Debrief: Suspect decisions mark Cowboys, Eagles in Week 5

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Gregg Rosenthal catches you up on everything you need to know as we turn from Week 5 to Week 6.

There are moments in each season when a head coach declares what type of team he's leading. Jason Garrett faced one of those moments on Sunday night in Houston and punted.

This complaint isn't just about analytics. Garrett's decision to give the ball back to Houston in overtime clearly hurt the Cowboys' chances to win statistically, but it also showed a lack of faith in Garrett's self-professed principles. It's impossible to make it through a Cowboys press conference without a reference to establishing the run and playing "physical" football. Ezekiel Elliott was the league's leading rusher entering Week 5 and Dak Prescott remains one of the best running quarterbacks alive. Even without center Travis Frederick, the Cowboys boast two All-Pro linemen and one of the highest-graded run-blocking units, per Pro Football Focus. On a day when Rams coach Sean McVay showed faith in his offense to pick up a yard on L.A.'s side of the field to seal a win late in the fourth quarter, Garrett's decision stood out even more.

Garrett said after the game that the fourth-and-1 play at Houston's 42-yard line was a "long one" yard, even though Prescott picked up two yards in a similar situation late in the first half. The decision to punt raises some philosophical questions that Garrett and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones have to answer (although Jones made it clear he didn't agree with the decision to punt): If the Cowboys aren't the type of team that believes they can gain one (long) yard with a game on the line, what type of team are they? If Garrett isn't confident in his own bromides when it matters, why should his players be?

Before moving on to the rest of the Week 5 action on a Sunday that included a few teams separating from the fat midsection of the NFL, let's examine some of the day's other curious decisions.

Curious calls

1) Eagles coach Doug Pederson made one of the worst challenges I've ever seen early in the fourth quarter against the Vikings. Pederson wasted a timeout by challenging a first-down pickup by Vikings wideout Stefon Diggs after Diggs got two feet in bounds with about two yards to spare and a "third foot" down for good measure. That challenge came only minutes after Pederson burned a timeout before a key fourth-down conversion because the Eagles' offense didn't get to the line of scrimmage fast enough.

There were a lot of sloppy unforced errors by the Eagles throughout their loss to Minnesota. Wendell Smallwood dropped a pass near the goal line, Jay Ajayi lost a fumble inside the 10-yard line and the Eagles' offense committed five pre-snap penalties. The coaching staff's misuse of that challenge and their valuable timeouts were the most surprising mistakes because they were so out of character.

2) Panthers coach Ron Rivera was bailed out by the brilliance of kicker Graham Gano's record-tying 63-yard game-winning field goal. Rivera did not seem particularly excited after the Panthers' 33-31 win over the Giants on Sunday, perhaps because of how the Carolina defense fell apart in the fourth quarter. Carolina's play-calling to set up Gano's moment was also bizarre. Facing a third-and-1 from the Giants' 46-yard-line with no timeouts left, the Panthers called an inside zone run to Christian McCaffery, a confounding play call considering the situation. One yard and 18 seconds later, the Panthers spiked the ball. Cam Newton put it well after a game in which he survived two rough interceptions of his own.

"Gano makes a lot of wrongs right," Newton said.

The win pushed the Panthers to 3-1, making them one of six teams that will enter Week 6 with one loss or fewer. The results from this week created even more separation for teams at the top of the NFL mountain.

Separation Sunday

Twelve of the 16 teams in the AFC have two or three losses. The Texans have quickly gone from 0-3 to one game out of first place in the AFC South. All the clustering in the middle makes Kansas City's 5-0 mark that much more meaningful, especially now that the Chiefs have wins over potential playoff squads like the Jaguars, Chargers and Steelers. It's very early, but a win in Foxborough next weekend would already put the Chiefs on the path to a playoff bye and potential home-field advantage.

The NFC isn't quite as muddled, although eight teams enter Week 6 with two or three losses. The Rams all but wrapped up the NFC West with their daring win in Seattle, now three games up on the Seahawks with a head-to-head win in hand.

FiveThirtyEight.com projects the Chiefs to win nearly three games more than the next closest AFC team (Cincinnati), while the Rams are projected to win two more games than the next closest NFC team (Saints). Of course that forecast can and will change, but it's already deep enough in the season for anything less than a playoff bye to be a big disappointment for either team. That's especially true for the Chiefs if they can win next week in New England. The Chiefs' ability to win a big game against the Jaguars on Sunday with a lot of help from their defense is a strong indicator this team won't fade away.

Sneaky good

1) It was nice of the Redskins' defense to play the role of the Washington Generals for Drew Brees' record-breaking coronation on "Monday Night Football." Brees has looked sharper than ever this season. He could make a sentimental run at his first MVP award with the Saints' offense getting Mark Ingram back from suspension in Week 5 and rookie receiver Tre'Quan Smith mixing in as a deep threat. They both scored two touchdowns on Monday night.

