FRISCO, Texas – A noon game for the Cowboys means a faster turnaround for me.
With Washington coming up on Thursday, there's not a lot of time to dwell on this win – exciting though it was. I'm sure Jason Garrett is going to deliver the same message to his players, so let's glean what we came from this tape and then move on to the next one.
Here's a quick look at what the tape showed me on my re-watch.
· I like what Scott Linehan tried to do on the first offensive play of the game. He got in "21" personnel, with Jamize Olawale in the backfield, making the Falcons believe he was going to start the game with a run to Ezekiel Elliott. The Falcons had eight in the box with a single safety high, so no help on the outside. Michael Gallup got a good release off the ball but stumbled just as he was working his way around Desmond Trufant and was never really able to regain his balance. Trufant bumped him one more time down the field, which threw Gallup off a little more. Dak Prescott put the ball in the right spot up the field, but Gallup just couldn't quite get there.
· On the first sack by DeMarcus Lawrence, not only an explosive move by him to work around Ryan Schraeder but outstanding coverage by the linebacker and defensive backs to make Matt Ryan hold the ball. Initially, Ryan wanted to go toward Ito Smith, but Jaylon Smith was all over that. Then, Ryan's secondary option was to hit Julio Jones, who was well covered by Byron Jones. It was also a nice design on the scheme where the Cowboys showed a Cover 2 look, then dropped Jeff Heath into the middle of the field like a "robber" in order to take care of any crossing routes.
· Two really nice blocks by Zack Martin and Allen Hurns in order to spring Ezekiel Elliott on the screen. Martin was able to kick De'Vondre Campbell outside, while Hurns was able to do the same to Desmond Trufant to give Elliott a lane to the inside. The fake of the jet sweep to Amari Cooper also did a nice job of holding Foyesade Oluokun in place at his middle linebacker spot so he couldn't be a part of the play.
· Didn't notice this the first time, but on the second sack by DeMarcus Lawrence, Xavier Woods took a wicked shot on Calvin Ridley and was lucky he didn't get called for unnecessary roughness. It was clear that Matt Ryan was looking for Ridley underneath, and he had a step on Chidobe Awuzie coming across the field, but Woods came sprinting and took a good seven-yard run before crashing into Ridley and knocking him flat.
· Great job by the Cowboys' offensive line of sorting out a late shift by the Falcons defensive line to allow Ezekiel Elliott plenty of space to get the ball inside the five-yard line. The Falcons moved Jack Crawford and Terrell McClain two gaps to the left, which left De'Vondre Campbell all by himself to have to defend five yards of space. Zack Martin secured Crawford down to Joe Looney and then worked to Campbell, who was no match for him. Elliott didn't get touched until Damontae Kazee was able to make the tackle after a sizeable gain.
· Really unselfish move by Randy Gregory to get Maliek Collins home on a stunt that put Collins in position to get a sack. The problem for Collins was that Jake Matthews was able to get just enough of Collins to push him past Matt Ryan. But Gregory kept his eyes on the prize, and when Ryan tried to step up and scramble, he was able to get rid of Wes Schweitzer and give chase. Gregory was too quick for Ryan, and what started off as a design to help his teammate turned into a sack for him.
· On the first Vic Beasley sack, it was really an unfortunate circumstance for the offensive line. Beasley was going to run a twist stunt with Takkarist McKinley. It's a stunt that shows late and La'el Collins tried to adjust back to the inside to wad the rushers up. The unfortunate part is that Joe Looney took a big shot on McKinley, who was being handled by Zack Martin. If Looney hadn't helped Martin and stayed square on the set, then he easily would have been able to pick up Beasley coming around on the twist. With Looney out of the picture, that gave Beasley a free run at Prescott, who couldn't avoid him. It's something that I've seen Travis Frederick do hundreds of times in order to keep the front of the pocket firm.
· In our Pre-Game Show on DallasCowboys.com, I said I thought we would see some three-man line due to the injuries to the defensive line. Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard broke it out early in the game with the Falcons facing a third down. Randy Gregory, Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence were able to create some pressure with help from Damien Wilson on the twist. With both Jones and Sanu covered, Ryan had no choice but to try and throw the ball in an empty spot which forced a field goal.
· Michael Gallup might have had only one reception on the day but it was clutch. Gallup once again came out stumbling, but he somehow managed to drive Robert Alford off the ball. Prescott did a great job of feeling Vic Beasley behind him and started to slide to the left in the pocket to make the throw to Gallup. Alford wasn't able to get through Gallup to defend the ball, and Gallup came up with the catch in a very tight space to keep the game alive.
· Great use of the empty formation by Scott Linehan to force the Falcons to spread out to defend the field on the big pass to Cole Beasley, which put Cowboys in field goal range. With Elliott out wide to the left, it made the linebackers spread out and left the middle of the field open. Beasley did a masterful job of leaving Robert Alford off the line, and when De'Vonte Campbell reacted to Prescott by stepping up, it was all the space that Beasley needed to make the reception.
· Caraun Reid's effort in the defensive tackle rotation was noteworthy. Reid battled the entire game doing his best to fill in for Antwuan Woods, who had to sit out with a concussion. Reid did draw a holding penalty on Wes Schweitzer to wipe out a sizeable gain by Tevin Coleman, which set the Falcons back. It was a snap where Reid was so quick up the field that Schweitzer had no choice but to grab him to keep him off Coleman. Reid also had a nice pressure on the Leighton Vander Esch interception where he crossed Alex Mack's face to get up on Matt Ryan as he delivered the ball.
· Give the Cowboys defense a lot of credit. I was worried about the Falcons ability to create those chunk pass plays of 20-plus yards. The Falcons had average about four of those a game, so there was some concern on my part with Matt Ryan and these receivers. In this game, the Cowboys defensively were able to hold Ryan and his crew under their season average. The Falcons were able to only come away with three of those for the game and the longest one happened in the final two minutes with Ryan hooking up with Julio Jones for the tying touchdown. It's not easy to play pass defense against the Falcons and all their weapons but the Cowboys held up well.