Coaches’ critique: Eagles had to stop the third-and-30 play

Posted on December 29, 2022

It might have been the worst single defensive play in Eagles history — a play that should have been almost impossible to convert.

Yet, the Eagles astonishingly allowed the Cowboys to pull off a crucial third-and-30 in the fourth quarter of a 40-34 Dallas victory Saturday.

The Eagles stormed quarterback Dak Prescott, sacking him on back-to-back plays to set up the third down. The secondary then got scorched when Prescott connected on a 52-yard pass to T.Y. Hilton — keeping the ball away from the Eagles, who led by a touchdown. Four plays later, Dallas tied the score on a pass from Prescott to CeeDee Lamb.

In this week’s coaches’ critique — where we look at the performance of Eagles’ coaches, good and bad — we are stunned at what happened and question defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and defensive passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson.

No one knows how the game would have finished if the Eagles simply prevented the third-and-30. But after a Dallas punt, Philly would have gotten the ball back, at worst, around its own 30-yard line.

Ahead by seven points with eight minutes to play, the Eagles only needed a short drive that could have resulted in a killer field goal, a two-possession game and a dwindling clock.


Gannon took the blame at his weekly news conference.

  • “It’s me. I have to do a better job of coaching what I want out of that call,” Gannon said.
  • “I’m not going to get into specifics of the call, but I liked the call. But looking back at it, we have to do a better job putting our guys in position to make that play and get off the field because you can’t give up a third-and-30.
  • “That was a play in that game that I felt like was a little bit of a tipping point when we let them convert and then they scored that drive, that hurts the ballclub.
  • “Got to do a better job myself.”

Gannon was asked if players were hanging their heads after the crucial third-and-30. After Dallas tied the score, the Eagles had two turnovers that led to two field goals, the margin of victory.

  • “We’re a resilient group, and we stay connected, and we’ve done that through the whole year,” said Gannon, who is expected to be an in-demand head-coaching candidate in the offseason.
  • “That’s kind of a tribute to the football character of the people that are out there playing. With me, I’m literally off of it in a second because I’m thinking about, ‘OK, now first down.’
  • “I think if you don’t have good leadership and they’re not psychologically prepped to get hit in the face every so often and how you respond to that, then it’s going to be tough to get over.
  • “Even when we came off there, I was very proud of our group. We were ready to go back out there and put the ball out and let’s play.”


Another defensive issue was stopping the Cowboys and Prescott in general. Dallas hung a 40-spot on an Eagles’ defense that came into the game allowing an average of only 19 points per game.

Prescott was nearly flawless, completing 27-of-35 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran six times for 41 important yards. His only blemish was getting burned by an early pick-six by Eagles defensive end Josh Sweat.

A published report said Prescott was 24-of-24 against the Eagles’ zone defense. Head coach Nick Sirianni was asked if the problem was personnel changes, communication, or a lack of adjustment to what Dallas was doing.

  • “I think there is a little bit of everything there, right?” Sirianni said. “It’s us not putting them in the call that we need to put them in to help them succeed.
  • “We’ll always look at ourselves first. I know there are calls that coach Gannon would want back.
  • “Then we are going to look at ourselves again as coaches and say, OK, all right, well, did they play the call the way we wanted them to?
  • “If they didn’t play the call the way we wanted them to, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror as coaches on that as well and say, well, we need to teach that fundamental and detail a little bit better, because obviously there was a disconnect.
  • “Then it’s to the players of being able to go out there and execute. So, it was a little bit of everything.”

The Eagles came into the Dallas game as the top-ranked pass defense and they remained there this week. They are looking for a stronger performance against the Saints on Sunday, one that justifies their lofty statistical standing.

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Chuck Bausman

Chuck Bausman is an Eagles writer for Chuck formerly was the Executive Sports Editor of the Philadelphia Daily News and the Executive Sports Editor of the Courier-Post in South Jersey. He learned how to cuss by watching Philly sports.

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