But the underrated heroes on Sean Payton's offense reside up front. This is the best Saints offensive line since the team's Super Bowl season, with Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk comprising the best tackle pair in football. The combination of spotless protection, Brees' accuracy and Payton's cold-blooded play-calling should lead to more fun nights this season in New Orleans.

2) Chiefs pass rusher Dee Ford is having a career year, with one sack, four QB hits and one more hurry on Sunday against Jacksonville added to his tally this season, according to PFF. Ford -- like quietly productive defensive tackle Chris Jones -- was ejected from the game against the Jaguars because of penalties. But that duo and Justin Houston, who suffered a hamstring injury against Jacksonville and might miss a few weeks, could create havoc if they all play well at the same time. The return of safety Eric Berry (heel) would also give the Chiefs a big boost, although it's not known when he'll be back.

3) The Chargers' backfield of Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler is on pace for 3,216 yards from scrimmage this season, which would top the record for a backfield duo set by Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram last year (3,094). Gordon is running like a man possessed, rarely going down on first contact. Ekeler may be the best pure backup in the league. The Chargers' backfield yardage is split almost evenly between rushing and receiving yardage, an excellent change of pace to all those years Philip Rivers received too little help from his running backs.

4) The Jets' running back tandem of Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell isn't fancy, but the duo won't be the reason the team loses in any given week. On Sunday against the Broncos, they were a huge reason for the Jets' win, racking up 318 rushing yards combined. It helps the Jets' offense immensely that both backs can handle every assignment, so it doesn't make a difference which player is in the game in any given situation.

5) The Vikings were forced to carry only two defensive ends on Sunday with Everson Griffen and Tashawn Bower out. Stephen Weatherly made his chance to start count, playing almost every snap and beating Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson to the inside to force a Carson Wentz fumble. That strip-sack led to one of the great big-man touchdowns of all time, a 64-yard scamper by nose tackle Linval Joseph, who scooped up the loose ball.

6) The Bills and Titans combined for 200 passing yards in a game in the year 2018. Buffalo found a way to pull off the upset because defensive end Jerry Hughes and linebackers Matt Milano and Lorenzo Alexander keep making plays. The Bills now have as many wins as touchdown passes this season.

Sneaky bad

1) The Falcons' defense deserves most of the blame for the team's depressing 1-4 start, but the offense hasn't traveled in two trips outdoors, averaging 14.5 points in two losses (at Eagles, at Steelers). The return of Devonta Freeman didn't wake up a dormant running game, with the team's three running backs combining to average less than three yards per carry on 18 attempts in Pittsburgh.

2) Watching the Dolphins try to score quickly at the end of their loss to the Bengals was painful. Ryan Tannehill has a habit of throwing short of the sticks on third down, but it was telling to see him throw short on five straight passes after the team fell behind by 10 points with under three minutes left. There was bad luck in turning the ball over three times in the fourth quarter, but you can't put all the blame on bad luck when the Dolphins' offense only sustains one drive all game with more than two first downs.

3) Amari Cooper's receiving yardage totals this season: 9, 116, 17, 128, 10. Cooper was targeted once all game against the Chargers, six fewer times than Seth Roberts.

4) Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was crestfallen after Sunday's loss to the Rams, aware of the opportunity his team just missed. He bemoaned a key holding call on guard D.J. Fluker, who otherwise had a standout game. It had to gall Carroll that the beleaguered Seahawks offense put up 31 points backed by 190 yards rushing, but Carroll's patchwork defense couldn't hold up its end of the bargain. For key parts of the second half, the Seattle pass rush consisted of Jake Martin, Jarran Reed, Poona Ford and Quinton Jefferson, who have seven career sacks between them.

5) The Raiders' defense is giving up 6.8 yards per play. It's no secret Oakland is struggling, but that number is the fourth-worst by any defense after five weeks since the 1970 merger, according to Pro Football Reference.

6) The Eagles' offensive line was expected to be a strength coming into the season, but it has played a key role in the team's disappointing 2-3 start. Two quotes stood out after the game:

"Right now we're struggling on the offensive line because we have to block longer. We have a quarterback that's coming off of an injury and he wants to make a play," left tackle Jason Peters said. "We just have to block longer in order for him to make a play."

Guard Stefen Wisniewski had this to say about why he was benched for Sunday's game:

"I'm going to be honest," he said, via Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I've been playing pretty well. I really don't think that was it. I have some theories, but I'm not going to share those publicly. ... It's frustrating. If I wasn't a Christian, I'd probably be losing my mind."

Defending a Super Bowl title is tough for any team. It's going to be especially tough in Philadelphia with reporters and fans looking for cracks in the armor. The Eagles and Giants get a chance to wipe away the bitter taste of Week 5 this Thursday night, with the losing team landing in truly desperate straits.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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