Forget Dak Prescott vs. Carson Wentz, the Dallas Cowboys’ 29-23 overtime win over Philadelphia in North Texas on Sunday night was all about a matchup with a much lower profile.
Scott Linehan spent five years as Jim Schwartz’s offensive coordinator in Detroit, so there are few people on the planet who understand the Eagles’ defensive coordinator better than the Cowboys’ current play-caller.
And that kind of knowledge could have had either a positive or a negative effect, depending on what Linehan wanted to do with it.
“I learned a lot about football and defenses from him,” Linehan admitted earlier in the week when discussing his relationship with his former boss. “He would say one thing that hurts this coverage or this defense is (so and so) and that really was a huge help. … We spent a lot of time talking to each other about what we liked to do in the red zone both offensively and defensively.”
Hemingway couldn’t have foreshadowed any better.
Fast forward to the second quarter of Sunday’s game and you’ll find the negative aspect of Linehan’s familiarity with Schwartz.
The Cowboys were on the precipice of going back on top in the game with a 1st-and-goal at the Eagles’ 7-yard line with a bell-cow back in Ezekiel Elliott gouging the Philadelphia defense.
And then Linehan got cute, first letting his rookie quarterback throw an ill-fated fade for Dez Bryant and then doubling-down on that by allowing Prescott to throw into the middle of the field where Philadelphia middle linebacker Jordan Hicks was lurking.
Hicks, who has been a Cowboys killer early in his career, stepped in front of Brice Butler and intercepted the football in the end zone.
A potential 17-10 Dallas edge at intermission turned into a 13-10 Eagles lead when Philadelphia subsequently moved down the field for a 55-yard Caleb Sturgis field goal.
By the time the Birds went up-tempo offensively midway through the third quarter to extend its advantage to 20-10 on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Carson Wentz to Jordan Matthews, the Cowboys were out of their comfort zone and were no longer a run-first team.
Exactly what Schwartz wanted.
We always talk about quarterbacks seeing ghosts on the pass rush; well, Linehan saw an apparition in his old mentor, a man he has so much respect for that he assumed change was needed from normal protocol because Schwartz would certainly be ready for the typical Cowboys’ fare.
And Schwartz probably was ready but so what?
Everything in Dallas these days revolves around Elliott, and the star runner was doing his part early, punishing the Eagles with physical running and forcing missed tackles.
The Cowboys got away from what they do best for much of the game against the Eagles and probably should have gone home the loser.
Instead, they have the NFL’s best record at 6-1, a two-game lead in the NFC East with a date with winless Cleveland on the horizon guaranteed to keep the good times rolling. All because Prescott is so calm, cool and collected, he led his team back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit with 16 unanswered points to win it in OT.
It wasn’t always pretty, but when Prescott pirouetted away from the pass rush and found a wide-open Jason Witten in the end zone during the extra frame, he taught Linehan one final lesson that was lost in translation with Schwartz:
“It’s about you, not your opponent.”
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen — Also catch John each week during the NFL season on ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on SB Nation Radio, FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America.