No Tony Romo. No Dez Bryant. Brandon Weeden, you're up.
The Cowboys (2-0) plan to rally around Weeden in his second start with the team since 2014, but they'll be challenged Sunday at AT&T Stadium (noon, Central) by an undefeated Falcons team (2-0) that also beat the Giants and Eagles. Atlanta's potent passing attack is led by the league's leading receiver Julio Jones (22 catches, tied with Julian Edelman, with 276 yards and two touchdowns).
Here are the gut feelings from staff writers Nick Eatman, Rob Phillips, Bryan Broaddus and David Helman.
Nick Eatman: All week long I've had a good feeling for the Cowboys about this game. No Romo, no Dez ... I've still expected the Cowboys to win this game because I think the defense will make enough plays. Now, losing Jeremy Mincey is another tough blow but I'm not going to change it. I've got the Cowboys winning 27-21 but I can see the Falcons driving late. I've got Brandon Carr having a good game and look for a few big plays from Brice Butler this week. Maybe I'm drinking the Weeden Kool-Aid but I think he will play well enough to let the Cowboys get to 3-0.
Rob Phillips: Jason Garrett's "next man up" mantra reminds me of what Tom Thibodeaux used to say in Chicago when the Bulls didn't have Derrick Rose: "We have enough." I love that mindset. You're telling the replacement players that they're good enough to get the job done. Believe it or not, the Cowboys have enough overall talent and coaching to win games going forward, and they've got an established system in place. I have wondered if the law of averages balances out this week, though – Dallas has lived dangerously with too many turnovers in Week 1 and too many penalties in Week 2. But with so many key guys out, I think the players' antennas are up. This game isn't all about Brandon Weeden, no matter how much responsibility he carries as Tony Romo's replacement. He'll need help, and it starts with the defense and special teams playing at a high level again. Weeden needs a gift, like a takeaway for the second straight week or a big kickoff or punt return that gives him two short fields to work with. The offensive line has enough experience to protect Weeden against an improved Atlanta pass rush. The defense will have their hands full with Julio Jones, and he'll make his share of plays as expected, but this has the feel of an all-hands-on-deck game for Dallas. It'll have to be with Jeremy Mincey now sidelined, too. I think the Cowboys win a tight, low-scoring one, 17-16.
Bryan Broaddus:Rod Marinelli couldn't have said more complimentary things about Jack Crawford coming into this season. Marinelli loved his position flex, effort and his nose for the ball. Crawford will be making his first NFL start against the Falcons on Sunday and my gut feeling says that he will likely end up with four tackles with one of those coming behind the line. Look for rookie Ryan Russell to line up at both the left and right defensive end spots in their three-man rotation. The Cowboys find a way to make enough defensive plays despite all the losses in personnel to win, 21-17.
David Helman: I already had a bad feeling about Sunday, and that was before the Cowboys announced they'd be without their most experienced defensive end in Jeremy Mincey due to a concussion. This is just a series of bad breaks – literally -- for the Cowboys, and I think it might be too much to overcome in Week 3. Dallas doesn't have its starting quarterback, its best receiver, one of its best veteran defenders or its rookie pass rusher. It's hard to say for sure right now if the Falcons are actually a contender, but they are bringing a Pro Bowl quarterback and receiver to AT&T Stadium, and that counts for something. I don't think Brandon Weeden is going to have a bad game – not as bad as his start against Arizona in 2014, at least – but I just can't convince myself it's going to be enough. Dez Bryant is missing and Jason Witten is coping with multiple injuries, so I expect the Falcons will focus on taking away the run and forcing Weeden to beat them. On the other side of the ball, I'm actually a believer that this Dallas defense is for real, and it should benefit from Tevin Coleman sitting out. But when in doubt, I've got to go with the better quarterback. I think the Cowboys will play an inspired game, but there's far too much talent missing for me to feel comfortable picking them. I think Matt Ryan will lead Atlanta on a late scoring drive, and the Falcons will win – something like 20-17.
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