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Cowboys Hash Marks: Rookie mistakes cost Dallas in battle against Philly

The Dallas Cowboys couldn’t weather the mishaps of their young players as they lost 23-9 to the Philadelphia Eagles with first place in the NFC East on the line.
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys' Ben DiNucci plays during an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The Dallas Cowboys were in a prime time bout with the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East, but the three-hour, eight-minute game had all the feel of an insect digesting inside a Venus flytrap. 

Dallas couldn't muster more than three points off four takeaways, which sealed their fate as a 2-6 ballclub at the midway point.

1. Ben DiNucci played as well as a Pro Bowler — The former James Madison Duke 7th-rounder didn't have an offseason program, training camp, preseason games, and has been learning the NFL through meetings and scant scout team reps. Nevertheless, he had more completions than Carson Wentz (21 to 15), more yards (180 to 123), better passer rating (64.6 to 61.2), and fewer turnovers (two fumbles to two interceptions, two fumbles). 

What DiNucci showed at Lincoln Financial Field is that there is something to work with. If the NFL can get back to allowing regular offseason programs with actual on-field work and preseason games, DiNucci should be able to develop into a quality backup. 

However, if the Cowboys are intent about winning the NFC East, they need to shelve DiNucci and go with Andy Dalton.

2. Yes, the Cowboys think they can win the division — On 105.3 "The Fan" Monday, Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones joined "The K&C Masterpiece" and explained that the reason they didn't trade defensive end, Aldon Smith, to the Seattle Seahawks, is because they still believe they are in contention for the NFC East.

"I just think we're in this to still fight," Jones said. "It's the NFC East. It's obviously a division that's struggling right now. The team — obviously the turnover at the end made the score bigger than it was, but they're in first place and we're going to continue to improve as a football team. I'm convinced of that. [We] like our players and will continue to see how we improve and how we move forward."

The approach is overly optimistic. The Cowboys have taken two losses in the division already. If they lose their remaining games against teams with winning records (vs. Pittsburgh, at Baltimore) while beating .500 or worse teams, Dallas will finish 8-8. 

Of course, they would need Washington and Philadelphia, who have the head-to-head tiebreakers for now, to finish with nine losses each. Aside from the rest of the division tanking, can the Cowboys win six games to close out the season? At this point, they would be lucky just to win two, and that is with Dalton coming back.

3. Trevon Diggs balled out — One of the other steals for Dallas in the 2020 NFL Draft was the former Alabama cornerback. Against Philadelphia, Diggs became the first Dallas defensive back to record two or more interceptions in a game since safety Jeff Heath did it on Nov. 15, 2015, at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Diggs also became one of 15 rookies in Cowboys history to record two or more interceptions in a game, the last being Sean Lee on Dec. 5, 2010, when the Cowboys beat Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. 

Diggs has been one of the bright pieces on defense that anchors the secondary going forward. With 10 pass breakups, Diggs has more deflections than Jaylon Smith, Joe Thomas, Aldon Smith, and Chidobe Awuzie combined.

4. Welcome back, Randy Gregory — Technically, Gregory returned last week in the 25-3 loss at Washington, but he only played six snaps with just one of them coming in a passing situation. Against the Eagles, Gregory played 31 snaps, collecting four combined tackles and a quarterback hit. 

One can easily see why the Cowboys decided to move on from Everson Griffen last week, picking up a conditional sixth-round pick from the Detroit Lions. Gregory also didn't seem to have any trouble rushing from a two-point stance. 

Having the former 2015 second-round pick back and harassing quarterbacks may be just what the defensive line needs to start forming cohesion and playing spoiler in December.

Do you think the Cowboys will be able to carry over their defensive improvement to have a chance against the Pittsburgh Steelers? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.