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3 & Out

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3 & Out: Addressing Issues From The Opener


FRISCO, Texas – Back with three quick topics as the Cowboys look to rebound from last Sunday's 20-17 loss in Los Angeles:

  • The Offense
  • The Defense
  • Aldon Smith

I Know…
'creativity' seems to be a popular criticism of the offense this week, but I'm sticking with my same point the last two years.

The Cowboys still don't have a problem piling up yards, but they still need to finish more drives when they're in scoring position.

Fans want more pre-snap movement. Noted. Fans want more passes on first down. Fine, but the Cowboys averaged 6.7 yards on first down Sunday night, evenly split 16/16 between run/pass, and likely wanted to achieve balance to help rookie Terence Steele in his first career start at right tackle. (Third down was more the problem. They converted only 3 of 12 and got themselves into third-and-long too often, partly due to sacks and drops on second down.)

Obviously there's concern about seeing only 17 points from a group this loaded at the skill positions. I get it. But they were in position to score far more.

Had heavy pressure not forced two Dak Prescott incompletions from the Rams' 15-yard late in the third quarter, maybe the Cowboys don't settle for a Greg Zuerlein field goal there.

Had CeeDee Lamb converted the fourth-and-3 in question from the Rams' 11 early in the fourth quarter, maybe that's a touchdown, too.

And if Prescott's 47-yard completion to Michael Gallup stood in the final minute, that's probably a game-tying field goal attempt/overtime at the very least.

Bottom line, it didn't happen. No excuses. But the opportunities were there. The Cowboys had 380 total yards but reached the end zone on only 2 of 4 trips inside the Rams' 20 (50% conversion rate).

"It has got to be mandatory that when we get in the red zone we score touchdowns," running back Ezekiel Elliott said.

Last year the offense ranked first in total yards (431.5 per game) but ranked 15th in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on 57.4% of trips inside the 20. They were 1-7 when they were 50% or below like Sunday night.

Now 1-8.

I Think…
the Cowboys' pass rush will be fine, but third down has to be more challenging for the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday than it was for the Rams.

Much has been made about lack of pressure on Rams quarterback Jared Goff in Week 1: one sack from Aldon Smith and nine total hurries, including a team-best four from DeMarcus Lawrence.

The Rams never allowed the Cowboys' front to find its rhythm.

LA averaged 6.4 yards on first down, using quick throws to the outside and finding running room between the tackles. They converted 9 of 17 third downs, and the distance was often manageable – an average of 4.5 yards to the sticks. They were in third-and-long only three times thanks in part to only three offensive penalties and Smith's lone sack. (By comparison, the Cowboys' offense had 24 first downs but were in third-and-long nine times.)

With no deep third downs to convert, the Rams were able to avoid longer-developing pass plays. That prevented Lawrence, Smith, Everson Griffen and Co. from teeing off on Goff.

"The first and second down passes, I don't know that they went down the field more than a half dozen times at most where they actually had a vertical concept, and that wasn't until late in the game when they kind of threw some in there that they hadn't done in the first half or even in the first three quarters," Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "And that's where a lot of pass rushers get their action, but it's hard for a pass rusher to get a sack on a bootleg or a sack on a quick empty pass, things like that."

The Cowboys will need to apply pressure to Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan this Sunday. Minimizing the yardage on first and second down will be key.

I Have No Idea…
exactly what the Cowboys expected from Aldon Smith early in the season, but he didn't look like a man playing his first NFL game in almost five calendar years.

Smith played 54 of 73 defensive snaps against the Rams. He lined up everywhere: left edge, right edge, standing up inside. He had the second-most tackles on the team (12), the only sack, the only tackle for loss, and his third-quarter pressure on Goff directly led to a Chidobe Awuzie interception.

Smith is a lean, powerful 285 pounds -- about 20 pounds heavier than his playing weight early in his career with San Francisco. You wouldn't know it by his quickness off the snap.

"Just his ability to dominate at the point of attack sometimes. That's rare. That's not common," Nolan said. "Everybody's a professional athlete in the NFL and everybody's a good player. But some guys are uniquely strong, and I think he is."

We saw it in training camp. We saw it in Week 1. And with more snaps as the weeks progress, Smith's production could only get better.

Don't miss the chance to see the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium when they take on the Atlanta Falcons in the first regular season home game of the 2020 season on Sunday, Sept. 20th. Click HERE to buy your tickets now!

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