster. First of all, they were down to their last timeout, so that would be a ridiculous risk there. Second of all, if that was the plan, Jamaal Jackson should have been waiting for the Cowboys to jump, which they did, and then snapped the ball. Instead, Jason Peters jumped, the Eagles were whistled for a false start, and they were forced to punt.
And the sequence that everyone is talking about today. With the game tied at 13 and 11:10 left, the Eagles had the ball at the Cowboys' 44. On first down, McNabb hit DeSean Jackson for 9 yards. Jackson actually caught the ball for a first down but stepped back to try and make a big play and was short of the marker. On 2nd-and-1, they went with two tight ends. Somehow Brent Celek was matched up with DeMarcus Ware on the right side, where the Eagles were running to. Winston Justice got pushed back by Marcus Spears also. It was actually Anthony Spencer, who got past Smith and made the tackle on McCoy. All that being said, McCoy had a hole where he could have picked up the first down. Poor job all around.
On the next play, the Birds faced a 3rd-and-1 and lined up in the I with both Smith and Celek in the game. Just one wide receiver. They ran to the left side, but Spencer was too much for Smith, and James made a nice play to stuff McCoy.
And of course, fourth down. The Eagles lined up with one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers. McNabb ran the sneak behind Jackson and Nick Cole. As he explained after the game, McNabb slid on the back of a Cowboys defender, and he should have had the first down, based on where his elbow hit the ground. It was a bad spot.
We will end on a bright note. With 6:50 left in the fourth quarter, and the Eagles trailing, 20-13, they had a 3rd-and-1 from midfield. They lined up in the I and went to Weaver, who picked up 3 yards and kept the Eagles' drive alive.
So overall, eight plays. Two conversions (one via a penalty). Four runs. Three passes. One offensive penalty.