Sports

Second Eagle makes life hard for Cooper Rush in defeating Cowboys


Via Ralph Vacchiano
FOX Sports NFC East Writer

PHILADELPHIA – Facts Philadelphia Eagles had a pretty good second season, but GM Howie Roseman knew it could be better. So he signed a support contract James Bradberry in May, and traded for interest back CJ Gardner-Johnson less than two weeks before opening day.

And just like that, he built the best sub-team in the league.

Gardner-Johnson said: “The latter ending is put together for a reason. “You can’t find a room like that every day.”

No, you don’t know, and they made it clear on Sunday night how special they are, with a dominant performance in the NFC East confrontation against Dallas Cowboys. They chose three Cooper Rush pass, hold the Cowboys’ No. 1 receiving position CeeDee Lamb test most nights, and contest nearly every pass the Cowboys throw at them.

On a night when the Eagles’ pass speed wasn’t good and offense struggled for long periods of time, it secondary to Philadelphia’s 26-17 win over the Cowboys, keeping them unbeaten ( 6-0) as they go head-to-head on their goodbye week, and put some distance between them and Dallas (4-2) in NFC East.

“We have great players in this defence,” said Bradberry.

That’s especially true on the back, which is amazing considering they only have one real star. Slay is the rich guy who made the Eagles pick in the third and fifth rounds to get him from Detroit two years ago. They even awarded him a 3-year, $50 million contract with $30 million guaranteed after the sale.

All the others they bring in are a relative bargain. Defender Avonte Maddox as a 4th round pick in 2018. Safety Marcus Epps was a waiver request a year later. Bradberry only had a one-year, $7.25 million contract because the Giants couldn’t afford him. And Gardner-Johnson only cost Philly two late-round picks.

Yet that group has come together and become a revolving machine. The Eagles have nine interceptions during the season – just three fewer than last year’s 17 games – and they’ve been forced to make 14 turns so far. They only give out 188 yards of passes per game. They also only allow one 100-yard top scorer in a game this season (Washington’s Terry McLaurin had six 102-yard catches in Week 3).

Everyone else gets the #1 they’ve ever faced – Amon-Ra St. Detroit’s Brown (8-64-1), Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson (6-48), Jacksonville’s Christian Kirk (2-60), Arizona’s Marquise Brown (8-78) – essentially closed. Lamb is just the newest. He had five catches in 68 yards, but 24 of those played desperately with less than two minutes to go.

And the whole high school got their hands on all of that, just like they did with the Cowboys. Bradberry conceded four Rush passes, including one in the second half that he deflected right into Gardner-Johnson’s hand. Gardner-Johnson had two interceptions, including one after he returned from a left hand injury late in the game. Slay also had an interception in the first half.

Rush really felt it in the first half when he really tried to throw, especially in the direction of Lamb. He was just 5 out of 16 for 36 yards and two interceptions after that. Lamb has a single catch of 8 yards.

Rush’s halftime break passer rating is 1.

It wasn’t an accident either. The Eagles knew they had to jump on the upstart Cowboys, to get them into the first half pit as deep as possible.

“They’re a team that never plays from the back,” Slay said. “We knew we had to get up and force them to play from behind.”

The subgroup ensures that, by playing their best in big positions. One of Bradberry’s derails came when the Cowboys won it in 4th and 1st place from their own number 34, and for some reason Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy asked to hit a line pass to the field. Bradberry are all tight-ended rookies Peyton Hendershot and hit the ball.

And Bradberry did it again late in the first half, when the Cowboys, down 20-0, had a warm-up kick from a 62-yard return kick from the rookie. KaVontae Turpin. Rush, in 3rd place from Eagles 12, was Michael Gallup open in the corner of the end zone. But Bradberry also knocks that out.

And then there was the interception that sealed the match. The Cowboys have just combined two monster hits and are starting their third, placing 26-17 with less than seven minutes left. That’s when Rush got Brandon Graham as soon as he throws and his pass towards Lamb hangs in the air until the injured Gardner-Johnson picks it up.

Gardner-Johnson has three interceptions during the season – not bad for a safe, who like to play full-back. He’s quite the complement to this group and somehow he fits in.

“Because it’s not about me,” Gardner-Johnson said. “It’s about the team. To play against like-minded people who all have the same goal in mind, it humbles me. I had to swallow my pride when I came here.”

There was really no reason for him to swallow that pride anymore. Monday’s Eagles as well. It’s really special.

And everyone knows that now.

Ralph Vacchiano is an NFC East correspondent for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He’d spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.


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