(Editor's Note: The DallasCowboys.com team welcomes Bucky Brooks to the staff. Bucky brings a wealth of experience, not only as a former NFL player of five seasons, but also as a scout and on the pro personnel side for two teams. In the last decade, Brooks has worked in the media, including the NFL Network. Bucky will provide his own analysis and opinions of the Cowboys but also the entire NFL.)
After digging into the All-22 coaches' footage from the Cowboys' 40-39 win over the Falcons, here are my thoughts on their performance and what it means moving forward.
Dak is the real deal.
It didn't take Prescott becoming the first player in NFL history to throw for 400 yards and rush for three touchdowns in a game to convince me that he was special. But the spectacular performance should've assured Mike McCarthy that his QB1 has the tools to put the team on his back when needed.
Despite playing behind a patchwork offensive line with a pair of former UDFA at offensive tackle (Brandon Knight and Terence Steele), Prescott didn't flinch in completing 34 of 47 passes for 450 yards and a score. He connected with nine different receivers while evenly distributing the ball to two top playmakers (Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb each finished with nine targets) and an emerging safety valve (Dalton Schultz registered 10 targets) over the middle of the field.
The balanced approach showcased Prescott's command of the offense and his willingness to deal the cards like a Las Vegas casino dealer to the open receiver. This makes the Cowboys' offense difficult to defend, particularly when opponents must track Ezekiel Elliott as a runner and receiver.
With Prescott forcing defenses to defend every option on the field in the passing game while also posing a threat as an effective runner, the Cowboys' QB1 is emerging as one of the indefensible weapons at the position.
Tempo. tempo. tempo.
After watching the Cowboys rally from a significant deficit (26-7) utilizing some hurry up, no-huddle tactics, Mike McCarthy and Kellen Moore should consider playing faster with Prescott at the helm. The fifth-year pro not only displays complete control of the offense when the unit is in "go, go, go" mode but the frenetic pace appears to help him find his rhythm as a passer. Part of that is due to the quick-rhythm concepts that are featured on the no-huddle menu. Quick passes, screens, and intermediate routes with an available check-down are the main entrees on the menu, which enables Prescott to quickly string together a series of completions.
As a result, the Cowboys gobble yards and first downs while keeping a weary defense on the field on extended drives. Pass rushers are no longer energetic or effective off the edges, and the coverage begins to collapse with Prescott enjoying more time to attack from the pocket. With defensive coordinators also reluctant to blitz due to potential communication issues, the Cowboys see fewer exotic looks or pressures when playing at a faster pace.
Considering how the quarterback, running back and offensive line benefit from facing a worn-down defense forced to play basic fronts and coverage, the Cowboys should keep their foot on the gas from beginning to end going forward.
Ball security must be emphasized.
Whenever a team has four fumbles (three lost) in a game, the coaches respond by increasing the attention to detail in practice. The Cowboys must rectify the fumbling problems on the practice field this week to avoid future disasters against opponents intent on hunting the football. Whether they incorporate more gauntlet drills or pester runners and receivers to keep two hands on the ball in traffic, the emphasis has to be on ball security going forward. The Cowboys beat long odds to overcome a minus-three deficit in the turnover battle (since 2015, teams winning the turnover battle by plus-three win 91.7% of the time) but they can't count on Lady Luck treating them right in the future. They must take better care of the ball to win at a high level and it starts with everyone focusing on keep the ball tucked "high and tight" at all times.
McCarthy needs to curb his gambling habit.
The Cowboys' head coach likely suffered a little PTSD after being dismissed from Green Bay due to his so-called conservative methods. The noise from his departure has probably led McCarthy to be more aggressive with his decisions in critical moments. Although there's nothing wrong with pushing the envelope as a decision-maker, the Cowboys' repeated failures on gambles should force McCarthy to re-examine his new approach.
The Cowboys botched a pair of fake punts and missed a too early two-point conversion attempt that almost sealed their fate. The questionable decisions come on the heels of a debatable fourth-down gamble against the Rams in Week 1. Considering how those miscues put the Cowboys in precarious positions in each game, the head coach might want to dial it back and err on the side of caution going forward.
Can Mike Nolan fix the defense?
The season is only two weeks old but I'm beginning to wonder if the Cowboys' defensive coordinator can get his unit to play at a high level. On paper, the Cowboys have enough blue-chippers to win games but the personnel and scheme haven't produced many dominant moments to date.
The Cowboys surrendered nearly 400 yards of total offense (380) to the Falcons without generating a single turnover. In addition, they barely registered any negative or disruptive plays against the Dirty Birds. The unit collected only one sack, four QB hits, four passes defensed, and five tackles for loss in 72 defensive snaps. That's not nearly enough playmaking production from a defense that is expected to create more turnovers under Nolan.
To be fair, the Cowboys' defensive backs dropped a few interception opportunities and Matt Ryan escaped a couple of sack chances but the lack of big plays from the defense is problematic. Moreover, the lack of production has created a conundrum for Nolan when it comes to his play-calling.
If the Cowboys utilize a "rush four, drop seven" tactic, the lack of consistent pressure from the likes of Demarcus Lawrence, Everson Griffen, and Aldon Smith enables quarterbacks to find his receivers running free all over the field. If he adds rushers to the mix with blitzes, the Cowboys' secondary gets torched on the perimeter by WR1s, WR2s, and WR3s. Just look at how Chidobe Awusie, Jourdain Lewis, and Trevon Diggs were worked over by the Falcons' receivers in one-on-one coverage.
With all of those issues on the table, it is hard for Nolan to come up with a game plan that protects his defensive backs while also ratcheting up the pressure on the quarterback. The veteran will need to dig deep into his bag of tricks to come up with a solution to fix a defense that's struggling in all areas.
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